Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Wars by Nate Self

Two Wars

Two Wars
by Nate Self

Trade Paperback: 375 pages
Publisher: Tyndale
First Released: 2008

Author Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
The frontlines on the war on terror
A world away from his wife and family
A downed helicopter, surrounded by al-Qaeda
A trauma from which few recover completely

“I had died on that mountain. Who I used to be, the man I was before, had died there, with many others. Now I didn’t know who I was. Now I wanted to kill who I had become.”

For the first time ever, Nate Self tells the complete account, featured in part on Dateline NBC, of the battle he led in Afghanistan to rescue a Navy SEAL who had fallen into the hands of al-Qaeda fighters. It’s the story of a hero who fights two wars—the fight in Afghanistan and the fight against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—to preserve his mind and soul, his family and home.

A rare look into a soldier’s soul.

Two Wars is a military autobiography which impressed me with the astounding story and by the vivid writing. Nate Self describes the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of what it's like to be in modern front-line combat. (In fact, fiction authors researching modern combat might want to read this book.)

The first part of the book describes his decision to join the army, his training, his peacekeeping deployment to Kosovo in 1999-2000, more training, and his deployment to Afghanistan in 2002. The second part of the book describes in detail the battle on Takur Ghar. The last part of the book describes how that battle changed his life. This is the PTSD section, though he tells it as he experienced it rather than addressing the topic of PTSD directly. This section covers his deployment to Iraq, eventual decision to leave the military, his troubles, and his eventual start toward healing.

The story is fast-paced and interesting throughout. Once the Afghanistan battle began, the story was heart-pounding in intensity, and I read late into the night to finish the book. I had no trouble following the story or visualizing what was happening. The author describes the equipment, terrain, positions, and acronyms in the text. If you ever get confused (which I never did), some maps, pictures, and a glossary are included.

The author is a Christian, but the focus of the book is not on his Christianity but on what he experienced. Most of the book has little mention of God, but the author does describe a few spiritual high-points and very low points. There was some cussing in the book, but it's written as "F--- that!" rather than spelled out. The potentially gory parts were not explicit and were usually glossed over.

I'd recommend this excellent book to anyone who likes to read war stories, to anyone who wants to know what modern warfare is like, or to anyone who wants to understand why their family member has changed since coming back from a deployment.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Prologue
04 0612 MAR 02 (DELTA)

I feel like I’m about to vomit.

Our helicopter careens around the snow-covered mountain, banking hard right, looking for our target. Though it’s just before dawn in Afghanistan, the sky is dark, clear, and cold.

“Where’s this landing zone?”

“On top of a ten-thousand-foot mountain,” says a voice on the radio.


We’re on a rescue mission, and I’m in command of a thirteenman Quick Reaction Force (QRF). We’re searching for a missing American who fell out of a helicopter in enemy territory two hours ago. He is somewhere below us in the Shah-i-Khot Valley, an area teeming with hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters. Right now, there’s no place on earth more hostile to U.S. soldiers—and no place my team would rather be. We’re here because we’re Rangers, and we have a creed to uphold: Never leave a fallen comrade.

It’s 6:12 a.m. The eight-man flight crew is not under my command, but they share my resolve. Every member of the flight crew is alert, scanning the terrain beneath the aircraft. They’ve been awake for more than thirty-six hours flying missions in their double-rotor Special Ops helicopter. These are the men of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), the “Night Stalkers.” They’re the best in the world. They fly an MH-47E Chinook, which looks like a black school bus crowned with two spinning telephone poles. I watch them balance against the pilot’s evasive nap-of-the-earth flight techniques—it’s possibly the only nonlethal example of their experience and skill. We’ve flown together many times before, both here and in the States. According to their motto, the Night Stalkers Don’t Quit. I’ve been around them enough to know that those aren’t mere words.

“I don’t see it. That can’t be it. On top of that? Ask him again.”

“Toolbox, this is Razor Zero-One; say again grid; over.” No answer.

With no seats in the aircraft, I am sitting on the slick metal floor. I pull a wrinkled map out of my thigh pocket to check the target coordinates. Though I remember writing the digits in tidy block letters at our headquarters in Bagram, the bouncing of the aircraft reduces them to a shimmy of ink. My eyes feel like they’re being tossed around inside my head. I can’t decipher a single number.

