Book Review: Fast into the Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow

Book Review: Fast into the Night by Debbie Clarke ModerowFast into the Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 2, 2016
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
4 Stars
A captivating memoir of one woman’s attempt to finish the Iditarod, led by her team of spunky huskies with whom she shares a fascinating and inextricable bond.

At age forty-seven, a mother of two, Debbie Moderow was not your average musher in the Iditarod, but that’s where she found herself when, less than 200 miles from the finish line, her dogs decided they didn’t want to run anymore. After all her preparation, after all the careful management of her team, and after their running so well for over a week, the huskies balked. But the sting of not completing the race after coming so far was nothing compared to the disappointment Moderow felt in having lost touch with her dogs.

Fast into the Night
is the gripping story of Moderow’s journeys along the Iditarod trail with her team of spunky huskies: Taiga and Su, Piney and Creek, Nacho and Zeppy, Juliet and the headstrong leader, Kanga. The first failed attempt crushed Moderow’s confidence, but after reconnecting with her dogs she returned and ventured again to Nome, pushing through injuries, hallucinations, epic storms, flipped sleds, and clashing personalities, both human and canine. And she prevailed. Part adventure, part love story, part inquiry into the mystery of the connection between humans and dogs, Fast into the Night is an exquisitely written memoir of a woman, her dogs, and what can happen when someone puts herself in that place between daring and doubt—and soldiers on.

Book Review:

FAST INTO THE NIGHT is a memoir about running the Iditarod, failing, and trying again. Debbie Moderow isn’t your typical Iditarod competitor. She was forty-seven for her first attempt, following in the footsteps of her son. The entire family mushed, but the kids were more competitive than the parents. Debbie’s son ran the Iditarod when he was 18, and when he finished, he told her she had to do it, too.

A retired Iditarod dog named Salt played an important role in Debbie’s life. He helped her recover from two devastating miscarriages by reigniting her love of the outdoors and adventure. And then the whole family got into sled dogs and mushing, spending their vacations mushing to a cabin and watching the kids compete in junior races.

FAST INTO THE NIGHT is primarily a remembrance of Debbie’s 2003 Iditarod attempt and her 2005 finish. Running the race is never something I’d do myself. I’m a total wimp in 20F weather, I can’t imagine racing with the temperature in negative degrees, facing blizzards and wind storms and more. But Debbie brought the course of the race to life for me, through sparse yet descriptive writing. I felt like I was there, and I knew all the difficulties she went through. She also delved into the personalities of each dog, which really showed her connection to the team.

I liked that Debbie showed herself in all lights, good and bad. She didn’t edit her thoughts to make herself look better. Her honesty made me feel like I could trust everything she wrote.

FAST INTO THE NIGHT wasn’t my typical read, but I’m happy I came across the book and read it.

Socialize with the author:

Debbie Clarke Moderow:

– leeanna

Book Review: Life in Motion by Misty Copeland

Book Review: Life in Motion by Misty CopelandLife in Motion by Misty Copeland
Published by Touchstone on March 4, 2014
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
4 Stars
"Picture a ballerina in a tutu and toe shoes. What does she look like?"

As the only African American soloist dancing with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has made history. But when she first placed her hands on the barre at an after-school community center, no one expected the undersized, anxious thirteen-year-old to become a ground-breaking ballerina.

When she discovered ballet, Misty was living in a shabby motel room, struggling with her five siblings for a place to sleep on the floor. A true prodigy, she was dancing en pointe within three months of taking her first dance class and performing professionally in just over a year: a feat unheard of for any classical dancer. But when Misty became caught between the control and comfort she found in the world of ballet and the harsh realities of her own life (culminating in a highly publicized custody battle), she had to choose to embrace both her identity and her dreams, and find the courage to be one of a kind.

With an insider's unique point of view, Misty opens a window into the life of a professional ballerina who lives life center stage: from behind the scenes at her first auditions to her triumphant roles in some of the most iconic ballets. But in this beautifully written memoir, she also delves deeper to reveal the desire and drive that made her dreams reality.

Life in Motion is a story of passion and grace for anyone who has dared to dream of a different life.

