The Altar Girl

The Altar Girl

by Orest Stelmach

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The daughter of uncompromising Ukrainian immigrants, Nadia was raised to respect guts, grit, and tradition. When the events around the seemingly accidental death of her estranged godfather don’t add up, Nadia is determined to discover the truth—even if she attracts the attention of dangerous men intent on finding out what she knows through any means possible.

Her investigation leads her to her hometown and to the people least likely to welcome her back: her family.

In this thrilling prequel to the Nadia Tesla series, Nadia must try to solve the mystery surrounding her godfather’s death—and his life. The answers to her questions are buried with the secrets of her youth and in post–World War II refugee camps. What Nadia learns will change her life forever.

I picked up The Altar Girl via the Amazon First picks deal ages ago. The book sat in my kindle library for a rather long time awaiting the perfect reading mood. That mood arrived after a couple of draining and frustrating weeks. I didn’t want my usual choice of fun and quirky cozy mystery; I needed a grittier mystery that didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of crime. I kept coming back to The Altar Girl.

It was good; it gave me exactly what I needed in a story. Nadia is Ukrainian-American. She is the estranged child of immigrants who is struggling with her muddled sense of identification when her godfather dies. Nadia knows it wasn’t an accident. So she heads home to discover the truth, confront her family, come to terms with her upbringing, and quench her need for a greater purpose.

The Altar Girl gives us a glimpse of two separate points in Nadia’s life: the first is the current hunt for her godfather’s this murderer and the second is her attempt at 14 to be the youngest teenager to complete the wilderness survival test. Stelmach utilizes different tenses in each timeline which adds a subtle depth to Nadia. The stories seamlessly entwine; her memories dragging the reader through Nadia’s modern decisions and illuminating the familial issues that haunt her.

All of the characters were fantastically developed as Stelmach doesn’t shy away from flawed and twisted traits. Nadia struggles with the guilt of no longer being a good child. Her mother twists the truth, manipulating her children in a sick expression of self hatred. And Donnie deserves his own character case study!

The Altar Girl was a fantastic read. I have a few negative points but they are too nit-picky to discuss here. This book was thrilling, gritty, and somewhat heart wrenching. Stelmach’s subtle writing techniques, such as never mentioning the godfather by his given name, entrenched readers in the unique culture of his upbringing. I loved reading about the history of Ukrainian refugees, their struggle to survive WWII, and the development of their own community in a new country.

I was pleasantly surprised by the gritty mystery full of family drama. The Altar Girl is something I would usually shy away from, but I’ve already picked up the next book in the series. Is anyone else a fan of Orest Stelmach? Let me know what you’re reading!

Lindsay

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The Forgotten 500

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II

by Gregory A Freeman

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In 1944 the OSS set out to recover more than 500 airmen trapped and sheltered for months by villagers behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. Classified for over half a century for political reasons, this is the full account of Operation Halyard, a story of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and bravery.

I like historical nonfiction and I particularly enjoy aviation rescue stories (you may know this if you heard me gushing about Frozen in Time last year.) So of course I was going to read The Forgotten 500. This is the story of Operation Halyard, a World War II rescue of American airmen downed behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. I had never heard of this event and was immediately intrigued.

I have mixed feelings about The Forgotten 500. I enjoyed it. I had never heard of this event and the story has spurred me to learn more about the events occurring in Yugoslavia during World War II. To me this is the most important role of historical nonfiction; inspiring self education on new topics. With that said, I had a hard time finishing the book due excessive idealized sections of politics (a topic I find boring and tedious on a good day).

So lets start with the positive points. I enjoy the flow of the story. The Forgotten 500 is not presented chronologically, but starts with airmen landing in Yugoslavia and then jumps to events that eventually led to the Allied bombing of the county. It was engaging, and Freeman expertly guides his readers through the anxiety of surviving a jump from a downed bomber, the efforts of people trying to escape the country at the start of the war, and eventually the fantastic rescue of over 500 airmen. I even enjoyed Freeman’s brief history of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the development of Operation Halyard. The Forgotten 500 is full of personal accounts from survivors, both airmen and OSS agents. It provides a detailed account of a country and culture of which I know very little, and reminded me there is so much out there I have yet to learn.

