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438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea

“As a family, we assumed he was dead, [his brother-in-law] Jorge Bonilla said. “We learned he was alive on the news. It was unbelievable.”

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge
by Atria Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.


438 Days:
An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea

View CNN Interview with Alvarenga


Author:  Jonathan Franklin
Atrial Books, 2015
ARC e-reader (978-1-5011-1631-5)
Hardcover: (978-1-5011-1629-2)
Genre: Memoir    222 pages


Unbelievable courage, creativity and skill!

This story of marine survival opens with a lengthy introduction to Salvador Alvarenga before the storm drove his disabled boat deep in the open Pacific.  Franklin’s careful and detailed research is obvious from the start.  His revelations at times, however, seemed tedious and overdone as he droned on and on about the fishing village and the fishing culture.  His purpose, of course, was to provide Alvarenga’s personal background, show his ability to overcome adversity, highlight his love and seeming fearlessness of the sea and his strange dietary proclivities.  Eating raw fish didn’t start with the need to stave off starvation.  His friends describe a time when Alvarenga thought a take-out meal order was too long in arriving.  He reached into the bait pail, pulled out a hand-sized half-frozen sardine, rolled it up in a tortilla and munched away on the raw fish.

The fateful day began with his usual fishing partner unable to go out on the boat. An inexperienced young man, Ezequiel Cordoba was signed up for the quick trip out to the deep waters. Warned of an impending storm, Alvarenda quipped, “I am going with this new guy, but I will be back in time for the party.”

He loaded his boat with ample supplies in the event a return trip was delayed.  In a scene reminiscent of Sebastian Junger’s, “The Perfect Storm” all the best laid plans of man are nothing against the power of Mother Nature.

You feel the sea roil and the winds howl.  You feel Cordoba’s seasickness and fear.  As the storm builds with rapid intensity, they cut loose the 2-mile long fishing line and head toward shore, nearly making it to safety. Incredible bad luck and perhaps the lack of advance equipment safety checks leave the two men stranded with a disabled motor, knife, machete and a small open-topped fish box drifting out to sea at the mercy of the ocean currents.

There is no question by the end of the book Alvarenda has proved he was the right man with the right credentials to survive this long voyage.  His life struggles in the past help him hone his survival strengths.  It is unimaginable how anyone can stay psychologically and physically capable of enduring over 14 months alone at sea in a 25 foot boat.

Choosing to narrate this story in the third person was somewhat distracting but overall the story is so amazing it didn’t matter in the end.  You feel so sad for the young sailor who felt lost when they left the shore and feared for his life long before the ship faced true danger. Despite Alvarenga’s best efforts to inspire and keep the young man alive,  Cordoba was unable to overcome the odds.

My pre-conceived perceptions of open ocean marine life were toppled.  It was shocking to learn that despite its size, the Pacific has become a garbage dump.

It was hard to rate this book.  The story, overwhelming in its reality, seemed to drag in places.  I finally decided on 3.5 stars.  A worthy read.

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January 27, 2016 · 7:53 am

And so it begins in 2016

Itzey at fireplace

New Year’s Resolution.

2015 was not my favorite year for a variety of personal reasons; all trivial but aggravating.   In this new year, I hope to avoid stepping on a shovel and mashing my glasses into my face or falling off the deck steps and ripping out a few tendons in my right foot.  My friends will acknowledge these listed trivialities to be true but not unique to 2015.  I walk through life with one foot in trouble all the time.

Actually the down time from the ankle surgery has given me a head start on my goal of reading 100 books in 2016.  I don’t know if I will meet that challenge but it will be fun to look forward to trying to do it.

When I learned that I would be in semi-permanent timeout for a while, I decided to set up this blog.  It has been a blast.  Thankfully at this point I have few readers so my bumbling and miscues aren’t seen by the vast blogging universe.  Not that it matters in the scheme of things.

For the few readers that have stopped by in 2015, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and reviews.  I would love to hear from you!  I have been thrilled to have many advance reader copies provided to me by my favorite publishers.  What new titles for 2016 have caught your attention?  I might have a copy in my to-read list and we can share our thoughts about them!

See you online!

Itzey’s Mom


January 23, 2016 · 12:29 pm

Best Boy: A Novel


Liveright Publishing
Aug 2015
ereader isbn: 9781631490477
Author Website

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge by Liveright Publishing through edelweiss in exchange for my honest opinion.

This story opens on a heartbreaking note as Todd Aaron, an autistic man now in his 50s, describes arriving at his first assisted-living facility when he was only 11 years old.   He remembers his mother tearfully telling hiawardsm he would love it there and promises that she and his father would visit often.  She tries to put Todd in a good mood with banter that is special between the two of them.  Before she surprises him by driving away without him, he’s told he should always remember who really loves him and she asks him to always be a Best Boy.

This very special story will have you thinking about your interact with the developmentally disabled and the way you are viewed by autistic children and adults.  But more amazing is the way they and in this story, Todd, interpret the world and see you.  You will be shocked by the abuse and ease with which family and strangers take advantage of the innocent.  It will come as a surprise that an autistic man incapable of expressing himself verbally is capable of reading and digesting the Encyclopedia Britannica.  You will be overwhelmed by the frustration and yearning he feels as he searches to identify why he is seen differently from the “world out there”.  It will be impossible not to feel sympathy and love for this man.  You will be lost with him in his loneliness and search for the meaning of love and home.

Behind his quiet, often silent, visage runs a mind that sees things, feels emotions, and is capable of thinking independently.  He is just unable to express himself to others in their language code.

In the scene where he tries to tell his brother, Nate, about a new counselor that scares him he thinks.

“I wanted to tell him all about the bad thing that Mike the Apron was going to bring into my life and that I knew it, just knew it.  I wanted to tell him that his face gave off the same sour hot feeling as the face of our father and that he was a creeping coyote-person who was going to hurt the lamb of Greta Deane and sooner or later do something terrible to me. But I didn’t know how to say that…”.

The story, in my opinion, was very dark and so very sad.  With the exception of his mother, and one caring staff member, Todd was always the victim of abuse of some kind.  It was hard to believe at times that the world could be so continuously cruel.  I was disappointed that those who persecuted Todd the most didn’t get the justice they deserved. I personally wanted to flog his brother in the end.

Overall and despite the tension and sadness, I felt compelled to read as fast as I could always hoping and praying that Todd would find the peace and love he so richly deserved.

Highly recommended.

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January 22, 2016 · 11:39 am