Reviews

Book Review: Called for Life

Today I have a faith-based memoir book review for you. I was so excited to read Kent and Amber Brantly [with David Thomas]’s Called For Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic, and am grateful to Blogging for Books for offering it in exchange for my honest review.

Called for Life by Kent and Amber Brantly, reviewed on thepajamachef.com #books #reading #faith #LiberiaHere is a description of the book from the publisher:

Dr. Kent and Amber Brantly moved with their children to war-torn Liberia in the fall of 2013 to provide medical care for people in great need—to help replace hopelessness with hope. When, less than a year later, Kent contracted the deadly Ebola virus, hope became what he and Amber needed too.

When Kent received the diagnosis, he was already alone and in quarantine in the Brantly home in Liberia. Amber and the children had left just days earlier on a trip to the United States. Kent’s personal battle against the horrific Ebola began, and as thousands of people worldwide prayed for his life, a miraculous series of events unfolded.

Called for Life tells the riveting inside story of Kent and Amber’s call to serve their neighbors, as well as Kent’s fight for life with Ebola and Amber’s’ struggle to support him from half-a-world away. Most significantly, Called for Life reminds us of the risk, the honor, and the joy to be known when God and others are served without reservation.

And as usual, my five point review:

  • In a word, this book was captivating. Like many Americans, I followed Kent’s story-and the Ebola epidemic–closely. Unlike many Americans, this felt personal to me. When I was in grad school focusing on African Studies and Library Science at Indiana University, I worked for over three years in the Liberian Collections, an archive dedicated to the preservation of Liberian memory and records. During those years, I met many Liberians, learned about their history and culture, and immersed myself in working to preserve their history. By the time Ebola became international news, I was already living and working in Nashville and all I could think was… something else for Liberia?!? First all the years of war… then all the reconstruction… and now this? I was heartbroken for Liberia and her people and just could see the future, and all that will have to take place to rebuild the country–reputation and all. The story also felt personal because of the local connection. Kent is also from Indiana and went to medical school at the IU campus in Indianapolis. So reading this book was a no-brainer. I just didn’t expect to be captivated by this encouraging and heartbreaking story like I was.
  • Unlike some current history-type memoirs, Called for Life didn’t seem to be sloppy or rushed. I was impressed with the level of care, attention, and detail that seemed to go into the writing and production of this book. The maps were great to help situate readers in Liberia and along the coast of Africa. There was also a good deal of background information about Ebola, Liberia, and medical missions which is helpful to most readers. The timeline did jump around, so it was hard to follow at times, though that did get sorted out by the end. Dates at the beginning of each chapter/subsection would have been helpful.
  • As a Christian called to serve others and share the gospel AND also as an academic who has spent close to a decade learning about Africa, I have long had mixed feelings about international missions, good deeds, and foreign aid, so the ethical part of this book was fascinating. In fact, when Ebola was front-page news and Kent was sick, I spent quite a bit of time reading about the ethics behind his treatment [receiving experimental drugs, being transported out of Liberia to one of the most advanced medical facilities in the world]. It is such a hard subject. Why should Americans receive this kind of care while many Africans died? Why should a medical professional be more privileged than the thousands of others who also suffered–and died–from Ebola? And I don’t have an answer, except to say what the title of this book says: that for whatever reason, God called Kent for life and this–the drugs, the flight, the top-notch care–was how He did it. I wondered if [or how] Kent would address it in this book, and thought he did a wonderful job. He discussed these very concepts in depth throughout the last chapter, and in snippets throughout the book. He came across as very humble and grateful, thankful to the Lord. I know this will be a portion of the book  and possibly my review that people who are not Christians may not understand or may not agree with, so I just wanted to say that I know where you are coming from. If you want to discuss it with me, I would be happy to do so. I appreciated how Kent grappled with this and would encourage everyone to read the last chapter of this book before brushing off his story as one of privilege.
  • Aside from being captivating, encouraging, and heartbreaking, this book was also convicting. How do I love my neighbors? How do I serve others? What more could I do if I was willing to follow the Lord more closely? The Brantly family is a great example of this and their story encourages me to pursue this more in my life.
  • All in all, a great book! I read Called for Life in one sitting on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and immediately texted my mom to see if she wanted to read it next. I have a feeling I’ll be recommending it to many people in the future. It would be a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in faith-based memoirs, medicine, missions, or Africa. Hope you can find a copy soon!

Disclosure: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Blogging for Books and the publisher, Crown Publishers, for the chance to read this great book! 