Now for the negative points. I always read other reviews after finishing a story, especially when reading historical nonfiction. I like to see what other readers enjoy and don’t enjoy about each story and make it a point to address recurring comments. The negative reviews consistently claim The Forgotten 500 is full of historical inaccuracies. I can not substantiate or disprove these statements as I know very little about Yugoslavian history and had never heard of Operation Halyard before picking up the book. (Here there be SPOILERS) I will state Freeman provides a very one- sided view when it comes to Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic. He is presented as a saint, while Marshal Tito and his group of Partisans are presented in a much more negative light. Little information was given about Tito’s roll in saving American airmen; instead the story is focused on the group of over 500 harbored by Mihailovic supporters. And I was especially confused by a section claiming Partisan sympathizers in England’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) attempted to sabotage the rescue operation on numerous occasions. I need to learn more about these topics.

So do I recommend The Forgotten 500? Yes, but with the following caveat: do your own research. Historical nonfiction is a vital aspect of continual education and I find it imperative that we should always look for all sides of the story. Have you read The Forgotten 500? Let me know what you think!

Lindsay

Hatchet

Hatchet

by Gary Paulsen

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Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake–and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure.

Brian had been distraught over his parents’ impending divorce and the secret he carries about his mother, but now he is truly desolate and alone. Exhausted, terrified, and hungry, Brian struggles to find food and make a shelter for himself. He has no special knowledge of the woods, and he must find a new kind of awareness and patience as he meets each day’s challenges. Is the water safe to drink? Are the berries he finds poisonous?

Slowly, Brian learns to turn adversity to his advantage–an invading porcupine unexpectedly shows him how to make fire, a devastating tornado shows him how to retrieve supplies from the submerged airplane. Most of all, Brian leaves behind the self-pity he has felt about his predicament as he summons the courage to stay alive.

A story of survival and of transformation, this riveting book has sparked many a reader’s interest in venturing into the wild.

I’m not going to provide a summary because the above synopsis does a pretty good job. Plus, I feel like Hatchet is an American classic; if you haven’t read it you’ve probably still heard of it.

Surprisingly, I had not read Hatchet before last year. This is odd as I adore Julie of the Wolves and read My Side of the Mountain as a pre-teen. And I’ve read pretty much every book written by Bill Wallace. I have no idea why I never read Hatchet, but my husband and I decided to remedy that and listened to the audiobook during our annual holiday road trip.

Hatchet was fantastic. For those who don’t know, my husband and I are both pilots and minimalist campers. I have been flying for most of my life and M is really good at survival style camping. Paulsen’s descriptions of the flight (and subsequent crash) are spot on, obviously written by someone with aviation experience. Brian’s successes, and failures, at survival are also quite realistic. Paulsen provides exquisitely detailed descriptions that pull the reader through the story, and Hatchet is a fantastic example of solid character development. It’s a ‘coming of age’ story that was actually enjoyable, without the pages upon pages of teenage angst that now represents the genre standard.

The only ‘negative’ point is there are some pretty gruesome moments as Brian survives the plane crash, multiple injuries, a moose attack, and a tornado. The book is not for the faint of heart and there are a number of people I wouldn’t recommend it to because the well written passages would leave them terrified of small aircraft and the great outdoors. This is not necessarily a fault against the book, just a point audiences need to be aware of.

Hatchet holds up as a classic survival story and I personally think it needs to remain as standard reading for preteens…especially as society forgets the skills of basic survival. I feel like its a book for any season, and look forward to picking it up again.

Does anyone else love Hatchet? What are your favorite survival stories? (I have so many on my list!)

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

Favorite 2017 Reads

I totally forgot to share my favorite reads of 2017! Looking back on the year I can say that my reading was ok. I read some fantastic books, but I struggled with my reading goals the first half of the year. Thankfully I was back to consistently reading, and writing reviews, after June. Still, I didn’t read as much as hoped so I am sharing only my top fiction and nonfiction reads of 2017.

(Note: these are new reads. I re-read Every Secret Thing, which will always be one of my favorite books. Considering it makes it less fair for all the other books.)

(Other random note: I read both of these via audiobook.)

Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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I still find myself thinking about A Gentleman in Moscow. Months later I can still picture the ornate hotel decor, the taste of wines perfectly paired with exceptional food, and the overwhelming since of unconditional friendship that filled the pages. The imagery is enough to boost this book to the top of the list but Towles’ ability to pull readers in and invest them in every aspect of one man’s life makes this story one worth returning to again and again.

