Genre: Memoir

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin | Book Review

Posted January 30, 2016 by Jana in Adult Non-Fiction, Book Review / 2 Comments

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin | Book Review438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival by Jonathan Franklin
Published by Atria Books on November 17, 2015
Genres: Memoir, Survival
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Add to Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
5 Stars

438 Days is the miraculous account of the man who survived alone and adrift at sea longer than anyone in recorded history—as told to journalist Jonathan Franklin in dozens of exclusive interviews.

On November 17, 2012, Salvador Alvarenga left the coast of Mexico for a two-day fishing trip. A vicious storm killed his engine and the current dragged his boat out to sea. The storm picked up and blasted him west. When he washed ashore on January 29, 2014, he had arrived in the Marshall Islands, 9,000 miles away—equivalent to traveling from New York to Moscow round trip.

For fourteen months, Alvarenga survived constant shark attacks. He learned to catch fish with his bare hands. He built a fish net from a pair of empty plastic bottles. Taking apart the outboard motor, he fashioned a huge fishhook. Using fish vertebrae as needles, he stitched together his own clothes.

He considered suicide on multiple occasions—including offering himself up to a pack of sharks. But Alvarenga never failed to invent an alternative reality. He imagined a method of survival that kept his body and mind intact long enough for the Pacific Ocean to toss him up on a remote palm-studded island, where he was saved by a local couple living alone in their own Pacific Island paradise.

Based on dozens of hours of interviews with Alvarenga and interviews with his colleagues, search and rescue officials, the medical team that saved his life and the remote islanders who nursed him back to health, this is an epic tale of survival, an all-true version of the fictional Life of Pi. With illustrations, maps, and photographs throughout, 438 Days is a study of the resilience, will, ingenuity, and determination required for one man to survive fourteen months, lost at sea.

First of all, happy two year rescue anniversary to Salvador Alvarenga! It was exactly two years ago today that Alvarenga washed up onto a little island and was taken in by a generous local couple who helped nurse him back to health. This man’s story is unfathomable, and inspiring. There are really no words that can accurately describe what he went through. And I really want to just sit you down and tell you everything, but that would just spoil everything. I’m so happy that I got the opportunity to read his story and learn more about the man we heard about in the news.

438 Days took a little while to grab me. The first 60-70 pages talk about his life before he was stranded at sea. He was a party boy. He loved his drugs and his alcohol. I was a little bored with this section because I was more interested in reading about his survival story than his background. Once he became stranded, he began a radical internal change. He cared about his daughter and he cared about being a better person. I loved seeing how this event impacted him for the better. Once the book moved in to his survival story, I became very invested and flew through the pages. Interestingly enough, I also got very depressed while reading. I already knew the outcome, and I knew he would be ok, but I was still very mopey as I read about his emotionally and mentally taxing experiences. This is part of why I read so quickly. I needed to read that he was ok.

The writing style also took a little while for me to get used to. The author of this book, Franklin, is a news reporter for multiple publications, and I could tell from his writing style. The entire story was written like a newspaper article, and it lacked the flowing, narrative style I’m used to in books. I did get used to it, though, and I grew to enjoy it at times.

The book has a map on the endpapers that plots the course Alvarenga took. I loved looking at this map, and seeing where he was during each part of his journey. So much detail is used to describe his day-to-day activities, the weather, his surroundings, etc. that I felt like I was there. There’s a particular few days where Alvarenga makes a friend in a very large whale shark, who drifts along with him. A few days later, a baby whale shark shows up. What an amazing thing to experience. There are other special moments that the author recounts, and I’m so happy to know that Alvarenga was able to experience some good during his miserable time at sea. He saw some amazing things.

Alvarenga grew to be a true survivalist. The ingenuity and creativity he developed helped him find food and water. He was able to entertain himself to pass the time. He was able to fight off the insanity that was bubbling to the surface. He continued to amaze me throughout the entire story. I honestly have no idea how he was able to survive for so long drinking turtle blood and eating raw birds and fish. Every time I think of this man, the words “amazing” and “miraculous” come to mind.

In short, I’m not usually a fan of non-fiction and memoir. I’ve read a few, but they are not usually what I choose to read. Alvarenga’s story was so interesting to me, though, so I took a gamble and accepted this book for review. I really enjoyed reading it, though, and felt feelings of hope while reading. I felt inspired to do great things. I love it when books have the power to do this to a person, and that’s the beauty of survival stories. I’m going to end my review with a quote from Alvarenga himself, which can be found in the epilogue of the book. The author asks him what motivated him to write this book. His response is a lovely message for people everywhere, and perfectly illustrates that our experiences have the power to change us:

“I suffered so much and for so long. Maybe if people read this they will realize that if I can make it, they can make it. Many people suffer only because of what happens in their head; I was also physically being tortured. I had no food. No water. If I can make it so can you. If one depressed person avoids committing suicide then the book is a success.

