Posts filed under ‘August 2015 reads’

Sometimes all you can do is just eat the cherry cobbler – “Redeployment” by Phil Klay

This collection of short stories is bitterly heartbreaking, comical, insightful, and some of the stories are simply amazing.  Phil Klay served in Iraq for 13 months as a Public Affairs Officer and his writing is beautiful.  Don’t get me wrong here, it is rough, harsh, and descriptive in a way that makes you wince, but it is beautiful.  Not to grandstand, but this is a book that everyone, particularly Americans, should read.

The stories begin with a marine returning home to his wife after a tour in Iraqi.  His long anticipated return is awkward and not exactly what he had been looking forward to:

“Getting back feels like your first breath after nearly drowning. Even if it hurts, it’s good.”

They had been thumbs_military_policemen_on_security_patrol_outside_tq_-_shooting dogs in Iraq for sport and the soldier returns to his beloved dog who is old and sick.  It is awful to think of shooting dogs, so this book was a rough start for me, but there is an important point Klay is making.  This is who the soldier becomes. The man, who has a dog that he loves and misses and cares for at home, can put that piece of himself or herself away and think of dogs as target practice.

And the stories take you through all these pieces of being a soldier – the mundane day to day tours, the house raids, the mind-numbing administrative positions, the frustratingly stupid foreign politics, etc.  Klay doesn’t miss the ridiculous either, the all Iraq needs is baseball or widow beekeepers to recover moments are in there and they are head-shakingly funny.   But most compelling for me is how we place these people in extraordinary situations, with guns and death and nightmares in the making, and then we expect them to be able to handle the “normal.”   Once you go through this experience a simple trip to the mall with crowds of people takes on a whole different meaning of awareness.

The story that really seemed to the best example of that expectation of normal  was early on in the book. After a raid on a Iraqi home, after cleaning off the blood of Iraqis and fellow soldiers, the men sit down in the mess hall to dinner with their choice of any kind of cobbler.  For one young kid this was the first time he had killed anyone and he just sits there staring.  The other guys get him cherry cobbler, it is supposed to be the best, and hand him a spoon.

It is the best illustration that there are these moments in life where all you can do is keep going, even if that means you are just committing to do a small everyday thing.  Because really, if you think about it, we were told we were fighting this war to hold onto the small everyday things that make our lives meaningful.  Even things as simple as cobbler.

“Maybe you didn’t understand American foreign policy or why we were at war. Maybe you never will. But it doesn’t matter. You held up your hand and said, “I’m willing to die for these worthless civilians.” 

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August 30, 2015 at 9:21 am 3 comments

Disappointment can be so…well…disappointing – “Second Life” by S.J. Watson

I will start off by tipping my hat to S.J. Watson’s first book “Before I go to Sleep.”  It was a great suspense.  That makes this review all the more painful for me because I was very excited for Watson’s new book.  And I understand that sometimes that sophomore effort can be so hard, particularly when the first book was so successful.  But honestly, does this Unknownpoor author have no one in his life who, over a morning cup of coffee, would say to him “don’t publish this…no seriously it is bad. Cream in your coffee?”

Julia has a sorted past.  But like all heroines (not sure this is really the right word for her), she has come out stronger and a better person.  She is married to a lifelong friend. She has adopted her sister’s (Kate) son because Kate was unable to take care of him.  She is taking pictures again.  Julia has it together.  Until she receives a call that Kate has been murdered in a dark Parisian alley.  Then things start to unravel for Julia.

In an attempt to piece together who murdered her sister, Julia begins logging into a dating website Kate used for casual hook-ups. Not a couple days into her research, Julia meets someone online.  They begin talking, and one thing leads to another and Julia’s shunning her perfect life for hotel hook-ups.  But what about Kate’s murder and solving the mystery you say? Well sure she is doing that kind of too, but mostly she is hooking up with one guy she met online.  And poor Julia, she wants to stop but she can’t. Did I mention she is a recovering addict?  So, what is a girl to do really? Like all books with this type of storyline, there is always the tension that the husband will find out, that the son will hate her, that her whole life will crash but of course she having such a great time.  Life is no picnic when your sister is murdered and you start having an affair.

The themes and twists and turns in this book have been written before – hundreds of times.  The predictability of the story is painful at best and maddening at worst.  And Julia is so terribly unlikeable. She makes so many stupid decisions that you really are kind of relieved when there are consequences – it just seems fair.

Maybe Watson was on a tight deadline and just had to churn something out. Maybe he had some personal problem that affected his writing so severely that this is where he ended up. Or maybe, and I don’t like this one but still, “Before I go to Sleep” was it for him and it is all downhill from here.  But regardless, he has his work cut-out for him in the writing of  his third  book.

Oh, and, Mr. Watson, perhaps the next book could not end in a silly cliff-hanger. Please. Cream in your coffee?

August 9, 2015 at 9:49 pm 6 comments

The best find of the Summer – “Bittersweet” by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

18339743I am going to go far out on a limb, dangerously so, and say this is by far my favorite summer read.  I bought this book because I happened to read the description and it took place in Vermont. I was headed to Vermont for vacation so it seemed like a good match.

Mabel is the stereotypical nerd – frumpy, uncomfortable in her skin, insecure (you get the picture).  Her first semester in college she finds herself rooming with Genevra (Ev) Winslow.  Ev comes from a long line of the rich, the beautiful, the moneyed.  In short, she is everything Mabel is not.  Oddly, after months of Ev’s disdain, the girls bond and Ev invites Mabel to come summer at her family’s compound in Vermont.  Eager to avoid returning home, Mabel agrees and off they go to the beautiful, idyllic Lake Champlain and the Winslow’s blue blood summer estate “Winloch.”

Winloch has one main dining hall where all the different branches of the family gather to eat.  Otherwise, the property has cottages for the various Winslows to stay in. They are named after the local vegetation “Queen Anne’s Lace,” Goldenrod”, etc.  Ev and Mabel are placed in “Bittersweet” which is to be a part of Ev’s inheritance.  There is swimming, picnics, plays, tennis (of course), boating and other manner of blue blood summer sports. It is everything Mabel never knew she wanted. Of course, nothing is that perfect.  Mabel runs into Ev’s eccentric Aunt Indo who insinuates that there are family secrets to be discovered and assigns Mabel a research project.  This leads her to discover some ugly truths about the Winslow family and about her friendship with Ev.

This book is highly predicable, so I am not claiming it is original.  But the setting and the characters make it fun. And even though Mabel is drab and a bit stereotypical you can’t help but want her to succeed.  So I guess I am saying this book is a blast, with the caveat that it is not going to amaze you with its new ideas or inventive storyline.  Sometimes, this is just the kind of book you need to read.  That and really who doesn’t wish for an invitation to a place like Winloch?

 

Other summer reads that have been fun but not as good as this one:

  • “Natchez Burning” by Greg Iles
  • “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fanny Flagg (yes, even if you saw the movie you should read it)
  • “Silver Bay” by Jojo Moyes (not as good as her other books but a fun, light read) 

August 1, 2015 at 3:52 pm Leave a comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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