Nonfiction

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

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I picked up Frozen in Time because, well honestly, it promised military aviation and arctic survival. How could I not pick it up?!? Two aspects propelled this book to the top of my list. The first is that this is a TRUE STORY! The second, Zuckoff’s writing has you there surviving on the ice with these airmen. There was many an afternoon where I was super irritated at having to put the book down. It was just fantastic.

I obviously recommend both of these stories, and I would love to hear about your favorites! Happy reading everyone.

Lindsay

Frozen in Time

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II

by Mitchell Zuckoff

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II

Frozen in Time is a gripping true story of survival, bravery, and honor in the vast Arctic wilderness during World War II, from the author of New York Times bestseller Lost in Shangri-La.

On November 5, 1942, a US cargo plane slammed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 assigned to the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a daring rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a severe storm and vanished.

Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors, bringing vividly to life their battle to endure 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter, until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen brought them to safety. Mitchell Zuckoff takes the reader deep into the most hostile environment on earth, through hurricane-force winds, vicious blizzards, and subzero temperatures.

Moving forward to today, he recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. – led by indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza – who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight and recover the remains of its crew.

A breathtaking blend of mystery and adventure Mitchell Zuckoff’s Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and a tribute to the everyday heroism of the US Coast Guard.

Frozen in Time is a fantastic story of survival that everyone needs to read. There. I said it. Read this book now!

But I guess I should give you an actual review 😜. Zuckoff’s writing is descriptive and engaging. His words pulled me right into the story, making it difficult to turn off my audiobook when I had reached my destination. Zuckoff expertly shares details about each individual, leaving you feeling as if each is an old friend and desperately yearning to know their fate. Any aviation lover will adore this story as much of the book is also dedicated to the aircraft utilized by these men, specifically a B-17 Flying Fortress and a Grumman Duck. I’m not lying when I say I was almost as concern for the aircraft as I was for the men aboard.

The survival story of these men is so unbelievable that you will have to keep reminding yourself this is not fiction. This ACTUALLY happened. The retelling of physical and mental suffering, small acts of kindness, and unhesitating acts of self sacrifice left me in tears of awe on a number of occasions. Guys, I’m not ashamed to admit that i’m crying writing this review. These men were willing to do anything to save each other, and didn’t blink an eye at the danger of losing their own lives. It is a wonderful testament to the courageous actions of men of the Army, Army Aircorp, and Coast Guard!

My only negative thoughts concern the modern aspects of the story, where the author joins an exhibition team in search of locating the lost Grumman Duck. I have no complaints about the writing, which continued to be excellent, but instead found myself irritated by the people involved with the search. Spoilers folks! This part of the novel was fraught with petty squabbles, poor planning, and constant chaos. I spent a few years doing field work and these passages left my eye twitching on numerous occasions. I never doubted the commitment of all involved, but I felt that a better job should have been done on a trip of such importance. *grumble eye twitch grumble* Rant over!

READ IT! Buy Frozen in Time for your loved ones for Christmas! This is an amazing story of survival that needs to be shared! Let me know what you think.

Lindsay

The Most Dangerous Game

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Connell

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The Most Dangerous Game features a big-game hunter from New York who becomes shipwrecked on an isolated island in the Caribbean and is hunted by a Russian aristocrat.

When asked ‘what is your favorite short story?’ (because that happens often..) my immediate response is always The Most Dangerous Game. I have no idea how old I was when I first read it, though I am pretty sure it was per a school assignment. I do; however, vividly remember reading it for the first time. The emotions evoked by The Most Dangerous Game were intense, from the confusion at Rainsford’s predicament, through a shared sense of shock, to the wild fear coursing uncontrolled in my gut as I frantically turned through the pages. It was brilliant!

Rereading it as an adult will never be the same as that first time, but each reread stirs up that memory. That haunting and chilling memory still leaves goosebumps racing up my arms.

The story is simple, with a basic writing style that modern readers may find overly simplistic. And yet, Connell manages to connect to your primal emotions despite a writing style that lacks the detailed, showy language of modern literature. I think the simplistic style easily allows the reader to tap into their imagination, triggering a deeper emotional response. In my reread, I was also realized the historical aspects of the setting. Reading it for school meant discussing emotions and the moral complexities of big game sport hunting, but this time I recognized that the General and Rainsford both survived the Great War. I was able to acknowledge Zaroff’s Cossack heritage and the evolution of his life after the Russian Revolution. And of course, I was fascinated at this unique approach on how boredom affects a mind. There is just so much packed in those 20 pages.