Be strong. Think positive. If you start to think to the contrary, you are headed to failure. Your mind has to be relaxed as you think about survival. Don’t think about death. If you think you are going to die, you will die. You have to survive and think about the future of your life, that life is beautiful! How can you imagine taking your own life? There are challenges and punishment in life but you have to fight!”

5 Stars

Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine (Book Review)

Posted February 21, 2012 by Jana in Adult Non-Fiction, Book Review / 5 Comments

Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine (Book Review)Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess by Jerramy Fine
Published by Gotham on January 10, 2010
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Gift
Add to Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
0.5 Stars

Most young girls dream of becoming a princess. But unlike most girls, Jerramy Fine never grew out of it. Strangely drawn to the English royal family since she was a toddler, Jerramy finds Peter Phillips (the Queen's oldest grandson) in a royal family tree when she is only six years old, and decides immediately that he will be her future husband.

But growing up with hippie parents (who gave her a boy's name!) in the middle of a rodeo-loving farm town makes finding her prince a much bigger challenge than Jerramy ever bargained for. She spends her childhood writing love-letters to Peter c/o Buckingham Palace, and years later, when her sense of destiny finally brings her to London, she must navigate the murky waters of English social circles, English etiquette and English dating. Along the way, she meets Princess Anne (Peter's mother), befriends Earl Spencer, and parties with the Duchess of York. Yet life is not the Hugh Grant movie she hoped it would be. Her flatmates are lunatics, London is expensive, and English boys can be infuriating. But just when she thinks it might be time to give up and return to America, Peter magically appears in her life.

As soon as I found this book while browsing on Goodreads, I was extremely excited to read it, and I’m sure you can understand why! It sounds like so much fun. Jerramy is a funny writer, and some of her stories are pretty entertaining to read. I’m going to get a little critical for a minute, though, and this is hard because I do not want to offend the author. In fiction, if you don’t agree with how a character is portrayed that’s ok. Because they are imaginary. In the case with non-fiction and memoirs, though, the characters are real people. Writing a memoir is brave because you open yourself and your world up to criticism from outsiders, and there were certain things about Jerramy’s story that rubbed me the wrong way. I think they are worth mentioning, though, because they will help readers decide whether or not this book is the right fit for them.

Jerramy complains about her parents, makes fun of them, talks about how they embarrass her to no end, and how she is convinced she was switched at birth. When she finally moved away to college, she could not wait to leave them behind in the dust. They were so low-class, compared to her. That made me sad, even though I could understand where she was coming from. Yes, they were eccentric hippies with skewed views and weird ways… but they were her parents, and whether or not they sent her a monogrammed tray for rolling joints, and told her to try opium in her home before she went to college so she’d know how she reacted… they were still her parents, and you could tell they loved her. I wish she had been a little more respectful in her writing about them.

When Jerramy finally got to London, she drank and partied her way into the most prestigious social circles, one hangover at a time. She couldn’t even remember the names of some of the guys she made out with with. At one point the guy she was on a date with knocked on the bathroom door to check and see if she was ok. Before she could open the door, she had to shove another guy out the window. Of course, people are free to make their own choices but I got a bit tired of reading about these encounters.

Regardless of my issues with the book, Jerramy never, ever gave up on what was important to her. No matter how far-fetched it seemed, no matter how insane her friends thought she was for hanging posters of the royal family in her teenage room, and no matter how many people tried to stand in her way, she never gave up. I have to give her props for her determination. She lost friends along the way, her grades in school suffered, she went into major debt, she had her heart broken by a lot of the guys she met along the way, and she cried a lot, but she never gave up. I don’t know if many people would have been that persistent. I learned a ton about English culture and the royal family.

I totally envy some of the things Jerramy got to do along the way. I mean, who else got to spend New Year’s Eve 1999 in India and ring in the millennium at the royal palace there? If I remember correctly, I had an awful cold and spent the night in bed watching a ballroom competition on TV. Oh yay. She got to live in London! I love all things Europe, so I was quite envious of that. She went to a lot of parties and events that sounded so glamorous. She did meet members of the royal family, and eventually Peter himself. No, that was not a spoiler. It even says it on the back of the book. So, not only was she stubborn, but she succeeded! Not many people get to live out their dreams. I think that’s pretty lucky.

Overall, if I take away anything from this book, it’s hope. Hope that I can achieve all the things I wish for myself if I work hard and press on, even when obstacles appear. While this book was not for me, I’d still recommend it to people looking for memoirs about college-aged characters, or those interested in England and the royal family.

0.5 Stars

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light by Amy Thomas

Posted January 30, 2012 by Jana in Adult Non-Fiction, Book Review / 7 Comments

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light by Amy ThomasParis, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas
Published by Sourcebooks on February 1, 2012
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 280
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher (Netgalley)
Add to Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
2 Stars

Part love letter to New York, part love letter to Paris, and total devotion to all things sweet. Paris, My Sweet is a personal and moveable feast that’s a treasure map for anyone who loves fresh cupcakes and fine chocolate, New York and Paris, and life in general. It’s about how the search for happiness can be as fleeting as a sliver of cheesecake and about how the life you’re meant to live doesn’t always taste like the one you envisioned. Organized into a baker’s dozen of delicacies (and the adventures they inspired) that will tempt readers’ appetites, Paris, My Sweet is something to savor.

