Tag Archives: Biographies

Island of the Lost by Joan Druett

Overview

Title: Island of the Lost
Author: Joan Druett
Rating Out of 5: 2 (Managed to read it… just)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, History, Oceans
Pace: Slow
Format: eBook, Novel
Year: 2007

Thoughts

This was an incredibly well researched book. It was even well written, a little dry, but not overbearingly so. It stated the facts and gave you a bit of a personality insight into each of the key players without taking too many liberties.

This book really wasn’t my thing. Partly because although it was great that it didn’t take liberties, I actually wanted a little more drama to the story. There was nothing to inspire me to keep reading.

And then there’s the fact that I actually have zero interest in maritime history. So, maybe not the best book for me to try and read in hindsight, but still 1uite interesting.

<- The Happiest RefugeeZlata’s Diary ->

Image source: Booktopia

Shotgun Angels by Jay Demarcus

Overview

Title: Shotgun Angels: My Story of Broken Roads and Unshakeable Hope
Author: Jay Demarcus
Rating Out of 5: 3 (On the fence about this one)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, Memoirs, Music
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Year: 2019

Thoughts

I absolutely love the music by Rascal Flatts. So I was excited to know a little bit more about their history and the journey to becoming a band. This really wasn’t about that. It was more about Demarcus’ faith. Which is fine, but definitely not my cup of tea.

I’m really funny about anything that is a little too Bible heavy. Again, just not my cup of tea. And although this was a sweet journey, it is incredibly obvious that this is a HUGE aspect of Demarcus’ life. It literally permeates everything in this story. And whilst I can see how a lot of people would find this incredibly uplifting, I just felt incredibly uncomfortable.

Because I did enjoy this, but also felt uncomfortable, I’m going to write a short review here. This was good and interesting. Definitely not too pushy with the belief. But also, not what I was expecting, anticipating and looking forward to reading.

<- Mao’s Last DancerThe Happiest Refugee ->

Image source: HarperCollins Australia

Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday

Overview

Title: Lady Sings the Blues
Author: Billie Holiday
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, Memoirs, Music, Race
Pace: Slow
Format: eBook, Novel
Year: 1956

Thoughts

Two words reading this: HOLY CRAP. I know next to nothing about blues and jazz. In both the best and worst ways possible. I mean, the holy crap meant that it was impossible for me to put this book down. In a bad way, it was just a horrible life for someone to live. And, all that much sadder to know that Holiday passed away only a few years after this book was first published.

I loved the style and tone of voice throughout this biography. Holiday is immediately relatable and totally foreign. She has such a distinct voice and refuses to shy away from the reality of the world and herself. In fact, there are some truly and deeply horrifying moments recounted in this, but it’s not done in a woes-me way.

This is a seriously dark biography. There are very few moments throughout that I would consider to be a bright moment. It was horrifyingly dark and, even a few days later, sitting here to write a review… I’m in awe of all of the feelings this inspired. And, the strength of a woman who was able to overcome unimaginable odds.

A seriously brilliant and intense biography. One that I will pick up again in the future to totally destroy my emotions all over again.

<- An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on EarthSurviving Year Zero ->

Image source: Amazon

Will by Will Smith and Mark Manson

Overview

Title: Will
Author: Will Smith & Mark Manson
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: AudiobooksBiographies, Celebrity
Pace: Medium
Format: Audiobook, Novel
Year: 2021

Thoughts

Whilst I’m new to audio books, this is one that I would 100% not recommend getting in print. Having the audio book version with Will Smith himself telling his story was amazing. And that doesn’t even take into account the musical moments throughout. Examples of the raps and tunes he’s talking about just bring this even more to life.

I’ve been doing a bit of binge watching of Fresh Prince lately. It’s been very interesting to watch that and listen to this audiobook throughout the same time period. There’s so many more bits of information that I picked up on. Background tidbits that somehow add more to the storyline and give even greater context to the jokes made throughout.