I will always recommend The Most Dangerous Game. Always. It takes everything for me not to restart it each time I turn that last page. So, do yourself a favor, and pick this story up for a late October night read.

Is anyone else a fan? Let me know so that we can nerd out together!

Lindsay

Julie of the Wolves

Julie of the Wolves

by Jean Craighead George

Julie of the Wolves (Julie of the Wolves, #1)

Miyax, like many adolescents, is torn. But unlike most, her choices may determine whether she lives or dies. At 13, an orphan, and unhappily married, Miyax runs away from her husband’s parents’ home, hoping to reach San Francisco and her pen pal. But she becomes lost in the vast Alaskan tundra, with no food, no shelter, and no idea which is the way to safety. Now, more than ever, she must look hard at who she really is. Is she Miyax, Eskimo girl of the old ways? Or is she Julie (her “gussak”-white people-name), the modernized teenager who must mock the traditional customs? And when a pack of wolves begins to accept her into their community, Miyax must learn to think like a wolf as well. If she trusts her Eskimo instincts, will she stand a chance of surviving?

First school book is Julie of the Wolves! The story of adventure and survival is one I revisit over and over. Here is my original review I shared a few years ago!

Julie, also known as Miyax, is walking from Barrow, Alaska to Point Hope, Alaska.  She is alone on the Arctic tundra and is determined to get passage to San Francisco and a new life.  But she is lost and must rely on the teachings of her father and the help of a wolf pack to survive.  Julie adapts to life on the tundra but still struggles with her identity.  Is she Julie the Alaskan or Miyax the Inupiat?

I first read Julie of the Wolves when I was twelve years old.  I couldn’t put it down.  Here was a young girl (the same age as me) struggling to identify who she was (so was I!) all while surviving on the Alaska tundra.  Plus, she lived with wolves!  I don’t know about y’all, but my dreams at 12 included owning a huge horse ranch with my own pack of tamed wolves.  Yeah, this was the perfect book for me.  I loved it, but a post on The Misfortune of Knowing pushed me to read it again as an adult.  Plus, the story fit in perfectly with my arctic survival theme this month.  I couldn’t put it down!  My skin tingled with goose bumps and a single tear threatened to fall when I turned the last page.  I still love this book!

Now there are some issues with Julie of the Wolves.  The most notable is that it is marketed for 8-10 year olds but contains an attempted rape scene in Part Two.  Julie marries at 13 so she can go to high school.  Her husband, Daniel, has a learning disability but they are content acting like siblings until mocking at school pushes him to force himself on her.  The scene is not descriptive and all that really happens is Daniel rips her dress and pins her to the ground before his fear makes him run.  But, this is not something I would want to explain to an eight year old.  This one paragraph turns many readers away.  I don’t know if the attempted rape is a realistic event, but it fits with the culture and socio-economic issues that plague Julie’s world.

There are so many good lessons found in Julie of the Wolves.  Julie escapes domestic violence and manages to survive in one of the most extreme climates in the world.  She taught me that women could be strong, smart, and resourceful.  George shows the good and bad of all the cultures Julie is exposed to; the gussak (lower 48), the Inupiat, and the wolf.  She shows that it is prudent to hunt for food but wasteful to poach.  Julie learns that she must adapt to survive, both in the wild and in a village.  Julie of the Wolves teaches adaptation, survival, culture, and finding inner strength.  I definitely recommend it.  The good outweighs the bad.

Julie of the Wolves will always be special to me because of its influence on my youth.  What books influenced you during your preteen years?

Lindsay

Back to School!

School has started! I am one of those people who enjoys the start of the fall semester and all the promises of discovery it holds. As such, I wanted to share reviews on favorite stories I discovered during my school days. These novels are historical fiction pieces aimed at youth instead of young/new adults, but each are still very powerful, and adventurous stories. They are all books I find myself consistently rereading as an adult and coming back to over and over again. These are the books, and you can expect a full review of each over this week!

The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

by E.L. Konigsburg

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Red Dog

by Bill Wallace

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Julie of the Wolves

by Jean Craighead George

Julie of the Wolves (Julie of the Wolves, #1)

Let me know if you read any of these! What are your favorite school reads? Happy first day of school!

