Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Book Review: My Life among the Underdogs (pit bulls, dog rescue, family, Pit Bulls & Parolees)

My Life Among the Underdogs, by Tia Torres (of Animal Planet’s Pit Bulls& Parolees) (Harper Collins, 2019,288 pages, $26.99)

Nine Inspiring Dogs, Nine Inspiring Stories

Tia Torres has put together her life, more or less chronologically, by following nine of her family dogs through their years – lovely pit bulls with built-in smiles who arrived on her doorstep as a last resort. And she took them in and loved them and made them well again and they, in turn, taught her about life – lessons that she shares with us.

In the Beginning. . . .

Torres found herself with her two toddlers playing hide and seek outside an animal shelter when an animal control officer brought in a pit bull who managed to lose the leash and escape towards the little girls. Panic ensued among the adults but the little dog immediately floored and kissed the girls who giggled with glee. Torres ended up taking that little dog home and that was the beginning of a new life for all concerned.

Meet the Underdogs!

There is Junkyard Joe, the delinquent dog who became a star narcotics detection canine, and we have Bluie who saved the life of Torres’ daughter. Read about the dog who started Torres on her life’s mission, Tatanka. And then we have a dog named Monster.

Underdogs could easily have been titled Dogs Who Saved the World One Human at a Time after those same dogs were tossed aside by two-legged creatures. Torres took in the dogs nobody wanted and made them whole.

This is the story of the Villalobos Rescue Center of California, which relocated to Louisiana. The story of four kids, countless throwaway dogs (and other animals) and one plucky woman who started it all.

If you watch Pit Bulls & Parolees on Animal Planet, you will want to read Torres’ book. If you don’t watch it yet, you will want to. And there is always Wikipedia for more details.

But, . . . .

The only thing missing is photos of the dogs!

For more fantastic books about this smiley breed:

Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Book Review: Love My Rifle More Than You (Iraq War, woman soldier)(OT)

Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army, by Kayla Williams (Norton, 2005, 290 pages, $24.95)

First read it years ago. More recently, for a veterans’ book club. Loved it then, love it now.

Love My Rifle More Than You is the book your mother should not read before her first daughter goes off to boot camp or deploys or even goes away to college, but I loved it – ah! the excitement, the fast pace, the swearing, the Army slang and terminology that was once so familiar. What will turn up next just around the corner? Will our hero talk back to her superior again – and get away with it? And what about the alcohol, the drugs, the sexual tension, the weapons and ammo, the absurdity of it all, the danger, the lack of sleep, the dirt and rain and heat and sand and stench, and the guys (mostly a few years younger than author Kayla Williams): some of which she encountered before the Army? And why the Army, anyway? Was she desperate or did she want to test herself, to see if she could do it, to find out what she was made of?

Joining the Army was almost anti-climactic for Williams, in her mid-twenties, a bit older than your average boot camper. She had been married. She had had an Arabic boyfriend. She had a college degree. She even had a house.

Ah, but the excitement, the danger, the alcohol, the big guns, the guys (OK, they were smelly and dirty after days in the desert but so were the female soldiers), the absurdity of so many war-time decisions, the unleadership of so many NCOs and junior officers, the fast pace, the Army slang and terminology, the lack of sleep, the swearing, the drugs, the sex or lack thereof, the weapons and ammo – not your father’s war or your grandfather’s war.

But, Wait!

But, wait a minute! I was deployed, too. I had the same training as the author (but of a much higher rank). But none of this happened to me. Part of me wishes it had. But then I can always read about it happening to someone else. . . . .

I do know that some similar situations Williams encountered did occur in the Army: I had group conversations with other female soldiers with jobs that differed from mine who recounted similar stories, but the field of military intelligence (MI) (and the medical field, too) is more civilianized, more academic (intellectual) than others so Williams’ experience with other MI soldiers did surprise me. Not that I disbelieve her: I just think her situation was really rare.

Writing Style

Again, a fast pace that keeps you going. I finished it in less than a week.

Lots of dialogue and short paragraphs that make you not want to put it down but, instead, to keep reading to find out what happens next.

What You Will Remember, What Will Stay With You

The first time through, I had been closer in time to my own deployment as a female MI soldier and I don’t recall the swearing and sex-talk in the book. I do recall the author’s small unit on the mountain and knew that she had married a wounded soldier (not in the book but somehow I knew).

This time through, perhaps because a group of male veterans was reading Love My Rifle for our veterans’ book club and remarked on the rawness of the writing, I will remember the language and the camaraderie typical of the military and the absurdity of so much.

This tale (or series of tales) is riveting. We only wish she had told us more about boot camp and the schools she attended to learn her military specialty. We also suspect there was more to being deployed to Iraq – more formations, more paperwork, more military ‘stuff.’ And we wonder how she found the time to read 200 books in less than a year.

All in all, read Love My Rifle with a grain of salt. As an adventure, it is above and beyond!

Caveat: this time around, I received the book as part of a grant for a veterans’ book club.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Bangkok Wakes to Rain (OT): Thailand, a century of characters and one teak house)

Bangkok Wakes to Rain, by Pitchaya Sudbanthad  (Riverhead Books/Penguin Randomhouse, 2019, 360 pages, $27)

A Nice. Pleasant Book (for the most part)

A unique organization of a book: 23 chapters (stories), possibly read-alones, about 5 people (and extended families) over several decades and one traditional Thai teak house that Bangkok grows around until climate change rears its ugly unsettling head and becomes part of a 27-story condominium.

From a medical missionary to a young girl during the Thai upheavals in the seventies to an expatriate in London/HK/Stockholm/LA (anywhere but Bangkok) all over the world to a Thai restaurant in Japan and how the characters all come together and weave in and out, mostly chronologically, over the span of a hundred years and on into the future.

It is fun (challenging?) to turn the page to the next chapter and figure out as quickly as possible who the chapter’s central characters are this time as the clues fall into place and you remember bits and pieces of their previous story.

Much like Thai society – pleasant, little character development or plot, but you are there: the fragrant smells, the delectable dishes, the cacophony of the city and the quiet park-like sois – and the birds, natural and man-made.

For those who are familiar with Thailand, you will know that Old Krungthep is the Thai word for Bangkok while others may not remember as they read. That soi is a small narrow street, perhaps an alley. Those who are familiar with Thailand will even understand filling up the sink with water when anticipating a feared disruption in electricity and also ordering soup on the street in a plastic bag ‘to-go.’

Bangkok is a book you can take with you and read in short spurts, but do take notes on who’s who!
Ah, finally I read about the cholera pandemic in the early 1800s that I had heard about. It really happened. They say a king designed a symbol that chased the cholera away: I have a necklace of that symbol and find it quite lovely.