Book Review:

Before reading LIFE IN MOTION, I had never heard of Misty Copeland. But I’m always on the lookout for ballet books, especially books by dancers, so I dove in eagerly. I finished the book in a day, and found it easy to read and interesting. In other words, I’m now happy I know who Misty Copeland is, because she’s had quite the life, and I’ll follow her career in the future.

Misty didn’t come from the typical ballet background. In fact, she didn’t take a ballet class until she was in middle school. She’d always loved dancing and was the captain of the middle school drill team, but ballet? Nah. By fifteen, Misty was considered a prodigy in the ballet world, and had been offered scholarships by top ballet schools. Around the same time, Misty was in the middle of a legal battle between her mother and ballet teacher; the teacher had encouraged Misty to file for self-emancipation to move forward in her ballet career, but Misty’s mother fought to keep her.

Misty’s story is almost like a fairy tale. Only the third African American to be promoted to soloist in the American Ballet Theatre, she came from a life of poverty and struggle. At one point, she and her siblings lived in a motel. She’s had to overcome racism, both subtle and overt, as well as body changes and injuries. Throughout the book, she has a pretty positive attitude about everything, rarely succumbing to pity. It was rather inspiring to read.

I do feel like this book was written early in Misty’s career, because I’m sure she’ll eventually be promoted to a principal dancer. However, I was never bored during LIFE IN MOTION, and really enjoyed reading Misty’s journey.

Socialize with the author:

Misty Copeland:

– leeanna

Book Review: Dancing Through It by Jenifer Ringer

Book Review: Dancing Through It by Jenifer RingerDancing Through It by Jenifer Ringer
Published by Viking on February 20, 2014
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
3 Stars
A behind-the-curtains look at the rarefied world of classical ballet from a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet.

In her charming and self-effacing voice, Jenifer Ringer covers the highs and lows of what it’s like to make it to the top in the exclusive, competitive ballet world. From the heart-pounding moments waiting in the wings before a performance to appearing on Oprah to discuss weight and body image among dancers, Dancing Through It is moving and revelatory.

Raised in South Carolina, Ringer led a typical kid’s life until she sat in on a friend’s ballet class, an experience that would change her life forever. By the age of twelve she was enrolled at the elite Washington School of Ballet and soon moved to the School of American Ballet. At sixteen she was a professional dancer at the New York City Ballet in Manhattan, home of the legendary George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Ringer takes us inside the dancer’s world, detailing a typical day, performance preparation, and the extraordinary pressures that these athletes face. Ringer shares exhilarating stories of starring in Balanchine productions, working with the famous Peter Martins, and of meeting her husband and falling in love at the New York City Ballet. Ringer also talks candidly of Alistair Macauley’s stinging critique of her weight in his 2010 New York Times review of The Nutcracker that ignited a public dialogue about ballet and weight. She unflinchingly describes her personal struggles with eating disorders and body image, and shares how her faith helped her to heal and triumph over these challenges.

Book Review:

DANCING THROUGH IT is the memoir of Jenifer Ringer, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. I hadn’t heard of her, nor seen her perform, but I’m always on the hunt for books about ballet.

The book did succeed in that aspect for me. There’s tons and tons of information on ballet, dancing, training, a dancer’s daily life, the different ballets and choreographers, the adrenaline rush of performing, and so on. I really enjoyed the glimpse into a working ballerina’s life, from the benefits to the sacrifices. I found all of it absolutely fascinating, and did think that Jenifer Ringer described ballet in a way a non-dancer could understand. She also answered a lot of questions, such as what happens when a dancer falls or forgets choreography.

But what I didn’t like about DANCING THROUGH IT was the heavy emphasis on faith. I’d say the book is split 50/50 between ballet and faith. I’m not a religious person, but I understand other people have their beliefs. However, when Jenifer mentioned God or praised him for what she had in what felt like every paragraph, it got to be too much for me.

Overall, the book is good for information about ballet, but not as interesting as it could be due to the emphasis on religion.

– leeanna

Book Review: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

Book Review: Sous Chef by Michael GibneySous Chef by Michael Gibney
Published by Ballantine Books on March 25, 2014
Genres: Memoir, Non Fiction
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
4 Stars
The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.

In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.

Book Review:

SOUS CHEF is a book I devoured. Twice. It’s as tasty as the dishes and food it describes.