I’m not going to lie, this is definitely a biography written by a bit of a narcissist. There are many moments throughout where Will tries to sound wise and all knowing. And to me it just doesn’t quite come of that way. Not to say that his worldview isn’t inherently interesting. And honestly, for someone to do as well as he has in his chosen careers… you’ve got to be a narcissist. But, it definitely made a large contrast in tone to the types of biographies I have been listening to.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the insanity that is celebrity life. The kind of personality and drive it takes to ENJOY such a way of living. It’ll be a long time before I want to dive into this world again. But for those 17 hours, it was fun.

<- The Jane Austen Writers’ ClubStephen Hawking: A Life in Science ->

Image source: Goodreads

Breathe by Rickson Gracie

Overview

Title: Breathe: A Life in Flow
Author: Rickson Gracie
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Audiobooks, Biographies, Martial arts, Sport
Pace: Slow
Format: Audiobook, Novel
Year: 2021

Thoughts

My coach told me about this book and, after a bit of a delay, I decided to download and listen to the audiobook. I knew that it would be good and interesting. But I had no idea just how… unforgettable it would be. Not to mention seriously confusing, overwhelming and intense. I’ve always joked that BJJ is a bit of a cult – I didn’t quite realise how correct and true to reality that comment would be.

Listening to this story of the origins of BJJ and the history of the Gracie family while I was driving to and from BJJ training was definitely a bit of a surreal experience. I had some basic understandings of where the martial arts form comes from. And I had some understanding of the intricacies and politics of the Gracie family. But, honestly, until I read this – I didn’t realise that I just had no idea.

Although the focus on this biography is very much around fighting and martial arts, it also talks about family and love. Rickson Gracie talks about his (many, many) brothers, his father, his children, his wife… and all of it intertwined with his life and love of BJJ. There are many moments of wisdom and love that I took away from his story that I really wasn’t expecting. I know that BJJ was developed for those who are smaller and not necessarily stronger than their opponents. But I didn’t expect such a spiritual journey and attachment, such a beautiful acceptance of life in all of its glory and horrors.

For anybody who is interested in sports, spiritual wellbeing and the growth of an international phenomenon, this is the biography for you. I love that not only does Gracie talk about the origins of BJJ, his own family history, and his training, but the origins of UFC also take centre stage here. I honestly had no idea how intertwined BJJ was with UFC from the very beginning – I thought it was just something that had evolved over time. Definitely a book that I will be picking up again and again and again.

<- Born to RunAn Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth ->

Image source: HarperCollins Australia

On Writing by Stephen King

Overview

Title: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, Memoirs, Writing
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Year: 2000

Thoughts

Stephen King fascinates me. And terrifies me. I mean, that is a twisty man who writes the kinds of stories he writes. Which all leads me to be fascinated by the idea of his take on writing and his own writing history. Who wouldn’t be? He’s one of the most famous writers…

I really enjoyed how this book was set out. It starts with a more autobiographical account if King’s life. And then heads towards tales and information on how he actually goes about the writing process. It males a complete logical sense and still provides insights to the man behind the writing.

Personally, although I enjoyed all of the writing on HOW to write. It was the autobiographical aspect of this novel that I loved. And it’s this first half that I would read again.

<- Needful ThingsThe Outsider ->

Image source: Bookdepository

Blackout by Sarah Hepola

Overview

Title: Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
Author: Sarah Hepola
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Alcohol, Biographies, Memoirs, Mental health
Pace: Medium
Format: Novel
Year: 2015

Thoughts

As someone who has had a few years of drinking too heavily and experiencing blackouts… this hit a bit too close to home. But in a good way. Because rather than being judgemental and harsh, Hepola talks about her journey with acceptance, honesty and a good dose of humour. Brutally honest and wonderfully open, this book was definitely well worth the read.

Not only does this memoir delve into issues with alcohol, but also talks about what its like to be a woman. We’re in a world where being a drinker as a woman is impressive in your late teens and early twenties. But by the time you start edging towards the thirties? Expectations change. Its a hard reality to walk and Hepola did such justice to highlighting how difficult it is to navigate.