The idea of this memoir is pretty adorable. I love Paris, I love New York, and I love desserts! I envy that Amy Thomas got to fly off to live in Paris for two years, doing advertising for Louis Vuitton and sampling all the amazing pastries and breads, not to mention the culture itself. The pages of this book are crammed full of bakeries and other foodish places in both Paris and New York. She makes a lot of recommendations for those who plan to travel to either location. Many times I felt like I was reading a menu with really detailed, yummy dessert descriptions. Do not read this on an empty stomach, or if you’re on a diet. The author even had me craving desserts I’m allergic to!

She also talks a lot about the history of various bakeries and dessert creations. Like the original chocolate chip cookie was a mistake. Someone accidentally dropped a chocolate bar in their cookie dough, and decided to go with the flow. A star was born. There’s lots of cool tidbits of information that I enjoyed reading about. I learned quite a bit.

Of course, she adds in personal stories from her past, as well as her time in Paris. My favorite one is when her parents fly to Paris to visit her. She describes all the touristy stuff there is to do, and she made me want to visit even more. She takes them to this one tearoom called Angelina’s, that sells the best hot chocolate in the world. She compares it to melted truffles. YUM. Coco Chanel used to have her 5:00 tea there everyday, and Audrey Hepburn popped in frequently. I looked this place up online, and it is GORGEOUS (and majorly expensive). I need to go!

There were a few things that caused me to drop my rating of this book. I loved the idea, but the execution could have been stronger. I don’t speak or read French, and there is a TON of French in this book with no translations! She has a conversation with a woman who runs a bakery, and it was entirely in French. I could kind of make out what the general idea of the conversation was, but I had no idea what they were saying. She also used a lot of French phrases in the middle of her English sentences. It took away from my enjoyment, because I kept getting frustrated that I was missing something important. I just wish a parenthetical translation were there, or a footnote. Something. The author also writes really long, flowery sentences (sometimes the size of a lengthy paragraph) that are extremely wordy lists of stuff. She does this a lot (sometimes 2-3 times per page), and it gets kind of tiring. Here are a few examples:

  • “For months, I had been positively gushing about life in Paris: how charming the square-shaped trees were and how exquisite the ironwork; how graceful the seventeenth-century hotel particuliers (that’s French, not a typo) and enviable the French women’s legs; how sweet the strawberries and how divine the wine.”
  • “My visions of canal-side picnics in August were cruelly dashed, to say nothing of the chocolate eclairs heavy with custard, the buttery brioches that begged to be pinched and devoured, and raspberry tarts with their plump berries perfectly fanned out across precious beds of creme patissiere and moist pate sablee crusts that would have to go untasted while I was at the office.”
  • “But the prixe-fixe menu was also quite a value, considering it was really four courses once you factored in the biggest, most ridiculously decadent cheese course that came with it… or six courses, when you counted the two amusesebouches that began the meal… or eight courses with the two side dishes served alongside our entrees… or fourteen courses with the dishes of complimentary gelees, caramels, chocolates, lemon cakes, and petits fours that came in addition to our dessert course.”

Finally, she’s a complainer. She complains a lot about being single, and how all of her friends are pairing off. She complains about Paris, her job, her lack of friends, how her jeans are tighter than they used to be (which they should be with everything she eats! Haha), her lack of French skills, and how she misses New York. But then she goes back to visit NYC, and mopes and complains about how it’s not upscale enough for her anymore. And THEN she goes back to Paris and complains that she misses New York. I understand that it’s hard uprooting your life and moving to a foreign city. And I can totally understand why she felt like this. But filling her memoir with complaints didn’t make much sense to me. She spent a lot of the book sporting the “the grass is always greener on the other side” mentality, and I got tired of it. She was giddy about food. Food solved all of her problems. I wish she’d expressed more of her happiness in other areas of life.

Overall, this was a moderately enjoyable read. The author has a few coming of age moments, and you can tell she learned a lot about herself during her time abroad. I appreciated her human side, but wished for a little more depth. She either talked at great length about food or her hardships. I enjoyed reading about the food, but I got sick of it towards the latter part of the book (it started to feel about as exciting as a cookbook without the recipes). Maybe Paris, My Sweet should be read in small doses, along with another book. I might have appreciated it more that way. If you love New York and Paris, this book will take you there. And if you love torturing your dieting self with amazing sounding pastries, this is the book for you! At least reading about calories doesn’t plaster them to your hips, right? I’ve created a Dessert Bucket List now, thanks to Amy Thomas. :)

2 Stars