An excellent look into the daily routine of a chef, it’s told in a creative style that puts the reader behind the knife. Second-person narrative (You pick up a dish, you make carrot puree) is really difficult to pull off, but I think Michael Gibney did a great job with it in this book. For me, that style made it much easier to learn about a kitchen, being a chef, various techniques, etc., rather than watching a character do it, or being in their head.

The only downside of the second-person narrative is that near the end, when talking about why “you’re” a chef, the book got a tad too philosophical for me, which is one reason why it wasn’t a 5 star read.

I learned a ton reading SOUS CHEF. I’ll admit, I love reality shows like Chopped, Top Chef, and Kitchen Nightmares, but I’m not always sure what’s going on when looking inside a professional kitchen. Now I have a much better idea. For example, I now know what “all day” means, the different positions on the line, and the general operating routine of a restaurant from open to close.

SOUS CHEF includes a helpful kitchen floor plan diagram and a comprehensive terminology section at the end. The only confusion I had with the book were the Spanish exchanges between “you” the sous chef and some of the kitchen staff. There’s not any translations for those, and I couldn’t always figure out what was being said.

SOUS CHEF has jumped to the top of my favorite culinary books, and I’m sure I’ll be rereading it in the future. It’s a book that’s super readable, has a style that will stick in your head, and is very easy to sink into and enjoy.

– leeanna

Review: New House 5: How a Dorm Becomes a Home by Andy Butler

new house 5Info:
Title: New House 5: How a Dorm Becomes a Home
Author: Andy Butler
Release Date: March 1, 2012
Publisher: Self-Published
Source: Received a copy from the author
Series? No
Genre: Memoir
Page Count: 311


Welcome to New House 5.

Yes, it’s the top floor of a brand new dormitory at a prestigious university. But it’s also something much more.

For fifty-six freshmen, it’s home. It’s a place where friends are made and doors are always open. It’s a place where hearts are broken and tears are shed. And for Andy Butler, it’s the best story about friendship he has ever known.

Andy is the resident assistant for New House 5, and it’s his responsibility to bring the floor together, to support everyone, through their triumphs and through their letdowns. Join Andy as he shows how New House 5 becomes a family, and then falls apart when hidden problems come to light. Watch as these students try to overcome their flaws and fears to create a bond so special that nothing can pull them apart.

Not even themselves. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
Reading New House 5: How a Dorm Becomes a Home made me feel rather nostalgic for college and dorm life. I spent four years living in a dorm, yet I never experienced anything like the community Andy and his residents created. Part of that was my own reluctance to get involved — I was the typical loner, against “fake friendship”, just like some of the students in this book. But I also think that communities like this don’t come along every day in dorms, and that New House 5 was special.

Looking back at my college career, I can’t remember the names of any of my RAs. But I will remember Andy’s name. His tone was somewhat preachy at times, but I could tell he cared about each of his residents, and just wanted the best for them. The dialogue stood out to me too — there were a lot of “dudes” and “mans,” and that seemed a bit fake, but that could just be Andy’s natural way of speaking.

Sometimes it was hard to keep track of all the residents. Instead of trying to tell a story about each of the fifty-six residents on his floor, Andy focused on a few, which was a smart move. I still got mixed up because some of the names were very similar, and in that, I wish he would have chosen different names for the students. A list of students and a one sentence summary for each would be a nice addition to the book, like a dramatis personae.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Once I got into it, I wanted to keep reading, to find out what happened to each resident. I think New House 5 would be a great read for freshmen about to start college, who may be worried about dorm life. I know I was scared about living in a dorm, because I’d never lived with anyone other than my parents, and I didn’t have many friends in high school. I didn’t know if I’d get along with other people, or if I would fit in.

Some of the residents of New House 5 felt the same way. That’s another great thing — chances are anyone who reads this book will be able to identify with at least one of the students. There’s a good mix of personalities, from loud and obnoxious to quiet and considerate, and everything in between. In the end, all of the residents learned that there’s someone always there for them, even if they don’t think they have any friends.