“Try Razor Zero-Two.” The other half of our QRF. “Maybe they got it.”

“I tried. We’ve lost radio contact with them.”

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Quotes: Hornet Plus Three

From Hornet Plus Three: The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery by Bob Fish:

One of the most fortuitous decisions made by NASA was to utilize passive water-based landings, unlike the Soviets....When all these things were considered, less rocket power was required to launch a water-landing craft into lunar orbit than a land-recovery design. In the end, the Soviet's most powerful rocket, the N1, simply never matured enough to complete a successful launch, while NASA's Saturn V put twelve Americans on the Moon's surface.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Giveaway Winner for Hornet Plus Three

The winner was randomly selected from the submitted entries. The winner is:

Dawn M.

Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win this interesting book, you can always buy it from Amazon or other bookstore.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes

Eiffel's Tower

Eiffel's Tower
and the World's Fair
by Jill Jonnes

Hardback: 383 pages
Publisher: Viking
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
The story of the world-famous monument and the extraordinary world’s fair that introduced it

Since it opened in May 1889, the Eiffel Tower has been an iconic image of modern times—not only as an enduring and beloved symbol of Paris and French culture but as a beacon of technological progress and a herald of the Machine Age. Yet when the self-made millionaire and engineer Gustave Eiffel won a contest to erect a colossal tower as the spectacular centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, Parisian tastemakers were outraged, denouncing Eiffel's proposed thousand-foot tower as a "hideous" blot on their historic city, even as fearful residents brought lawsuits amid predictions of certain structural calamity.

In Eiffel’s Tower, Jill Jonnes, critically acclaimed author of Conquering Gotham, recounts the compelling history of the tower’s conception, building, and reception in Belle Epoque France. Eiffel, a hugely gifted builder of remarkable railroad bridges, persevered despite the criticism, and his two-hundred workers raced to assemble 18,038 pieces of wrought iron with two and a half million rivets to create the world's tallest building, its iron skeleton rising to dominate the Parisian skyline.

But the Eiffel Tower is only part of this story, for the Paris Exposition itself was a milestone of emerging technology, late nineteenth-century globalism, and an extraordinary flourishing of the arts and journalism. Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, featuring the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley and a full retinue of Native Americans, enthralled Parisians, while Thomas Edison who came there to promote his new talking phonograph in Europe was feted as a genius; the painters Whistler, Gauguin, and van Gogh were exploring new frontiers in art; and James Gordon Bennet, Jr., of The New York Herald was reinventing the news. At the fanciful exposition grounds, fairgoers crowded Asian and African shops and mock villages, fascinated by these first glimpses of the newly global world of colonial empire and trade.

Eiffel's Tower is a richly textured portrait of a visionary, of an architectural icon, and of an era at the dawn of modernity reveling in the limitless promise of the future.

This lively and entertaining book is obviously extensively researched. Using newspaper articles, interviews, letters, and so forth, the author lets the reader see events unfold as those who lived at the time saw them.

The book covers the details of the building of the Eiffel Tower as well as the doings of famous people who attended the 1889 Paris World's Fair. The book has nice photos illustrating the building of the tower, showing famous people who attended the world's fair, and scenes from the fair.

Some untranslated French is used in the book, but I got the point even though I don't know French.

Two of my family members were also interested in this book, so we read it aloud. Reviewer Two thought the start of the book was a bit slow (while we were being introduced to so many people). However, once we got to know the characters, he thought the book was one of the most interesting books he'd read in a long time.

Reviewer Three enjoyed the whole book except the epilogue where we're told what happened to these people after the Fair. She was sad to hear what happened to most of them after their high point at the fair since many didn't have happy endings.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the building of the Eiffel Tower or in what happened at the 1889 Paris World's Fair. Also, history buffs interested in technology would probably enjoy this book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One
We Meet Our Characters, Who Intend to Dazzle the World at the Paris Exposition

On the cold afternoon of January 12, 1888, Annie Oakley was sitting comfortably in her apartment across from Madison Square Garden in New York, making tea and toasting muffins, when she heard a knock at the door. Her visitor was a journalist from Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, come to hear what America’s most celebrated sharpshooting female was up to. He stepped into the cozy space to find a great jumble. “The sitting-room,” he reported, “was littered with breech-loading shotguns, rifles, and revolvers, while the mantel-piece and tables were resplendent with gold and silver trophies brought back from Europe by this slender yet muscular Diana of the Northwest.” Fêted and lionized by an enthralled Old World aristocracy, Oakley, twenty-seven, had returned home triumphantly three weeks earlier bearing lavish tokens of admiration, now displayed all round the apartment: two sets of silverware, a solid- silver teapot, antique sugar bowls. As for the purebred St. Bernard, it was en route with her horses. “I suppose a crack shot in petticoats was a novelty and curiosity to them,” she said between sips of tea.