One of the many aspects of this memoir that I loved is that Hepola doesn’t blame her insecurities and reliance on alcohol on anyone or anything. In fact, she mentions friends having concerns about their kids following the same route she did and pointing out that there’s nothing that can be done. There is no blame or fault throughout this, and its… a refreshing way to talk about an issue that affects a lot of people.

Once I opened the first one of Blackput, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There is something intense and honest about this. And a little too relatable. It’s definitely a journey that I look forward to taking again and again. I reminder of the line that we all need to draw, and how some people have more difficulties with that than others.

<- The Truths We HoldThe Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl ->

Image source: Booktopia

Anna: A Teenager on the Run by Anna Podgajecki

Overview
Anna: A Teenager on the Run by Anna Podgajecki

Title: Anna: A Teenager on the Run
Author: Anna Podgajecki
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, Memoirs, War
Dates read: 2nd February – 23rd April 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: eBook, Novel
Publisher: Amberly Publishing
Year: 2011
5th sentence, 74th page: The unfinished building had two giant windows facing the yard where the murderers were standing, but above me there was an attic.

Synopsis

Part of a new Holocaust remembrance series of important testimonies and memoirs from the unique collections of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre.

Anna Podgajecki was born in Korzec, on the Polish–Russian border. As life for the Jews became steadily worse, Anna’s parents insisted that she, the oldest of their seven children, try to escape, survive and report to the world on the atrocities that were taking place.

For three years Anna lived in constant fear of discovery. She wandered from place to place and found work as a translator, a housekeeper and finally a nurse on the Russian front. Through luck, good timing, personal charm, a talent for languages and her special beauty, she was able to avoid death.

Anna’s reflections on her escape and survival are both remarkable and touching, arousing our curiosity about the human instinct to survive, despite all odds.

Thoughts

This novel is fucking brutal and heartbreaking. In a way that I can’t even begin to describe. It is just…. Wow. Not for the faint of heart. And even difficult for people with a strong spine. It took me forever to get through because I could honestly read a maximum of three chapters in one hit before I started getting dragged into a really dark place. Which, honestly, is kind of exactly what this story should be doing. After all, it’s about the holocaust.

I’ve read a few stories about World War II and the holocaust. And even accounts of other wars. But this is most definitely the most brutal I’ve read. Other stories offer an almost sense of hope, and you can see where certain aspects of the tale are kind of glossed over. That is not the case with Anna’s writing (I can’t even use her last name like I do with many other reviews because of the honesty). Anna takes you right into the heart of her heartbreak and horror. And she leaves no stone unturned. There is zero glossing over and nothing, and I mean nothing, is hidden.

This tale doesn’t just talk about what Anna experienced to survive as a Jew in WWII, but it also talks of the aftermath. After all, even though the war was over and occupation ended, there were (and still are) many scars and divisions that were left behind. It took her a long time to be able to feel safe even admitting that she was a Jew – even though technically she could.

Even writing this review, I can feel that uncomfortable swelling in my chest that was my companion throughout this whole story. Reading a war memoir should never be comfortable. But the horrors that are recounted in this writing… I just don’t have the words.

<- UnmaskedGogo Mama ->

Image source: Goodreads

Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic

Overview
Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipovic - Penguin Books Australia

Title: Zlata’s Diary
Author: Zlata Filipovic
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, Memoirs, War
Dates read: 25th – 26th March 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1993
5th sentence, 74th page: We don’t think about the shelling or the war.

Synopsis

I’m trying to concentrate so that I can do my homework (reading) but I simply can’t. Something is going on in town. You can hear gunffire from the hills!

This entry in Zlata’s diary in April 1992 shows how the war draws relentlessly closer to her hom ein Sarajevo. When she starts her diary, Zlata tells of her normal, happy life with her family and friends. But soon they are fighting to survive. Zlata’s very personal accoutn is a vivid portrait of an innocent child caughht up in a terrible war.