New House 5 is a smooth, easy read. I felt as though I had known Andy and the other students for years, thanks to the conversational style. Andy was also unflinchingly honest about some of the mistakes he made as an RA, such as not telling someone higher up when one of his residents was a danger to herself. I liked that he didn’t gloss over his mistakes but admitted to them, which helped me feel even more like I knew him.

When New House 5 came to an end, both as a book and as a floor, I was sorry to leave everyone behind.


Socialize with the author:
Andy Butler

Book 152: The Politician

The PoliticianThe Politician: An Insider’s Account of John Edwards’s Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down, by Andrew Young

I read this mostly because I was interested in a birds-eye view of insider politics, and I sure got an eyeful.

It’s a little frightening to think about how close John Edwards got to the presidency, and to compare the projected image of him to the one written by Young. Quite scary, actually. Elizabeth Edwards is portrayed scarily as well, as both paranoid and controlling. The transcripts of her voicemails…wow.

Now I don’t believe everything I read in “The Politician,” but I’ve also read “Game Change,” and think that anyone who liked Young’s book should check out the other. Reading the two helped me keep a good perspective on what could be true, and what might not be.

While “The Politician” is a story of John Edwards, it is also the story of Andrew Young, Edwards’ inside man. I often wondered why Young put up with the increasing megalomania of John Edwards, the humiliating demands (he acted as butler, house cleaner, chauffeur, and worse), and verbal/emotional abuse heaped on him by both of the Edwards. He seemed like a pathetic guy for a lot of the book – especially when he agreed to accompany Rielle Hunter and claim her baby was his. I wondered even more how his wife put up with it. Young wrote he went along with everything because it was a job, health insurance, and because he felt for sure that when Edwards was elected, he’d be rewarded. That’s another scary thought, actually.

“The Politician” is a bit like a bad soap opera or train-wreck – I couldn’t believe some of the things I was reading, but I just couldn’t stop. Some parts were pretty illuminating, and thought-provoking, and some baffling. A book to read if you’re interested in the Edwards story, or even an insider’s account of politics.


Book 136: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of TeaThree Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

“Three Cups of Tea” is one of those books that, while you’re reading, every little thing that you think is wrong with your life is put into perspective. Mortenson is an American who builds schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the story of how he went from a mountaineer to the head of a non-profit organization is awe-inspiring.

After a failed attempt at climbing K2, the world’s second highest mountain, Mortenson stumbled into a tiny little village, Korphe. The people living in Korphe were poor, but were willing to open their village to a stranger in need. When Mortenson asked to see the school, he was shocked to see the children sitting outside, tracing their lessons into the dirt without a teacher. He promised to return to Korphe and build a school – he had no clue how he would do it, but he would.

Mortenson then returned to California and went into overdrive saving money, working, and writing letters to raise money. After months of frustration, he made some lucky connections and received a big donation that enabled him to return to Pakistan and start on the Korphe school. Mortenson bought building materials and traveled to the remote village, only to learn that he had to conquer yet another setback – a bridge had to be constructed to ferry the school materials. And so the quest to raise more money to fulfill his promise continued.

That is the start of Mortenson’s story, with the building of his very first school in one of Pakistan’s most remote regions. The book is written as if Mortenson was telling his story to another person, and sometimes the flow of events does suffer from that, along with some overly poetic passages. But the reader also gets a very complete picture of Mortenson’s life, what led to him trying to climb K2, and the changes that occurred after he built Korphe’s school. Because he didn’t stop with that one school, but realized his life’s work was to spread education to the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially to girls.

Readers will also learn a lot about the dynamics of the regions, such as the different wars that have been fought, the tribal relations, the difficulty of living. “Three Cups of Tea” is both educational and engrossing.


Book 90: Getting It Through My Thick Skull

Getting It Through My Thick SkullGetting It Through My Thick Skull, by Mary Jo Buttafuoco

I was pretty young when the infamous “Long Island Lolita” case took over the media, and I didn’t remember any of the movies or coverage or interviews, so I went into this book with fresh eyes, and read an engaging, inspiring story.

Mary Jo’s incredibly honest about her life with Joey, from their early dysfunctional and yet happy marriage, when he first started exhibiting signs of being a sociopath. Only she didn’t know it at the time, and was concerned with keeping up appearances. She suffered through panic attacks, and a husband addicted to cocaine, while trying to raise two children. Every time she thought about leaving, when she couldn’t take Joey’s behavior anymore, he convinced her to stay.

