Kevin Hazzard’s A Thousand Naked Strangers

A Thousand Naked Strangers

“I did nothing to save the first person who died in front of me.”  An inauspicious beginning to Kevin Hazzard’s decade-long career as an EMT, then paramedic in Atlanta’s mean streets, to say the least.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and at the age of 25, Kevin Hazzard found himself searching for a way to make a difference with his life.  He abandoned his second of two back-to-back unfulfilling jobs and began training as an Emergency Medical Technician.  “Our class begins in March and wraps in December, putting the education of an EMT – one of two people sent to save your life should the worst happen – at eight months.”  A sobering thought.  But then I learn that the second of the life-saving pair is a paramedic who has more autonomy with immediate treatment decisions and has undergone “an additional eighteen months of training.”  A slightly less sobering thought.

Upon completion of his course- and fieldwork, Hazzard applied to Grady Hospital EMS, the crème-de-la-crème of metro-Atlanta medic postings.  According to Hazzard, Grady medics are “the standard by which all medics . . . are measured.”  He was rejected for lack of experience.  He then tried various fire departments and Rural/Metro Ambulance which covered areas of Fulton County not serviced by the Grady folks.  No luck.  He finally landed his first job with FirstMed Ambulance, a semi-shady outfit which provided private ambulances for transport of the old and infirm to doctor’s appointments and hospitals.

It turns out that Hazzard’s response to his first dying patient was perfectly understandable, in fact even appropriate in the face of the patient’s DNR – Do Not Resuscitate order.  When confronted with the elderly and/or terminally ill, first responders must determine if a DNR is in place, then treat (or not) accordingly.  “Ostensibly, we’re here for the patient, but really all we care about is the DNR.”  This thought stops me in my tracks.  Of course the EMTs and paramedics would need this all important bit of info, but “all we care about”?  Really?  Callousness, or coping mechanism?

From here the ride gets riotous and bumpy in the best of ways, as Hazzard climbs the EMS ladder to Rural/Metro and finally to the coveted Grady EMS.

Hazzard pulls no punches, and if you’ve got a queasy stomach or are the least bit prissy about blood and bodily functions, I’d suggest you stop right here.  His writing style is staccato-fast, raw and spontaneous, and he doesn’t hold back on the gore and gross-out factors.  He’s also terribly blunt:  “Disturbing as it may be, the . . . truth is that often enough the people showing up to your medical emergency do so because this was the only respectable job they could get with a GED and a clean driving record.”  I learned this disconcerting fact before the end of the second chapter.  Scatological humor (which I happen to dig – you may not) is also sprinkled liberally throughout; at one point he gives new meaning to the term “dirty bomb”.

Hazzard doesn’t avoid the fact that, in order to survive such an emotionally-charged career, many medics develop a seriously thick skin and morbid sense of humor.  Some get off on the rush, the high of returning a patient from the dead.  Still others are insolent and disrespectful, miserably inept or on the fast track to burn-out.  But most manage to serve with kindness and conscience.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Scribner via Netgalley. I would like to thank the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Katarina Bivald’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, and a Book Giveaway!


A book about reading . . . a book about a reading obsession . . . a book about a woman who would rather read than do just about anything else, who almost requires books just to survive?  Sounds like my kind of book.  In fact, it almost sounds like it might be about me (although my horses, my dogs, music and hiking give the books a run for their money on most days too).

Swedish author Katarina Bivald brings us The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, her first novel to be published in the United States, and it starts with promise.  Sara, a mousy former bookstore employee from Sweden, arrives in the tiny, hard-luck town of Broken Wheel, Iowa to meet and visit with her pen pal, Amy, an elderly resident of this little burg. Amy and Sara have bonded over books during their two-year correspondence, but Sara hits town only to learn that Amy’s funeral has just ended.   She wonders if she should just return home, having unknowingly walked into a disaster after all, but the occupants of Broken Wheel convince her to stay for a bit.  As Sara herself thinks, “As long as she had books and money, nothing could be a catastrophe.”  I agree with this philosophy wholeheartedly, if I do say so myself.

In an effort to ingratiate herself with the townspeople and to get these folks to read (it seems that none of them do), she decides to open a bookshop with Amy’s books as inventory.  Slowly, Sara develops friendships with several of Broken Wheel’s oddball citizens:  George, the reticent but well-meaning alcoholic; Jen, a busybody housewife and determined matchmaker; Grace, the opinionated proprietor of the local greasy spoon; Caroline, a younger, steelier version of the Church Lady; and Tom, the strong, silent-type subject of Jen’s matchmaking attempts.