Reviews

Book Review: A Fifty-Year Silence

Today I have a memoir book review for you! I love memoirs, so I was excited to request Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s A Fifty-Year Silence from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

A Fifty-Year Silence... a book review on thepajamachef.com

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

A young woman moves across an ocean to uncover the truth about her grandparents’ mysterious estrangement and pieces together the extraordinary story of their wartime experiences

In 1948, after surviving World War II by escaping Nazi-occupied France for refugee camps in Switzerland, the author’s grandparents, Anna and Armand, bought an old stone house in a remote, picturesque village in the South of France. Five years later, Anna packed her bags and walked out on Armand, taking the typewriter and their children. Aside from one brief encounter, the two never saw or spoke to each other again, never remarried, and never revealed what had divided them forever.

A Fifty-Year Silence is the deeply involving account of Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s journey to find out what happened between her grandmother, a physician, and her grandfather, an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, who refused to utter his wife’s name aloud after she left him.  To discover the roots of their embittered and entrenched silence, Miranda abandons her plans for the future and moves to their stone house, now a crumbling ruin; immerses herself in letters, archival materials, and secondary sources; and teases stories out of her reticent, and declining, grandparents.  As she reconstructs how Anna and Armand braved overwhelming odds and how the knowledge her grandfather acquired at Nuremberg destroyed their relationship, Miranda wrestles with the legacy of trauma, the burden of history, and the complexities of memory.  She also finds herself learning how not only to survive but to thrive – making a home in the village and falling in love.

With warmth, humor, and rich, evocative details that bring her grandparents’ outsize characters and their daily struggles vividly to life, A Fifty-Year Silence is a heartbreaking, uplifting love story spanning two continents and three generations.

And as usual, my five point review:

  • I love historical fiction and non-fiction… I always joke that World War II was my favorite war, but I think that’s simply how accessible it has been for much of my life. Both of my grandfathers as well as other relatives served in the war, and I was introduced to the war in elementary school through books like Number the Stars, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, The Endless Steppe, and many, many others. So to find that this memoir deals with the life [and secrets] of the author’s grandparents during and after World War II was incredibly intriguing. And the beginning was fascinating! The author does a fabulous job of pulling the readers into her life and her grandparents’ stories. There’s something magical about Europe, and France in particular, and the author captures the place beautifully.
  • As I read on though, my interest in the book fizzled out and I actually ended putting it down for a time. There just was so much speculation and not enough facts. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but while I appreciate the author’s book in that it memorializes her grandparents, her theories are just not compelling enough for me to believe. That does not in any way detract from what she does know–I’m just not sure I could come to the same conclusions about how and what they survived. This also does not detract from the way the author tells her love story, her life story. As a standalone story, her life/her love is pretty neat too. 🙂 Her grandparents’ lives are awesome too–her grandmother became a doctor during the middle of the 20th century in a time when many women didn’t even go to college. Her grandfather was an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials in Germany after the war.
  • Miranda Richmond Mouillot has a lovely writing style. I’m not sure if she plans to write other books, but her lyrical prose draws in readers like nothing else can… making a non-fiction story read like a classic, lovely novel. Again, the setting of the book in FRANCE definitely helps but still–her writing style and word choice is gorgeous. Instead of being on my couch in Nashville, I was in a medieval stone house in an a village older than time. Can it get any better? Ohhh, France.
  • The biggest problem I had with the book aside from the lack of information was that, not to discount anyone’s survival from the Holocaust, her grandparents were not in concentration camps. They were not captured and didn’t seem to have many [any?] close calls either. They were Jewish. They had to flee, but they survived. And that’s incredible and I don’t want to discount their story or others like it. However, in some tiny ways, saying individuals like that survived the Holocaust is a shaky subject, and may even be one that I can’t take too hard of a stand against since I don’t have that first-person/familial experience. In some ways that discounts the stories of those who did survive concentration camps. It just, to me, softens those survival stories in some ways. I’m not sure of a better way to  frame their experience besides “Holocaust survivors” but I just think there has to be some other category. I do understand the perspective of Mouillot on this though.
  • Overall, I enjoyed reading the story of Mouillot and her grandparents–their stories of life and love and survival were incredible, passionate, and told beautifully. Reading about the animosity [to put it lightly] between her grandparents was hard. I can’t imagine not talking to Ben ever again like her grandparents did, or the effects that would have on our larger families. This book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but it was lovely, even if hard to read at times and controversial in terminology too.

Disclosure: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Blogging for Books and the publisher, Crown Publishers, for the chance to read this great book! 

