I studied with the Gordon West book. I read it through once, took the test, and missed only 4 questions. I think you remember more by the Gordon West books.
As for radios, If money isn't an issue, get a Yaesu FT-8900. If money is an issue, get either the FT-1802, or FT-2800.
Handhelds are short range except with a better antenna. I hooked my handheld up to a 5/8 wave J-Pole, and from where I am in south Cleveland, TN, I can talk on a Knoxville repeater.
Don't get just a hand held, cause sometimes you need that extra power to make long distance contacts.
A good hand held is a Yaesu VX-170 (or some of the others like that). They are water proof, the battery last about a week, unless you are using it all the time, and it has extended receive.
With handhelds, don't expect the same reception as with a mobile, or base. It won't happen except with a better antenna that the rubber duck!
I have a Yaesu FT-1802, and a VX-170. Very good radios!
Say your call sign on 147.180 (has a tone of 118.(something)) if you ever drive through chattanooga.
Or, I moniter 147.555 quite often.
Hope to hear you on the air soon