American Sniper: The Auto-Biography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (Chris Kyle)

I am glad to have read this book right before this most recent election, which seems to have the entire country at each other’s throats. This autobiography serves as an explicit reminder of those Americans who are fighting overseas, what they are fighting for, and why it is important.

Kyle’s informal writing style moves this book along quickly, creating the illusion that you are conversing with an average American, not an experienced and seasoned academic writer. This enhances the overall feel of the novel, making it accessible to anyone who decides to read it. Kyle continually refers to himself as a regular kid from Texas, attempting to remain modest throughout the tales of his military successes overseas.

As it features a Navy Seal operating in Iraq, this autobiography frequently tests the boundaries of political correctness. Many who have reflected on the book before me have found this to be a real negative aspect of it, but I feel as though criticizing the book in this way speaks to a misunderstanding of the author’s experiences and viewpoints. It is very easy for the average book critic to comment on Kyle’s insensitivity towards the Iraqi people and radical Islamic extremists, but this attitude seems remarkably naive. While Kyle does his best to place his readers in the shoes of the American soldiers fighting in Iraq, how could you possibly relate to this experience without being there yourself?

The history nerd in me loved the play-by-play explanations that Kyle provided of different operations and battles throughout the war. I loved reading about the different stages of the Iraqi war and the ways that different military units operated, both together and independently. It is fascinating to read Kyle’s firsthand account of such things, as you do not get this often enough in the media or in much of the existing material on the War in Iraq.

Of course, Taya’s excerpts help reveal the incredible strain that military life can have on a family. Her frustrations at raising her kids alone and feeling as though Chris could never love her or their family as much as war are both depressing and thought-provoking. In a lot of ways, military families give up their sense of normalcy as one spouse continues to serve in the armed forces. Chris’ difficulty returning to an average lifestyle when on leave is indicative of the further complications that military families must face. Chris’ eventual decision to return home and take on his role as a father was a happy ending to this marital conflict, but it seems as though not all families are so lucky.

This book is a beacon of patriotism and inspires its readers to take a step back and appreciate those who are fighting for our country. Kyle mentions a few times that he is not fighting in Iraq for any reason except that he is loyal to his country and this is where his country has sent him to fight. This seems to be a direct comment to those who protest the soldiers fighting our wars, which unfortunately does happen around the country. Kyle also takes extreme acts of protests, such as burning a flag, as a direct insult and disrespect to himself and other American soldiers. I wish I could encourage all American protesters to think about this before acting in such a way, and remember who, and what, they are disrespecting when they do such things. Where we would be without our military?


Bar Harbor, Maine

We recently took an amazing trip to Bar Harbor, ME. We spent the week exploring the village and Acadia National Park. This vacation was definitely worth the nine hour drive from the city to Maine, and we are excited for many more trips in our future.

We stayed at the Graycote Inn in the village of Bar Harbor. We spent the first few nights in the inn’s smallest room, and the last few nights in the private king-sized suite. The inn was walking distance to the village restaurants and streets, which we were able to explore throughout the trip. Roger and Pat also served amazing breakfast – Probably the best meals we had during our stay!

We drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain on our first full day in Bar Harbor. We stopped at the many scenic overlooks to enjoy the incredible views from the highest mountain in Acadia National Park. We then visited Thunder Hole, but unfortunately missed the famous explosions of water which only happen at specific times of day. Even though we didn’t hear the “thunder,” the view was beautiful and we had a nice time. Next, we stopped along Park Loop Road to explore the Otter Cliffs and Otter Point. We did not see any otters, but we did have fun walking along the rocks and enjoying the view!

After returning to Bar Harbor, we took an easy hike along the Shore Path around Bar Harbor Village. We had a delicious lunch at a nearby Irish pub, where we tried Bar Harbor style pub food – basically pub food with a seafood twist. Afterwards we took a wooded path to a very pretty beach, called Pretty Marsh, which had amazing views. It took us some time to actually find the place, and a little longer to figure out where the path was, but we enjoyed it all the same. On the way back, we stopped at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. This was a nice way to end the day and we got to see a great sunset. Interestingly, a U.S. Coast Guard family lives in the building year round.

We spent most of our second day at Acadia hiking up Gorge Path to the top of Dorr Mountain and then back down the other side. We were a little intimidated by the trail’s “expert” and “difficult” warnings, but we decided to try it anyway and were rewarded with the most amazing views! We managed to make it safely to the top without falling off any cliffs or rock ledges – Success!