Reviews

Book Review: Fearless

I received a e-book copy of Eric Blehm’s Fearless from the Blogging for Books program offered by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. First things first–this book was amazing! So inspiring. I read it in about two days.

Fearless

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Fearless takes you deep into SEAL Team SIX, straight to the heart of one of its most legendary operators.

When Navy SEAL Adam Brown woke up on March 17, 2010, he didn’t know he would die that night in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan—but he was ready: In a letter to his children, not meant to be seen unless the worst happened, he wrote, “I’m not afraid of anything that might happen to me on this earth, because I know no matter what, nothing can take my spirit from me.”

Long before Adam Brown became a member of the elite SEAL Team SIX—the counterterrorism unit that took down Osama bin Laden—he was a fun-loving country boy from Hot Springs, Arkansas, whose greatest goal had been to wear his high school’s football jersey. An undersized daredevil, prone to jumping off roofs into trees and off bridges into lakes, Adam was a kid who broke his own bones but would never break a promise to his parents.

But after high school, Adam fell in with the wrong crowd, and his family watched as his appetite for risk dragged him into a downward spiral that eventually landed him in jail. Battling his inner demons on a last-chance road to redemption, Adam had one goal: to become the best of the best—a U.S. Navy SEAL.

An absorbing chronicle of heroism and humanity, Fearless presents an indelible portrait of a highly trained warrior who would enter a village with weapons in hand to hunt terrorists, only to come back the next day with an armload of shoes and meals for local children. It is a deeply personal, revealing glimpse inside the SEAL Team SIX brotherhood that also shows how these elite operators live out the rest of their lives, away from danger, as husbands, fathers, and friends.
 
Fearless is the story of a man of extremes, whose courage and determination was fueled by faith, family, and the love of a woman. It’s about a man who waged a war against his own worst impulses and persevered to reach the top tier of the U.S. military. Always the first to volunteer for the most dangerous assignments, Adam’s final act of bravery led to the ultimate sacrifice.
 
Adam Brown was a devoted man who was an unlikely hero but a true warrior, described by all who knew him as fearless.

I know that’s kind of long, but the last two paragraphs are the most important, in my opinion. As usual, here’s my five point review.

  • First, don’t dismiss this book if you’re not into military stories or don’t consider yourself super patriotic, or anything like that. Adam Brown’s story and his life does contain aspects of military life and patriotism, HOWEVER that is not the focus of this story. This story–and I hesitate to even use the word “story” because that almost trivializes this man’s life–is about how God transforms a life and then allows that life to impact many other people around him.
  • Fearless is highly motivational–motivation to get through your tough problems, like writing a thesis that is just hard or getting through a tough time at work or whatever monotony you deal with on a daily basis. Reading how Adam Brown worked through hardship, injuries, and tough times with a straight-up, deeply rooted belief that he could do this and this and this, no matter what “this” is because he had the strength of the Lord was just awesome. His ability to persevere is just amazing.
  • The gospel message and encouragement to keep on keeping on was so present in this book–but not in an annoying way. Some Christian memoirs can be annoying and fluffy in that way, but not Fearless. This story was real–swear words, sweat, and all. The coolest part was at the end where the author revealed he wasn’t a Christian but was more intrigued by faith and spiritual things after writing Brown’s story, getting to know his family, and immersing himself in Adam’s life just for a little bit. These are the kind of faith stories that need to be told. The well written, real faith stories that can have a gospel impact on people’s lives–even if they are coming from hard situations. [Go back and read the book description. Drugs, people! Extremes! Risk! This is real life.]
  • This book is a great reminder that life is short and life is precious and you should tell your family and friends that you love them, often. Because you never know what’s going to happen. So husband, and family, and friends, I love you.
  • Last, but not least, the inspiration of Adam Brown as a heroic member of the military who gave his life for this country was incredible. As I first pointed out, this isn’t just a book about the military or being patriotic–but those aspects of Adam Brown’s story are hard to miss. I personally do not know many people who are in the military. I know a handful who were or who are married to military professionals, but I don’t have day to day interaction with anyone in the military. I think that’s something needed in this country [a good dose of perspective], but that’s another subject for another day. This book is a good reminder of those who have given their lives [or even just their days or time with their families] for our freedom. Bottom line: this is a book worth reading. I wish I had a non-e-book copy to loan out… but in the meantime, be sure to check it out! I highly recommend it!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the chance to read this great book! 

Reviews

Book Review: Under the Overpass

I am embarrassed to admit that I received a complimentary review copy of this book, Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski a really long time ago from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group’s Blogging for Books program. I’m not quite sure what happened, but grad school plus the heavy subject matter of this book resulted in me taking a long time to read it, and an even longer time to process it enough to post a brief review.