Fast forward to being shot by Amy Fisher, and the horrifically difficult recovery. The physical problems were compounded by the media firestorm, and more of Joey’s bad behavior. Mary Jo, the real victim, ended up being pushed in the background while the antics of her husband and Amy took the forefront, giving Mary Jo no chance to tell her story. This haunted her for years.

Mary Jo spent the next decade plus trying to get some semblance of a normal life, eventually leaving her husband and learning how to heal from the scars that his behavior put on her soul. She tells her story honestly, describing her rehab for addiction to painkillers; the lonely, alcohol filled nights on her own; and slowly experimenting in the dating world again, learning to trust. She healed herself, and was rewarded with some incredible opportunities.

Mary Jo’s main point behind writing the book was to try to help other women and men trapped in marriages with sociopaths, and it’s an educational personal story.


Book 88: All Things at Once

All Things at OnceAll Things at Once, by Mika Brzezinski

The best part of this book is Mika’s honesty, especially her no-holds barred recounting of a terrible accident with her and her baby, caused due to Mika’s exhaustion of stretching herself too thin. But that’s really the only positive of this book – it’s very short, doesn’t contain much of substance, and just generally left me wondering what I had read.

The message Mika’s trying to promote is don’t wait to have children, and that you can have all things at once…but the message isn’t very effective. Admitting that she doesn’t see her children all that much (in fact, while covering the events of September 11, 2001, she didn’t see them for 20+ days), it appears as if the children are mostly taken care of by domestic help. Mika even writes about an experience where her nine-year-old daughter scheduled her own dentist appointment, rather than waiting for mommy to get around to it. Her year of being a stay-at-home mother failed miserably, as she couldn’t cook, do laundry, houseclean, and thought that helping them with homework was hard. She admits she preferred being the “fun” parent, doing water balloon parties or such to make up for missing important events in her kids lives. Mika says she isn’t cut out to be a full-time, stay-at-home mother, so I wonder why she wanted kids at all. She wrote about wanting them, and wanting a family in her early 20s, but never said exactly why.

The most interesting parts to me where the descriptions of Mika’s parents, Emilie and Zgibniew. It sounds like they had a fascinating home life, and encouraged their children to pursue academics and other interests. I would’ve preferred to read a book about either of them more than their daughter.

I’m left wondering if she got a book deal only because of “Morning Joe’s” popularity; is Willie Geist next in the lineup?


Book 87: Growing Up bin Laden

Growing Up bin LadenGrowing Up bin Laden, by Najwa bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, and Jean Sasson

When I started reading this book, I thought I would be most interested in Najwa’s perspective, but the more I read, the more I learned from her son, Omar. Najwa’s story is limited in that she lived her entire life with her husband in purdah, or isolation, and thus wasn’t privy to any details of what was happening. Her role was to be a happy, submissive, sweet, unquestioning wife and she fulfilled that perfectly. I was more infuriated with her, for her unquestioning obedience, but I can understand that that is due to a difference of upbringing, life experiences, culture, and religion.

Omar, the fourth son of Najwa and Osama, had a difficult and bewildering childhood. The family went from living in luxury in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to middle-class life in Khartoum, Sudan, to living on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan, each step accompanied by more involvement in al-Qaeda and jihad. Omar is an extreme opposite of his father in every way – never understanding the thirst for violence shown by Osama, Omar instead dreamed of peace, and an ordinary life. But he was constrained by his culture, and suffered emotionally and physically for many years before he developed the courage to get out.

This book is educational, as it provides a narrative timeline of the development of al-Qaeda, and the increasing terrorist activity of the organization. We see how Osama bin Laden changed from a student of economics to the world’s most wanted man, and the senselessness of many of the acts he and his group endorse. Omar describes an incident where men killed a monkey, because they were convinced the monkey was a Jew. The book is both terrifying and enlightening, as I don’t realize how people could believe such…garbage? Idiocy? But then I saw how so many of the recruits were boys from villages, who were easily swayed by powerful speakers and religious authorities, and who had no real opportunities in life other than the fighting offered by jihad violence.