Nor was that all, she confided to the reporter: her fame as the star attraction of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in London had inspired “four offers of marriage, including one from a French count.” A Welshman had sent along his photo with his proposal. “I shot a bullet through the head of the photograph,” said Annie, “and mailed it back with ‘respectfully declined’ on it. . . . I am Mrs. Butler in private life, although always Annie Oakley on the bills.” She regaled the reporter with stories of meeting the king of Denmark and the Prince and Princess of Wales, laughing merrily as she told of a close scrape in Berlin, where she had found the avenue to her hotel closed during the Russian czar’s visit. Determined to reach her room, she had dashed through a police barrier and been hotly pursued: “I rolled under an iron gate and spoiled my clothes, and the enraged guards went plumb against the gate. . . . Of course, I laughed at their discomfiture, but I tell you I was a bit scared when I remembered that I had a box of cartridges with me. Why, if they had caught me I should have surely been held as a Nihilist.”

A petite, attractive woman who had started shooting game at a young age in Ohio to help her widowed mother feed the family, Annie was also a virtuoso seamstress who designed, sewed, and embroidered her own beaded and fringed cowgirl costumes. Performing with the Wild West, she had been catapulted to stardom as America’s best-known woman sharpshooter. In 1884, when Chief Sitting Bull joined the Wild West for a season, he adopted her, naming her “Little Sure Shot.”

“She looked innocent and above reproach,” observed biographer Shirl Kasper, “a sweet little girl—yet was a sharpshooter of matchless ability. That paradox was part of her appeal. She had a pleasant, wide smile, and thick, dark hair cut close around her face and worn long in back, falling over her shoulders. There was magnetism in the way she smiled, curtsied in the footlights, and did that funny little kick as she ran into the wings.” Of future plans after her success across the pond, Annie Oakley revealed to the World’s reporter only this: “I will practice horse back shooting,” and that Europe might beckon once again in 1889, “as I have very flattering offers from there.”

Soon enough Annie Oakley and a lively crowd of Gallic and American go-getters, artists, thinkers, politicians, and rogues would be making Belle Époque Paris their stage, for the French republican government was organizing the most ambitious World’s Fair yet, the Exposition Universelle of 1889. While the year marked the centennial of the fall of the Bastille, the government preferred to highlight more noble sentiments: “We will show our sons what their fathers have accomplished in the space of a century through progress in knowledge, love of work and respect for liberty,” proclaimed Georges Berger, the fair’s general manager. Since 1855, the French had been holding an international exposition in Paris every eleven years (more or less), each more gigantic and wondrous than the last. This particular exposition was to be “an advertisement for the Republican system, which for 18 years had kept at bay the Royalists and Bonapartists on the right and the representatives of various socialist tendencies on the left. The philosophy in power was to be seen as humanist, philanthropic, opening its arms to all of humanity.” Already, the French and the Americans— republican allies but also rivals—were looking to make their respective marks at this World’s Fair, each determined to uphold national honor at what might be the last great international exhibition of the nineteenth century.

Read the rest of Chapter One.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Giveaway: Hornet Plus Three

Hornet Plus Three

Hornet Plus Three:
The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery
by Bob Fish

Hardback: 213 pages
Publisher: Creative Minds Press
Released: June 2009

Read my review to learn more about the book.

I've been following the current space missions on Twitter by following the astronauts @Astro_Mike (who is now back from the Hubble Telescope mission) and @Astro_127 (who is going up to the space station on July 11). So I jumped at the chance to review Hornet Plus Three by Bob Fish.

I enjoyed this book so much that I asked the publisher if they'd ship one free copy of this book to the winner of a giveaway I held here. They kindly agreed.

This contest is for USA residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying, "@genrereviewer please enter me to win 'Hornet Plus Three: The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery'" Anyone doing this Twitter option will be awarded 2 entry points.

