Book Reviews

The Road

The RoadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. In a time of an apocalyptic scorched Earth, a father and his son must journey along “the road” as they make their way to the coast in the hope of finding something. What that something is they don’t know. But in a world stripped of humanity, food, and essentials, they must “carry the fire” and hope there is something better.

The story doesn’t just describe the stark environment of gray and ash, it lives it. Even the text of the book is devoid of the nonessentials. Quotes? Nope. Excessive dialogue tags? Nope. Main character names? Nope. The father and son have nothing – just the bare minimum to stay alive, and the author does a fantastic job of stripping the reader of the essentials we are used to when reading.

Every time I sat down to read this book I could feel the emptiness. I could feel the cold and hopelessness. But what was so amazing to me is how once the story stripped away the essentials and the environment and all the noise we have in our lives, there was just one thing left – the love and hope between a father and a son. The contrast was impressive. On one side the absolute worst in human nature and on the other side we have the absolute best.

Another aspect to The Road that I found interesting is the 2009 movie based on the book, also titled The Road. Before I read the book, I saw this movie about four times. I own it on Blu-Ray and loved the father-son story. I’m typically not a fan of reading books then seeing the movie or vice-versa. However, I took my chances.

Despite seeing the movie many times, the book easily held up on its own. I found myself thinking about which scenes in the movie are accurate to the book and where they veered from it. Surprisingly, it was one of the best adaptations of a book I’ve seen with very few artistic modifications.

Overall, a beautiful book with a powerful father-son message filled with hope and strong calling to carry the fire.

Highly recommend.


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The Soldiers' Story: Vietnam in Their Own Words

The Soldiers' StoryThe Soldiers' Story by Ron Steinman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the hardest Vietnam War book for me to complete, and I read a lot of Vietnam war history books. I started reading this book three times. On the third pass, I finally made it to the end. Why? Because once the Air War chapter starts, ending with the Fall of Saigon chapter, the repetitive stories become just that – way too repetitive. And I hate to say that because each individual story is a first-hand account and I mean no disrespect to those who were there. It’s how the stories were put together that’s the problem. I will say that this repetitive nature during the fall of Saigon really pushed home the finality of US involvement in Vietnam and how it was a personally shocking, but totally expected outcome in between 1973 and 1975. The book’s strength is that the personal stories start in the Ia Drang Valley where it all began with direct involvement, and the stories end with the biggest helicopter to naval evacuation of Americans, South Vietnamese, etc. in history, where it all ended. For me, after reading all the first-hand accounts throughout the war you could feel the sentiment that what started with the best intentions (freedom) turned out to be a disaster for everybody involved. Freedom isn’t easy, people must want it, and it’s always under attack. I give the book five stars through the beginning to the Secret War chapter, but only three stars for the last two chapters: The Air War and the Fall of Saigon. These last two are just too repetitive and became overly monotonous to read within the context of the entire book. Overall though, it’s still a great book to have in a Vietnam war history collection.



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Helmet for My Pillow

Helmet for My PillowHelmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many of my relatives fought in the Pacific theater of WWII, so every story I read provides me a different glimpse into what my forefathers went through. The story of Robert Leckie provided me a raw glimpse of what I’ll call the perfection within the imperfections of those who sacrificed. Stories about serving time in the brig, the theft of the essentials to survive or gain back a piece of their civility, absences without official leave, and the many other acts that took place in the lull of battle. All these imperfections were key ingredients to men who would serve, fight, and die for a cause that most of us today refuse to accept or understand. Helmet For My Pillow is an excellent portrait of small pieces of imperfections coming together to achieve something far greater than any single person can understand.

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With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and OkinawaWith the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene B. Sledge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the Old Breed tells the story of Eugene Sledge’s experience in the Pacific theater and reads like a factual telling of military action, often times like a recollection mixed with an after action report. The details are amazingly well-described and could be used as a great study in military history specific to that theater. It’s also a great personal recollection with plenty of personal detail.

