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A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper

Jim Hooper‘s A Hundred Feet Over Hell is a true account of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company, with which his brother Bill served as one of the Myth Makers flying single-engine Cessnas that were extremely vulnerable to artillery and other ground fire.  These men were charged with flying over hot zones and locating the enemy for bombers, giving precise coordinates for dropping bombs and napalm.

“Rather than sharing our joy at his return, Bill was angry.  Not because of the crippling wound received in an unpopular war — he accepted that as part of what he had signed on for.  The anger came from being here.  In a demonstration of uncompromising loyalty over logic, it was, he believed, a betrayal of the warrior family he’d left behind.”  (Page xi)

Hooper has captured the essence of these men and their time in Vietnam from their crazy stunts to the moments when they feared for their lives.  Through alternating points of view the stories unfold quickly as one man feeds off and expands on the story being told by their friend and colleague.  Readers will meet characters like Doc Clement and Charlie Finch, but these men are not characters, but real human beings who lived through the harsh realities of war.

“Bill Hooper:  . . . I can’t remember more of that day, save weeping in the privacy of my room.  Perhaps the saddest thing of all was that I would learn to be unemotional about killing, eventually joining others who were very good at it.”  (Page 23)

Hooper pulls no punches in the organization of this book and doesn’t seem to modify the military language these men used on a regular basis; some examples include VC for Viet Cong and DMZ for demilitarized zone, which is clearly a misnomer, to the lesser known terms DASC for Direct Air Support Control Center and Kit Carson scout for those former Viet Cong recruited to assist with counterintelligence.  Readers of military history and fiction are likely to understand many of these acronyms and terms easily, but others may have to refer to the provided glossary.  However, once they get a grip on the terminology, readers will plunge into the narrative easily, getting to know each of the soldiers and how they coped with the war.

A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper will remind readers of those in-the-field journalistic interviews with soldiers and those documentaries where one soldier begins a story only to be continued by another soldier, providing a deeper impact.  Each man shares their fears, their triumphs, and their more embarrassing moments.  One of the best books about the Vietnam War, not about infantry.

Please check out this book trailer to see what these men flew over enemy territory without armor or weapons.

A Hundred Feet Over Hell

Please also check out these great photos.

About the Author:

After graduating with a degree in Slavic Studies from the University of South Florida, Jim Hooper worked as a documentary research-writer for WFLA-TV in Tampa, with weekends set aside as a skydiving instructor and team captain. He gave up television after three years to devote himself full time to jumping out of airplanes, logging over 3000 freefalls and building the world’s premier skydiving center in Zephyrhills, Florida. His thirst for adventure unfulfilled, he sold the business in 1984 to realize a long-held dream of being a war correspondent and author, making his home in England and setting off for Africa.

I want to thank Lisa Roe at Online Publicist and the author Jim Hooper for sending me a copy of A Hundred Feet Over Hell for review.

This is my 39th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 7th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland

As part of the Graywolf Press — one of my favorite small presses that publishes poetry and fiction — Spotlight on Small Presses (click on the badge at the bottom of the post for the tour stops), I chose a poetry book to review, which I picked up at the 2010 Book Expo America.

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland is his first collection of poems in 10 years, according to the Graywolf representative at the expo.  The collection features poems that call into question the realities of the modern world from our dating rituals to our trips to the mall food court.

In “Big Grab,” Hoagland suggests language is taking on meanings that are less than they are.  “The Big Grab,/so the concept of Big is quietly modified/to mean More Or Less Large, or Only Slightly/Less Big than Before.// Confucius said this would happen –/that language would be hijacked and twisted/”  (page 5).  This collection not only tackles the language changes our society faces and what those changes mean, but it also looks carefully at the world of celebrity in “Poor Britney Spears.”

Expensive Hotel (page 24)

When the middle-class black family in the carpeted hall
passes the immigrant housekeeper from Belize, oh
that is an interesting moment.  One pair of eyes is lowered.

That’s how you know you are part
of a master race — where someone
humbles themselves without even having to be asked.

And in the moment trembling
from the stress of its creation,
we feel the illness underneath our skin —

the unquenchable wish to be thought well of
wilting and dying a little
while trying to squeeze by

the cart piled high with fresh towels and sheets,
small bars of soap and bottles
of bright green shampoo,

which are provided for guests to steal.

Hoagland’s crisp language and vivid imagery is deftly weaved with philosophical and societal questions we all should be answering or at least asking.  Has modern society twisted our culture into something worthwhile or is it something that should be tossed in the trash as a bad experiment.  However, there are moments of humor and deep sarcasm throughout the volume that offset one another to make readers ponder what the poet really desires from the modern world.  Readers will come away from the collection with a new focus on examining society and their part in it –whether they decide to continue assimilating is up to them.  Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty is a thought-provoking collection that urges readers to be unique and to think outside the box.