You can also twitter about this book giveaway using your own words. Be creative, but please refer to what the book is about and include the following link to this page: http://tr.im/oHbp. Then tweet me directly at @genrereviewer telling me you've done this and wish to enter. Anyone doing this Twitter option will be awarded 3 entry points (i.e. an increased chance to win because you're helping promote the book).


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered in the giveaway.

Anyone who simply leaves a comment asking to be entered will be given 2 entry points. If you include a link to your blog or website where you've told people about this contest, you'll received 3 entry points.

(Note: I slightly changed one of the so far unused ways to enter because I realized it was self-defeating.)

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time, Daylight Savings Time) on June 25th on this blog. If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Hornet Plus Three: The Apollo 11 Recovery by Bob Fish

Hornet Plus Three

Hornet Plus Three:
The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery
by Bob Fish

Hardback: 213 pages
Publisher: Creative Minds Press
First Released: 2009

USS Hornet Museum Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Most of us know a lot about Apollo 11, the first time humans walked on the Moon. It started with heroic astronauts with the right stuff, teamed with NASA engineers who made the mission possible. We all recall the rocket arcing into the sky, the grainy black and white TV pictures of the first steps on the Moon, and the president greeting the astronauts on their return. What many don’t know is how Columbia and the three astronauts were recovered after the mission. That took many U.S. Navy ships and planes and literally thousands of servicemen!

Hornet Plus Three: The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery reviews the evolution of the DoD recovery process for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs. Then, in fascinating detail, it provides new insights into the epic Apollo 11 operation that fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s national challenge to “put men on the Moon in this decade and bring them safely back to Earth.” The book chronicles:

-The various Navy and Air Force units that effected the recovery—most of whom had recently served combat tours in the Vietnam War.

-The added complications of getting President Nixon aboard ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

-Coordinating the media so that 500 million people world-wide could watch on TV as the President welcomed the astronauts back to Earth.

-The careful consideration and implementation of quarantine procedures to deal with “Moon germs.”

-The Primary Recovery Ship, USS Hornet, did such an extraordinary job, it was pressed into service four months later to recover Apollo 12.

-Personal reflections from those who were there.

-Never-before seen photographs.

You’ll gain a new appreciation for the complexity of this aspect of the Apollo 11 mission!

This nonfiction book covers the history of astronaut ocean recovery efforts by NASA and the navy. The history of NASA and early space program flights and recoveries are covered, but most of the book details the recovery of Columbia and the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission.

Hornet Plus Three was well-written, very interesting, and easy for me to follow. It contained a lot of information I'd wondered about before but had never heard the answers to. The book did get a little facty at times, listing precisely where every asset was, but the wonderful accompanying photos kept these facts from ever getting boring. The maps, photos, and charts were very nice and useful.

The author used information from interviews of those involved to bring the events vividly alive. These details made me feel like I was on the Hornet watching the events unfold. (The full interviews are included in the appendix along with timelines, key speeches, a glossary, and other useful information.)

Overall, it's a very enjoyable book. I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in the space program, especially those (like me) who weren't alive at the time or weren't old enough to remember.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Many aspects of Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission, have been well documented in news articles, TV documentaries, radio programs and web-based commentaries. With very few exceptions, this information focuses on the space flight itself, covering the period from the Saturn V rocket launch, the three-day flights to and from the Moon, and the few hours spent on the lunar surface by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

The public record is virtually silent about the splashdown and recovery activities that occurred on July 24, 1969 in the South Pacific. Although over 500 million TV viewers worldwide watched the retrieval process--and many more listened via radio--most only remember the short commentary from President Nixon as he welcomed these space voyagers back to Earth.

Much of this can be traced to disparate public relations efforts between NASA and the Department of Defense (DoD). While humans had sailed ships on the sea for millennia, and had flown aircraft in the sky for a century, they had never walked on another heavenly body before and global interest was intense. Additionally, NASA was a civilian agency, and not in direct line for national defense funding, so they had to keep fueling the public's interest in lunar exploration, which in turn would keep the taxpayer dollars flowing into their coffers. They tasked an elaborate Public Relations machine with keeping their accomplishments in the public eyes--and ensuring that most nations were aware of the technological prowess of our democratic system.