Thoughts

I put this book on my wish list because it was a book read by the Freedom Writers. I knew absolutely nothing about Sarajevo or Bosnia or the war that was occurring literally on the day that I was born. And although I still don’t know much at all about the politics of the situation and all the ins and outs. Reading about a child’s thoughts during war… terrifying.

After having read The Diary of Anne Frank, it is terrifying to read yet another tragic story. Although, admittedly, there was a much happier ending to this tale. The innocence of Zlata just shines out of the pages, and the terror and confusion that she felt… it is an incredibly uncomfortable read this novel. One that I would suggest for everyone. But still incredibly informative.

I had to read this novel in small bites – it is incredibly heart wrenching and horrifying. It is also kind of hopeful. A great reminder of the power of the human spirit. The part that I loved the most about this was the power of the human spirit. And the ways in which all of Zlata’s family and neighbourhood banded together to support one another. It’s not the kind of thing that can always be hoped for, and it is a reminder that people can survive anything.

Zlata’s diary is a powerful and wonderful read. It is definitely not a feel good story or one that I necessarily felt the need or desire to read before bedtime, but it was definitely one that I will go back to in the future. And I would most definitely recommend it to others.

<- The Happiest RefugeeThe Diary of a Young Girl ->

Image source: Puffin Books Australia

Lucky Child by Loung Ung

Overview
BOOKS - Loung Ung

Title: Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind
Author: Loung Ung
Series: Daughter of Cambodia #2
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, History, Memoirs, War
Dates read: 27th February – 13th March 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 2000
5th sentence, 74th page: While they chatter away about the farm and the weather, Cou slowly fold Khouy’s clothes and lays them on the plank.

Synopsis

The author of the critically acclaimed bestseller First They Killed My Father returns with a searing and redemptive story of life in America as a Cambodian genocide survivor.

After enduring years of hunger, deprivation, and devastating loss at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, ten-year-old Loung Ung became the “lucky child,” the sibling chosen to accompany her eldest brother to America while her one surviving sister and two brothers remained behind. In this poignant and elegiac memoir, Loung recalls her assimilation into an unfamiliar new culture while struggling to overcome dogged memories of violence and the deep scars of war. In alternating chapters, she gives voice to Chou, the beloved older sister whose life in war-torn Cambodia so easily could have been hers. Highlighting the harsh realities of chance and circumstance in times of war as well as in times of peace, Lucky Child is ultimately a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and to the salvaging strength of family bonds.

Thoughts

This is just as hard hitting as the first Ung book, First They Killed My Father. It is dark, twisted and definitely the type of book that you need to read only in certain moods. But it is also important, poignant, and brilliantly written. I loved every moment of reading this. Even if it wasn’t the type of book that I wanted to read each and every day.

The entire time I read this memoir, my heart honestly ached. It is an incredibly tragic tale. One that, even though Loung gets out of Cambodia young, continues on. She manages to write about her PTSD and the difficulties of adapting to a foreign country in a way that is a little heartwrenching, incredibly realistic, but still not so overwhelming that you can’t stomach the idea of reading the story. It’s a fine line to walk when retelling tales of war and PTSD, but Ung manages to do so in a relatable and approachable way. Now I can’t wait to read the final book in this trilogy!

My sister is my favourite person in the world. She is my best friend, confidant and the person that honestly understands me more than anyone else. It is obvious from the way that she writes that Ung feels very much the same. Which probably is what made this story so hard for me to read – Loung and Chou are separated for fifteen years in a time that would have been crucial to both of them in their social and physical growth. It is definitely a little heart wrenching. But I love that there is this constant reminder that sisters are forever. That no matter the time that passed, they were still sisters and still loved each other dearly.

This is a great way to tell the story of two sisters – you journey alongside both Loung and Chou to find out what their lives were like after the war and the genocide. It helps to show how different twists of fate can make two lies. And how intensely the past can affect our every day lives. It is one of those stories that will stick with me forever and I will probably reread this multiple times in the future.

<- First They Killed My FatherLulu in the Sky ->

Image source: Loung Ung