Lindsay

Last of the Breed

Last of the Breed

by Louis L’Amour

Last of the Breed

After U.S. Air Force Major Joe Mack is forced down in Russia and later escapes from a Soviet prison camp, he calls upon the skills of his Sioux Indian forebears to evade Alekhin, the Yakut native and legendary tracker, on his trail.

My husband loves to learn about basic survival skills; I enjoy reading survival stories.  We both want to be prepared to live in ‘the wild’ if we must.  We aren’t doomsday preppers or anything, but we do fly small airplanes and live in an area frequented by hurricanes.  Things could happen, and these survival stories are for educational purposes!  Louis L’amour’s Last of the Breed is the one story that I just can not stop reading.  I have read it between 5 to 10 times in the last 13 years and each time I am riveted!

Joe Mack is a Sioux who is also a test pilot for the Air Force.  He is captured by the Russians and brought to Siberia for interrogation.  Joe Mack refuses to remain a prisoner and he quickly escapes.  But he now much survive a Siberian winter and it will require all his military and ancestral training to make it out alive.  (Now I want to start reading it again!)

Last of the Breed was originally published in 1986 and the writing style is somewhat different than current publications.  The language is often more telling than showing, which requires a vivid imagination to fill in all the glorious details.  Luckily, I have one of those, but many reviews complain that the novel drags on because of it.  L’Amour also has a tendency to repeat himself…a lot.  I blame the editing process because this should have been fixed before publication.  The only time it bugged me was when the next sentence would be a reworded copy of the previous sentence.  That is an editing issue.

Don’t let this deter you because the story is great!  I am enthralled by Joe Mack and his journey across Siberia.  Plus, L’Amour provides an interesting cast of supporting characters for you to both love and hate.  I hold my breath as Talya and her father rush to the Chinese border.  I whisper “yes!” each time Joe Mack escapes; and I curse Alekhin as he hunts Joe Mack down.  But, this is more than a story of sheer survival.  L’Amour also describes the mental strain of surviving and living on the run.  These passages left me with goose-bumps as the fear of being hunted courses through me while Alekhin closes in on Joe Mack.  I know how the story ends, but that doesn’t matter.  I feel like I am there in Siberia every time I open this book.

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Last of the Breed will always be one of my favorites and I plan to keep rereading it.  I mean, just look at my personal copy!  Why hasn’t it been made in to a movie?!  Anyways, happy survival reading everyone😛

Lindsay

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Dana Stabenow

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Shocked by a series of brutal, unexplainable murders, Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell embarks on a desperate journey into the heart of the Alaskan Bush country — in search of the terrible, earth-shattering truth…

Nothing Gold Can Stay is my first novel by Dana Stabenow and I enjoyed it. This is another audio book I picked up from the library and it seemed like the perfect winter mystery for my current reading mood. Stabenow didn’t let me down!

Wy’s kick butt flying is the best part of Nothing Gold Can Stay! She obviously did her research because Stabenow nailed the aerial descriptions. It was great reading about good flying and I always appreciate the adventures of a fellow kick butt female pilot!! 😜

Other than that, I enjoyed Stabenow’s format style. I liked that readers get the backstory for each character and I enjoyed how different each individual was. I liked reading about Tim adjusting to his knew home, Wy’s struggle to maintain order in her life, and Liam’s dogged determination to fix everything. Moses was definitely one of my favorite characters and Prince was the least. Stabenow’s descriptive language left me feeling as if I had know these people all my life. I felt bad for them, I cheered for them, and I hoped the best for them. That alone makes it an enjoyable read; the flying kept me smiling the whole time!

I like the mystery and the way it was handled but I must warn you that abuse is a primary topic in Nothing Gold Can Stay. This includes child abuse, marital abuse, and sexual abuse. Stabenow is focused on the positive recovery aspects of abuse but you should know that it’s there before picking up this novel. 

My only complaint is there was just too much sex for my taste. And yes I can hear all you romance readers gasp in shock at that statement. I understand the Stabenow utilized the interactions for character develop but every character had sex, or their sex life discussed, at some point in the book. It was just constant and actually took away from the mystery a couple of times. 

Nothing Gold Can Stay is the third book in the Liam Campbell series (I’m kinda ashamed I started in the middle) and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading the rest of them! Anyone else a fan of Dana Stabenow?

Lindsay