The DoD, on the other hand, viewed its support role of the manned space flight program--from Mercury through Skylab--as an important, but secondary, effort to their primary mission of maintaining national security. The Cuban Missile Crisis, war in Vietnam, the Pueblo incident, and various hostilities in the Middle East simply took precedence.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Giveaway Winner for When God Says Go

The winner was randomly selected from the correctly submitted entries and the winner is:


Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions by James A. Beverley

Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions

Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions
by James A. Beverley

Trade Paperback: 850 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions is a detailed, up-to-date reference work from Professor James A. Beverley. This volume offers both description and evaluation of the hundreds of religions in today's spiritual marketplace. In addition to basic information, the reader has access to critical analysis of the controversies that arise in the debate about various religious groups and leaders.

The book covers Baha'i, Branch Davidians, Buddhism, Cristian Science, Christian Sectarian Groups, Hinduism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Judaism, Mormonism, the New Age, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Satanism, Scientology, Sikhism, Unification Church, and Wicca/Neo-Paganism.

The book covers:
-Historical information on each major religion with detailed timelines.
-Profiles of each group's primary leaders.
-Key principles and beliefs of each religion.
-An analysis and critique of religions from a Christian perspective.
-Opinion and commentary on the controversial issues related to specific religious groups.
-Recommended resources for more information about each religion (both books and websites).

This book is a good introduction to modern religions, but I was disappointed by how much critical information was left out in favor of less important information (in my opinion). Also, the organization wasn't consistently handled as to which religions were covered in which section and what information was focused on for each. However, the book was still very usable and useful.

While the history of each religion was briefly covered, the focus was usually on when the important leaders lived and various controversies occurred rather than the historical beliefs of the religion.

The book generally focused on the shared beliefs of all the subgroups in each religion. However, sometimes beliefs unique to the largest subgroup were given as the beliefs of the majority of the religion. This may be technically true, but I felt it could be misleading when the book failed to note when a belief was only held by one subgroup.

That said, the information given was generally fair and balanced, though definitely from a Protestant Christian viewpoint. (The Protestant section mainly covered how the various denominations came about, their defining beliefs, and any controversies surrounding them.) The author clearly did a lot of research and tries to portray what the believers of the religion say about their own religion rather than what other religions say about it. The information given correlates with what practitioners have told me about their religions.

However, there were some sections, like that on Satanism, that were very disappointing. The Satanism entry focused mostly in debunking books written by people claiming to have been Satanists. When the author covered Satanic beliefs, he described four subgroups and then focused on the beliefs of the one subgroup (though probably the largest) that doesn't actually believe in Satan. Likewise, the witchcraft section really only described the beliefs of neo-pagans and Wiccans. It described historical witchcraft primarily in terms of contrast with modern Wicca and neo-pagan beliefs.

The illustrations were nicely done, but not necessary. They were of religious leaders, religious buildings, book covers, etc.

Overall, I felt the book was a good, fair introduction to the various modern religions in the world for those who know very little about them. However, if you've already done a lot of research into the various religions, books that focus in-depth on a single religion might be more useful to you.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One

The Baha'i faith, now considered a distinct world religion, cannot be understood apart from its connections to a sect of Shi'ite Islam known as the Babi movement. Shi'a Islam has a core doctrinal position that the world awaits the return of a madhi, or Messiah figure, at the end of time. In 1844 a Muslim by the name of Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad (1819-50), building on this apocalyptic notion, proclaimed that he was the "Bab" or gate to God.

After the Bab's execution in 1850, orthodox Shi'a leaders continued to persecute his followers. In 1852 many Babis were arrested, including Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri. Husayn 'Ali, born in Persia in 1817, founded the Baha'i faith. He is now known in history as Baha'u'llah, which means "the glory of God." He was exiled to Baghdad in 1853. Ten years later he proclaimed himself to be the madhi promised by Bab and by all religions.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Giveaway: When God Says Go

When God Says Go

When God Says Go
by Lorry Lutz

Trade Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: Discovery House Publishers
First Released: 2002

Read my review of the book.

I decided to share the fun by having a contest for When God Says Go by Lorry Lutz. Due to shipping costs, this contest is for USA residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "@genrereviewer Enter me to win WHEN GOD SAYS GO. Another missionary book from Discovery House Publishers is ________." (Hint: Look here.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and giving the title of another missionary book published by Discovery House Publishers.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time, Daylight Savings Time) on June 13th on this blog. If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!