Under the Overpass Review | The Pajama Chef

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Ever Wonder What it Would Be Like to Live Homeless?

Mike Yankoski did more than just wonder. By his own choice, Mike’s life went from upper-middle class plush to scum-of-the-earth repulsive overnight. With only a backpack, a sleeping bag and a guitar, Mike and his traveling companion, Sam, set out to experience life on the streets in six different cities—from Washington D.C. to San Diego— and they put themselves to the test. For more than five months the pair experienced firsthand the extreme pains of hunger, the constant uncertainty and danger of living on the streets, exhaustion, depression, and social rejection—and all of this by their own choice. They wanted to find out if their faith was real, if they could actually be the Christians they said they were apart from the comforts they’d always known…to discover first hand what it means to be homeless in America. Mike and Sam’s story is gritty, challenging, and utterly captivating. What you encounter in these pages will radically alter how you see your world—and may even change your life.

In general, I did enjoy this book and appreciate that it made me think a lot about the reality of homelessness in our society, and the role of faith in the equation as well. However, I really do not think that I agree with the premise of the “experiment” that drives this book, and that is what led to me to a slow reading time and even slower review. Though the author grapples with his ability to go in and out of a homeless situation by his personal choice [knowing that he will only be living that way for a set period, and though he does examine how he feels about using resources that are supposed to help those who really, truly are homeless and have no other option, this choice just doesn’t settle well with me. Despite that, I do recommend the book though, because it put individuality on homelessness. It gave a name to the faceless people we all see at interstate exits or along city streets. It reminded me that situations that lead to the condition of homelessness vary, and are not all related to the usual [assumptive] suspects like drugs, alcohol, etc.

One of the reasons this book was challenging to me was that my town has a sizable population of people experiencing homelessness–extremely large in proportion to the size of the town, because of its location in the state. As a result, there is division amongst the residents of the town about “what to do with the homeless,” with suggestions ranging from supporting the local homeless ministries and shelters to ignoring them so they go away to busing them to California or an equally far-off place.

My personal belief, developed through years of prayer and conviction from God, is that we need to do what we can to help. Period, end of story. In the moment, the type of help can vary. I have given cash, food, and gloves to people standing on the street, holding signs at stoplights. I have purchased grocery gift cards to give away, too. I have also spent time talking to a few men and women who sometimes hang out near our church, and have offered leftover food to them, which is almost always accepted. My husband and I have donated money, toiletries, clothes, and blankets to a local Christian shelter. I’ve read online about making “blessing bags” filled with necessities like socks, soap, granola bars, etc. to keep in your car and give away as needed, and I would like to do this. Obviously as a woman, what I can do on my own can be limited at times due to safety concerns, but that aside, I do these things because I believe my faith compels me to do so. I almost didn’t share this in my review, because I don’t want people to think I’m a saint [believe me, I am far from it] and I know that some people may consider help in any form [aside from giving to a shelter] to be foolish. I believe that we are only responsible for what we do. At times I give out of genuine compassion and love, but other times I give because I feel a nudging from God to do so. I am only responsible for my reaction to Him; I am not responsible for how others use/misuse what I give. I know that might be controversial, and I know that to an extent, that argument is flawed and faulty… but isn’t so much in this life?

I’m having a hard time ending this review, and an equally hard time being concise, so I’ll just end with this. People are people. Seeing people experiencing homelessness can be hard, and as a way to cope I believe we often judge them and rationalize out why we can’t help. I do that too. Even though I just shared some of the ways I have “helped” people, there are times when I don’t, even when I feel like I should. I am not perfect, but fortunately I have Christ. When I am tempted to judge or label people in different situations than my own, it sounds cliched and cheesy but I try to put myself in their shoes. This book was one of the first shifts in my thinking about what it takes to stand on a street corner, or to go to shelter, or to go through a dumpster… or to even shop at Goodwill. I shop at Goodwill periodically for fun, for a challenge, for a good deal, for something unique. Not because I have to, or can’t afford anything else. I can’t imagine not having a choice. I can’t imagine the potential for shame and hopelessness in those situations–whether it’s poverty experienced in or out of homelessness, no matter what circumstances led to that reality. Even though I don’t agree with everything in this book, I am glad I’ve read it for it has really caused me to think about things and become more Christlike.

If you’d like to read more about the book and download the first chapter, click here. I’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Happy Wednesday!

Disclosure: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the chance to read this great book!