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The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War

The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam WarThe Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War by Frederick Downs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War is easily one of the best Vietnam war books. Based on the true story of Frederick Downs’ deployment to Vietnam in 1967-1968, the book reads like a diary and articulates his experiences in detail. It provides amazing insight into what was going on in his mind (and around him) as he learns to adapt to the chaos of combat while keeping his men alive. Right from the book’s preface I was pulled in to the story when he described his post-deployment encounter with a man at the University of Denver in which the man sees his amputation above his left elbow and says, “Serves you right.” Wow. It’s easy to question another person’s morality when yours has never been truly tested.

One of the most powerful passages for me was also the following: “Man’s beginning and man’s end would always be attended by only a few. Those that bore him at birth and those that bore him at death. The only important thing was what he did in between.”

I read the updated reprint of the book and found the Afterword provided an insightful look into the after effects of his deployment, from his career with the VA to his closure revisiting Vietnam 20 years later. He also provided pieces of after action reports that described the fate of his fellow soldiers after his war-ending encounter with a “Bouncing Betty”. I highly recommend this book for a true glimpse into the soldier’s perspective of the Vietnam war.


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The High King by Lloyd Alexander

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain #5)The High King by Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although Taran Wanderer is still my favorite, the High King was a wonderful wrap-up of the entire series. If I were a harsher critic I’d give it four stars, but I like to get past the nitpicky “should haves” and “would haves” and judge the book for what it’s worth as a whole. I think there’s some legitimate argument that the ending was anti-climactic, but perhaps from the author’s experience or WWII past, he understood that life doesn’t always have a Hollywood ending and that a simple event can radically change one’s life or history within the time it takes to read a single page or a paragraph. When I read this series as a child I read every word and lived the experience. As an adult, I found it slow at times and in some cases repetitive and boring. But that’s not the way it was the first two times I read the series in my younger years and I hardly think it would be any different if I read the Lord of the Rings again. It’s a great book series for kids. I will pass along to mine, and will definitely always recommend to others.
Trayner Bane

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Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain #4)Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Easily the best of the first four books in this five-book series. Over the course of the first three books, Taran, the main character, struggles to find his place in the lands of Prydain. In book four, he finally goes on an adventure to discover who he is. Having grown up without parents, he longs to know and understand who they are, so he can better understand himself. Was he born of noble blood? Or peasantry? In Taran Wanderer, we don’t get any closer to finding out, but we do learn a lot more about Taran as he searches for himself. It’s a great story with plenty of mystery, adventure, and character development. It definitely makes me look forward to book five, The High King.
Trayner Bane

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The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

The Castle of Llyr (The Chronicles of Prydain #3)The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Almost as good as the Black Cauldron, which had a slightly better story line that kept me more engaged. My only criticism would be that I didn’t find myself having as much interest in the new characters and I felt somewhat disconnected from the main characters. The writing is great and overall the story came together well. Will continue to book four.
Trayner Bane

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The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain #2)The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I often find that the second book in a series determines the direction of the remainder of the series, and the Black Cauldron was no exception. Whereas I found The Book of Three to be good (four stars), I was left wanting more – some mystery perhaps, or those unanswered questions that pique my interest. The Black Cauldron provided me with everything I was looking for and solidified what I remembered as a child reading the series. It set the stage (and tempo) for the rest of this great series.
Trayner Bane

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The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1)The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many others, I gave in to nostalgia and decided to read Lloyd Alexander’s five-book series all over again. As a child I loved escaping to Prydain, so concerns grew that my thirty years of adulthood would corrupt my fond memories if I should dare to read them again. With the Lord of the Rings and other great book series turned into mega-million-dollar profit machines, would my mind be tainted? Letting go of my concerns, I bought the series and gambled my memories away – and won big. I just completed the Book of Three and thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing felt rougher and the moments a bit choppier, but the story and world were still just as inviting. Having read the other five I can see that this isn’t the best in the five-book series, but being an author myself I can understand that it takes some warming up to get a series going. Should I ding for that? Nope. Sometimes I feel you should get past a little roughness and enjoy the story as a whole. I’m going with a four-star rating since it’s a great book, but not the best in the series.
Trayner Bane

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