First, we walked Jesup Path to Hemlock Trail, two easy wooded trails on the way to Gorges Path. The long climb up Gorges Path was definitely a challenge. Most of it was an uphill trek that had us jumping and climbing from rock to rock along the side of the mountain. After emerging from Gorges Path,  we climbed up the rocks to the top of Mt. Dorr. While not as strenuous as the hike up the Gorge, this was definitely more dangerous! The views from the top were absolutely spectacular.

We took Ladder Trail down the side of Dorr Mountain. This path mostly consisted of steep stone staircases and, of course, ladders. We enjoyed the way down almost as much as the way up! After reaching the bottom, we took Kane Path along The Tarn back to the car. We ran into the world’s largest spider along the way.

The next day, we rented a canoe to explore Long Pond, a beautiful body of water in the park. It was a great workout with a beautiful view – We paddled out towards two distant mountains, which I think were the famous “bubbles,” but we never confirmed that. The Canoe was fun, even though it started to get windy, which made the trip back somewhat exhausting. Afterwards, we spent the rest of the afternoon golfing at Northeast Harbor Golf Course. The course was absolutely beautiful, although a little bit harder than the easy courses I usually play.

On our last full day at Acadia, we headed out to the only part of the national park that is located on the mainland in search of a bald eagle. Although they are apparently nesting throughout, we did not actually find one during our trip. We also searched high and low for moose, but the moose also eluded us…

We can’t forget about the plenty of relaxation and lounging around the inn. Our room came complete with a DVD player and extremely shoddy wifi, so we went on a search for a place that still sold DVDs. We eventually found a little DVD rack in the back of Rite Aide with about ten movies on it. We bought Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and hunkered down for the night.

This was such an amazing trip, and I am so glad that we went. We coupled the text from this blog post with our favorite pictures from the trip to create an Apple Photo Book, which was also worth every penny. I am excited to plan more national park trips in the coming years and I hope that we are able to hike many more mountains and see so many more amazing sights!

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Down These Mean Streets (Piri Thomas)

This was a great book – Full of love, hate, chaos, moral challenges, and everything else you could want in a coming-of-age tale. Piri’s memoir brings the reader back to mid-20th century Harlem, where his family faces the Great Depression before moving out to Long Island in the burgeoning days of Suburbia.

Piri is raised in a multi-racial household, with a Puerto Rican mother and an African-American father. As he gets older, Piri begins to realize what this means, and attempts to come to terms with his racial identity and the implications it holds for him in pre-Civil Rights Movement America. He struggles to maintain a relationship with his white-looking siblings, strikingly different than his own appearance, and eventually leaves his family to return to his beloved Harlem.

Piri tells his story in a somewhat ineloquent way, which makes it all the more genuine to the reader. You can feel the frustrations and confusions of the Puertan Rican street kid as he travels through the South and back to New York in attempt to figure out who he is. As you follow Piri through his struggle with addiction and his stint in prison, you develop an appreciation for the boy who would eventually grow up to write this award-winning memoir.

Piri’s story is probably not that relatable to many who read it today, including myself, a middle-class white woman who grew up in a comfortable beach town on the East End of Long Island. Regardless, his struggle to discover his identity and his place in the world is familiar to each and every young adult, as the majority have struggled with these issues throughout adolescence and even their early twenties. I would definitely recommend this book to today’s youth, and anyone looking to gain some perspective.

Dracula (Bram Stoker)

5 Star

Finally, the reason I have been away from this page for a few weeks – Dracula! I finished this novel today and I am very excited to write about it. It made a definite impression on me and left me reflecting on the story and its legacy on the genre of vampire fiction that followed.

Stoker is an excellent writer, and I stopped numerous times to note phrases that I particularly enjoyed. While I frequently underline quotes while I read, it is rare for me to stop to appreciate so much of an author’s language. He is especially impressive in his use of similes and other comparisons, creating sentences and paragraphs that flow together and make a reader stop to appreciate the elegant simplicity of his writing.

Many of my underlined passages come in the journal entries of Mina and Jonathan Harker, whose romance inspires me today, over a century after Stoker originally conceived of it. At the start of Dracula, Jonathan is away from his fiancé on business at Castle Dracula, and Mina becomes sick with worry at his continued unexplained absence. After being reunited, we see them marry and care for each other throughout the hunt for Count Dracula. Together, they discover and face their own weaknesses and imperfections, and their love for one another never wavers. This love inspires all those around them and acts as the continuous beacon of hope throughout the novel.