We learn about the town and its denizens through Sara’s direct relationships with them, and through Amy’s letters to Sara, which function as flashbacks of a sort.  It’s in these letters that the book came alive for me, and I looked forward to the appearance of each one for Amy’s books recommendations.  Sara also pushes her favorites:  “She had sold countless copies of Terry Pratchett’s books before, only a few years ago, she had given in and read one of them, making the acquaintance of one of the most fantastic, and definitely most reliable, authors you could ever hope to find.”  She had me at Terry Pratchett.

And she continued to have me through the first two-thirds of the book or so.  But as more and more time passed in Broken Wheel, and as the situation in which Sara finds herself became a little less plausible, the hold the book had on me began to slip.  The literary references dwindled and the focus became the wacky marriage plot cooked up by Sara’s newfound friends so that she can outstay her tourist visa.  The subsequent, over-the-top events seemed a bit of a contrivance to me, although I suppose something similar could conceivably take place in small-town America.  At this point, I felt like the novel somewhat lost its way and couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be book lit, chick-lit, contemporary women’s lit, some kind of cozy, or a straight-up romance (and we all know I don’t do romance).

If you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned genres, then don’t let my disappointment with the latter part of the book keep you from checking it out.  It’s a light-hearted, whimsical read that I’m sure will appeal greatly to women of all stripes and book clubs across the country.  I enjoyed it enough to give it three stars on the Goodreads scale (3.5 on my own personal scale), meaning I liked it just fine but I didn’t absolutely love it.

If you would like a chance win a copy of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend from the publisher, check out this link to their giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by SOURCEBOOKS Landmark via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.




Kim MacQuarrie’s Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries

Life and Death in the Andes

After reading Kim MacQuarrie’s Life and Death in the Andes:  On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries, I’m ready to pack my bags for South America.  Or at least Peru.  But not Colombia . . . definitely not Colombia.  From the Incas to Pablo Escobar, from Charles Darwin to the Shining Path, from Che Guevara to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the western coast of South America plays host as MacQuarrie, a documentary filmmaker as well as writer, takes us on a thumping trip down the length of the Andes.

Little did MacQuarrie know, as a young kid growing up in Nevada, that the authors he read to escape the heat, namely and among others, Edgar Rice Burroughs and an adventurous dude named William Willis, would inform his later years and lead him to spend much time living in, exploring, writing about and filming South America and the Andes in particular.  It was Willis’ account of his successful jaunt across the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft that led MacQuarrie to volunteer in Peru for a subsequent, but unrelated, raft expedition.  He didn’t get the gig, but the failed application did lead to a chance encounter with an even-bigger transoceanic rafting celebrity, Thor Heyerdahl, who invited him along on an inland Peruvian excavation project.  Talk about your good timing!

The trip starts in Colombia and I quickly learn that it’s been a damned violent place, as if I didn’t already know that.  We’ve all heard, at least peripherally, about Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, and MacQuarrie makes a great study of the drug kingpin’s rise to the lofty heights of the Forbes’ billionaire list (who knew Forbes was so undiscriminating?) and his inevitable plummet and death.  What I had lesser knowledge of was Colombia’s bloody history of political violence and civil war in the hundred or so years prior to Escobar.  It’s made clear though, that despite the fallout from political upheaval and drug wars, Colombia’s culture has also contributed greatly to international art and literature.  It’s a country that has given the world Medellin artist Fernando Botero, whose famous sculptures can only be described by me as bulbous.  Another Colombian native you may just have heard of in the realm of great contributions to literature:  the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose novels are shot through with the brutal echoes of Colombia’s past.

Next up on the itinerary is Ecuador, or more specifically the Galapagos Islands.  It’s here that I learn that Darwin was actually a rank amateur in the scientific department when he arrived in the Galapagos aboard the HMS Beagle.  I had always dwelt under the assumption that Darwin was a seasoned naturalist and that the expedition was planned by and for him, but au contraire!  The Beagle’s mission was to finish surveying Patagonia and its captain was looking to hire an “educated companion” and naturalist, whose job would be to collect specimens but not analyze them.  That was to be left to the trained scientists back in Merry Old England.  Darwin, at 22 and newly graduated from Cambridge with an eye towards becoming a minister, seemed hardly qualified.  In fact, he was so inept at collecting that he failed to bring back even one adult tortoise from the expedition, although four juvenile specimens were returned to England.  And here’s your crazy factoid for the day:  Upon arriving in England, Darwin soon realized that the climate there was far from primo for his young tortoises so he prevailed upon a colleague who was retiring to Australia to take them there.  The last living one of the original four, a female named Harriet, died in 2006 at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, a whopping 176 years after she sailed to England with Darwin.