This is my 9th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 38th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Free to a Good Home by Eve Marie Mont

Eve Marie Mont‘s Free to a Good Home is a delightful read about Noelle Ryan whose husband, Jay, has finally told her his deepest secret — he’s gay — effectively obliterating her dream and forcing her to reassess her life.  Noelle has a successful, if stressful, career as a veterinary technician, but she occupies most of her time with her family and the dogs at the shelter, rather than coping with her own problems.  She’d rather solve everyone else’s problems and be the good person that everyone leans on when they need consoling or help.

“‘Sure,’ I say, handing him my cup.  He’s cute.  Messy brown hair, crinkly eyes, and that sexy clenched jaw thing.  Too cute.  A turn-your-brain-to-clotted-cream cute.”  (page 32)

Noelle is passionate about saving animals and finding them homes, but she’s also passionate about helping people, including her WASP ex-mother-in-law, Margaret, who made her marriage miserable. However, what will get to readers is how much of a doormat Noelle is when it comes to Jay; he asks her to do many unthinkable favors including taking care of his mother.  Many readers will want to scream at this character and beat her back to her senses.  While Jay is not a bad guy per se, he crosses the line in his relationship with Noelle, which effectively prevents her from moving on with her life even after she meets a gorgeous musician named Jasper.

“‘Luxwood Victorian Gardens.’

‘They make it sound so pleasant.  Like you’re staying in some luxurious estate, Blithewold Mansion for the physically impaired.’

‘Well, they have to do that to get people in the door.  They can’t very well call the place Let-Us-Steal-Your Independence Gardens.’

‘Feed-Us-Flavorless-Food-Courtyard.’

‘Watch-Jeopardy-Until-You-Die-Village.'”  (page 193)

However, Mont’s writing is engaging and dramatic and even humorous.  If you love animals and a bit of romance in your summer reading with a good dose of drama, Free to a Good Home will fit your needs.

About the Author:

Eve Mont lives with her husband, Ken, and her shelter dog, Maggie, in suburban Philadelphia, where she teaches high school English and creative writing. Free to a Good Home is her first novel, which was released on  July 6, 2010. She is currently working on her second novel.

http://www.literaryescapism.com/new-author-challenge10

This is my 37th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri

Heather Barbieri‘s The Lace Makers of Glenmara is set in Ireland as the main character, Kate Robinson, leaves her life in the United States to take the journey to her ancestral lands that she was supposed to take with her mother.   She leaves her home after failing to make it with her own clothing line and the break-up of her relationship with Ethan.  After a rough journey in the rainy countryside, Kate happens upon the small village of Glenmara and its quirky residents from motherly widow Bernice to abrasive Aileen.

“Everyone had been so sure she and Ethan would get married, that she would catch the bouquet at the medieval wedding they attended that March (the couple being devoted not only to each other but to the Society for Creative Anachronism), the event at which he left her, if not at the altar, just southwest of it, next to an ice sculpture of a knight in shining armor that had begun to melt, a moat of water at his feet, his sword soon no more than a toothpick.”  (Page 6)

Switching between points of view, Kate’s perspective is rounded out by the narration of William the traveler, Aileen, and Bernie.  Readers will be drawn into the stories of Kate and her friends as they search for peace and acceptance among themselves and others. Each of these women deals with not only sorrow and loss, but also shaken confidence.

“‘Like Colleen said, mistakes aren’t necessarily a problem,’ Bernie told her.  ‘Sometimes they lead you in a different direction.  Who says you always need to follow the rules?  Breaking the pattern can be the very best thing, even though it can be scary at first.'”  (Page 91)

Barbieri creates a cast of characters as tumultuous as the weather and diverse as the scenery of Ireland.  Kate is broken, and many of the other characters are broken as well.  It takes lace making and camaraderie to heal.  Glenmara, unfortunately, is a town in the middle of nowhere where religion is more than a passing moment on Sundays.  Can these women overcome their own fears and rekindle the beauty within themselves?

The prologue to the novel, however, that outlines what you need to sew and draws parallels between sewing and life changes is a bit overwrought, especially when Kate becomes part of the lace making guild.  Readers are likely to draw those parallels on their own without shining a bright light on it.

Meanwhile, the evolution of these characters and what they cultivate through their friendships is an amazing transformation for these women that will leave readers wondering what relationships in their lives have transformed them.  Barbieri’s writing is captivating and will pull readers into the Irish countryside.  An emotional evolution for the characters and readers set against the backdrop of beautiful Irish hills and cliffs.  Be ready to jump off and join them.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops.