During the novel, I frequently wondered how much of the story Stoker invented and how much of it was taken from or inspired by existing 19th century vampire folklore. After I finished reading, I looked it up and was surprised to learn that Stoker actually borrowed much of the vampire descriptions from earlier essays and writing. This does not diminish the novel for me, but was definitely surprising as I was under the assumption that Dracula was the first concrete start of Vampire fiction.

However much inspiration Stoker took from other authors, it he clearly left a significant legacy on the genre. Elements of his story are reminiscent of modern vampire stories and television shows, and even of other fantasy stories. The hypnosis of Mina to spy on Dracula immediately reminded me of J.K. Rowling’s “horcruxes,” and the infamous connection between Harry and Voldemort. Maybe it’s the Harry Potter nerd in me, but this definitely seemed like a potential inspiration for Rowling’s idea.

This is probably my favorite of all the classics that I have read this summer, and I would encourage everyone who loves a good suspense story to pick it up immediately!

The Adirondacks – Hartford, NY.

We traveled up to the Adirondacks last weekend to visit our old friends (who are recently engaged!) and we had an amazing time. Upstate NY is so beautiful, and we really do not appreciate it enough as downstaters. We are accustomed to a different kind of beauty, with the New York skyline and the Hamptons’ beaches, but there is nothing like the expanses of mountains and seemingly untouched land that you find upstate.

After battling the Labor Day Weekend traffic leaving the city, it was open road all the way to Hartford. The drive was absolutely beautiful, with every curve bringing new landscapes and skyscapes that made us want to pull over to look. While we accidentally sped past all of the scenic parking overlooks along the interstate, we enjoyed an amazing sunset from the car. It was probably for the best that we didn’t actually stop, as we didn’t arrive in Hartford until nearly ten o clock as it was. We did make one stop, where we bought the worst pizza I’ve ever had – a quick reminder that we were not in the city anymore.

We spent the weekend catching up with our old friends, who were very welcoming hosts. They recently moved into a new place, which they have decorated in the most adorable way. They also have a large porch, with really nice views overlooking the yard. I can only imagine how nice it will look in the fall once the leaves begin to fall, leaving an unencumbered view of the mountains. In retrospect, I just wish I had taken more than one photo!

As I mentioned at the start of this post, our friends recently became engaged, and their happiness is contagious to everyone around them. They are so excited to start their next adventure, and it is impossible not to be excited for them. There is hardly a better way to spend a holiday weekend, or any weekend, than catching up with old friends. It seems like life continues to get more complicated as we get older, and seeing old pals is like a breath of fresh air. I hope that we can all meet up again soon.

All in all, this was one of the better weekends of the summer, ending the season on a high note (no pun intended). I would definitely encourage all of our downstate companions to make the trip upstate. While I am definitely a proponent of traveling to other countries and states, it is really incredible what you can see without even going too far. New York is a beautiful and diverse state, both geographically and demographically, and I love how much there is to experience.


The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)

This was, for lack of a better term, a really cool book. I expected it to be much longer, considering the amount of literature and other media that it has inspired over the years. My first exposure to the character(s?) came with The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, a movie loved by a childhood friend of mine.  Like many of its modern readers, I began the book with the preexisting knowledge that Jekyll and Hyde were one and the same.
This knowledge did not take away from the story at all, and it was still exciting to read the original tale of Jekyll & Hyde. In some ways, it made it even more interesting, as I tried to figure out what was going on as I read through the beginning of the book. At  Stevenson’s first description of Hyde, I was immediately thinking to myself, “That’s Hyde!” and then spent the next few chapters waiting to see if I might be right. Stevenson’s tale, being the original, also explains exactly how Jekyll becomes Jekyll and Hyde, a fascinating bit that is often left out of modern adaptations.

The book was the perfect mix of creepy and entertaining, keeping the reader anxious to learn more with each turning page. Stevenson evolves his tale into a commentary on the good and bad in all of us, and the dangers of allowing evil to dominate your personality. This was a very thought-provoking book that leaves readers considering their own identities and how they might act in Jekyll’s shoes – I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it, as we can all benefit from a bit of self reflection.