Peru merits several chapters, presumably because MacQuarrie spent far more time in that locale than the other Andean countries, but also because it seems to have just so many damn interesting things going on there.  MacQuarrie chronicles the Shining Path guerrilla movement of the 1980s and early ‘90s (still mildly active today), hikes to Machu Picchu and gives us the dirty low-down on its smarmy “discoverer” Hiram Bingham, and waxes rhapsodic about the Ice Maiden, a 15th-century mummy of a young girl sacrificed as an offering to the Incan gods.  Juanita, as she was called after her discovery on Mount Amparo, was found wearing perfectly preserved garments made of the finest, most intricate weavings.  From here, MacQuarrie deftly segues into a lengthy discussion of the preservation of traditional weaving practices in Peru today.  As part of his trip to a cooperative market where the Peruvian weavers hawk their wares, he was treated to a typical native lunch:  guinea pigs “served on a plate roasted and splayed, with their arms and legs stretching out, looking like road kill.”  Thanks, Kim.  You just killed my appetite and tempted me to hit PETA up for a Save the Guinea Pigs campaign.

Travelling a little further south to Lake Titicaca (a name that always inspired the giggles in my 8-year-old self), straddling the border of Peru and Bolivia, MacQuarrie then introduces me, his by now fascinated reader, to Los Uros, floating islands made of reeds that house and sustain an entire population.  Everything there, the residences, the boats, the furniture, the food – you name it – is made entirely from the reeds, called totora, that grow naturally on Lake Titicaca.

And have I rambled on long enough?  I should at least give you something to anticipate and leave off telling you chapter and verse about everything this Andean chronicle has to offer.  I must be coming off like the movie trailer that shows all the best scenes and doesn’t leave you anything but filler.  Don’t fret.  There’s a heap of adventure left and you’ll keep moving south into Bolivia and Chile:  Che Guevara, the ruins of Tiahuanaco (Ancient Aliens and Giorgio Tsoukalos’ electrified hair are not in evidence, thank God!), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the Yamana Indians of Tierra del Fuego are waiting.  And Darwin makes a second but final appearance!

I guess it’s apparent by now that I was quite enamored with this book and, as such, I give it a healthy 4.5 stars out of 5.  My one quibble however is with the ending.  I’ll just say that MacQuarrie ends his journey very abruptly.  So abruptly, in fact, that I questioned whether my advance reading copy was missing its ending.  While I normally wouldn’t even comment on this as typos are common with ARCs and come with the territory, my particular electronic copy had an inordinate number of editing goofs which couldn’t help but make me wonder about that ending.  Life and Death in the Andes has since been released so I’m sorely tempted to buy a copy to satisfy my curiosity.

To me, reading is all about learning and adventure, whether you’re traveling in your armchair with words or making your reading-inspired dreams a reality, the latter being exactly what MacQuarrie has done.  The Willis books spurred the failed volunteer opportunity which led to his meeting with Heyerdahl.  The Heyerdahl dig, as well as six months spent living with the primitive Yora tribe in Peru’s Upper Amazon, gave MacQuarrie the idea to travel the length of the Andes, chronicling its troubled history and colorful personages along the way.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley.  All quotes herein are from the review copy and may appear differently in the final print version.  I would like to thank the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Break’s Over!

So due to Xmas insanity and other crap that had to be dealt with over the extended holiday season, I took a lengthy break from this, my brand-spanking-new blog.  Probably not the greatest strategy ever employed by a novice blogger who would actually like a few folks to find and read what she has to say, but as the cliché goes:  You do whatcha gotta do.

I’m up to my neck in pre-releases to be read and reviewed so time’s a wastin’!  I’ve got a few reviews of new-release sci-fi, women’s lit and non-fiction to post in the next couple of weeks, and I still owe another installment or two of the Baker’s Dozen.  I also plan a glowing review of a fantastic book recently published by a dear, dear friend (all bias aside, it really is a terrific read!).  Finally, I’ve recently started a new mini-project:  working my way through Dick Francis’ catalog.  Given my horsey predilections, it’s a crying shame that I haven’t read more Francis than I have.  Time to rectify that, I say.

It’s a new year and a fresh start.  Glad to be back out here in bloggerland!