About the Author

Heather Barbieri is half-Irish. Her paternal ancestors left counties Donegal and Tipperary  after The Great Famine and worked in the coal mines of Eastern Pennsylvania before settling in Butte, Montana. Her impeccably dressed maternal grandmother was a descendant of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and instilled an avid interest in fashion in her granddaughters. Barbieri’s first novel, Snow in July (Soho Press), was selected as a Book Sense Pick, a Glamour magazine “Riveting Read,” and a Library Journal Notable First Novel. Before turning to writing fiction full-time, she was a magazine editor, journalist, and film critic. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and three children, and is currently working on her third novel.

Also check her out on Facebook.

This is my 3rd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge.

This is my 36th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher

The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher uses tongue twisting phrases and juxtaposition to shed light on and deal with the expectations of family and society.  Wrong miracles occur everyday in Gallagher’s world from the cat that drags in a poem it found to a breeze that cracks the narrator open.  Gallagher’s playful phrases will have readers smiling in amusement, and she enjoys turning cliches upside down.

“I still have not

bought the doghouse — a real one, not

the metaphorical one where husbands some

times hang out while wives are belt loosening

or just simply giving things a twirl.”  (From “Prelude to Getting One’s Act Together,” Page 15)

In many cases, Gallagher is whimsical with her imagery even when her poems deal with serious events, such as paying for the best and getting something unexpected and disappointing.  In “Woman in a Redhead,” she seeks a new look, cappuccino hair that ends up being red and having to deal with the result.

“On my way home, I fake a swagger and ants

in my pants.  I am singularly impressed by the rife

humour that is making its way down the broad of my

back.  I will be back to get my cappuccino-chocolate hair,

I think.  Sometimes we don’t get what we pay for and blood

does curdle.”  (Page 3)

But beneath the whimsy of her verse lies a dark anger and disappointment that simmers and bursts forth. Can you talk yourself into doing anything?  Can you justify waterboarding like you can justify jumping out of an airplane with a parachute as a hobby?  Is the unthinkable a norm that we haven’t gotten used to yet?  Gallagher asks these questions and more, but she also examines fatherly love and forgiveness.

A Poem That Thinks It Has Joined a Circus (Page 10)

A handkerchief is not an emotional holdall.

A cup of tea does not eradicate all-smothering sensations.

A hands-on approach is not the same as a hand-on-a-shoulder

willing a chin to lift and an upper lip to stiffen.

A forehead resting on fingers does not imply that the grains

of sand in an hourglass have filtered through.

A set of eyes staring into space is not an indictment that the sun

came crashing down in the middle of the night.

A sigh that causes trembling and wobbly knees should be

henceforth and without warning trapped in a bell jar and retrained

to come out tinkling ivories with every gasp.

A poem trying to turn a sad feeling on its head does not constitute

a real poem, it is a cancan poem, dancing on a pinhead

and walking a tightrope with arms pressed tightly by its sides.

Readers just starting out with poetry will find this collection needs to be read aloud and more than once because some of the lines are dense with imagery, double-speak, and juxtapositions.  However, the poems do exude a song-like quality as tongue-twisters roll off the tongue, which will have readers repeating Gallagher’s lines over and over again.  The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher is a buzz worthy collection.

***Please check out my previous two-part interview with Liz Gallagher.  Also, proceeds from the sale of her book, The Wrong Miracle, will go to support Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death society.***

Thanks to Liz for sending me a copy of her book for review.

About the Poet: (Photo Credit: Vladi Valido)

Liz Gallagher was born and brought up in Donegal, Ireland. She has been living in Gran Canary Island for the past 14 years. She has an Education degree where she specialised in Irish language. She also has a Computer Science degree. She is at present doing research into online debating for her PhD. She began writing about 5 years ago and has won a variety of awards in both Ireland and the US: Best New Poet 2007 (Meridian Press, Virginia University) First Prize in The Listowel Writers’ Single Poem Competition 2009 and she was selected by Poetry Ireland for their 2009 Introductions Series in recognition of her status as an emerging poet.

This is my 6th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 35th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Challenges Completed! Others Not so Much!

I joined this challenge a bit late last year, but it ran from May 2009 through May 2010 (click on the image for more information).  I completed the deep end of the challenge, which required me to read and review 11-15 books of contemporary poetry and poetics.

See the books I reviewed here.

I joined the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge (click on the image for more information) at the Shamrock Level for 2 books.

Check out my book reviews here.

I’ve completed this challenge by reading 3 books.  Check them out here.

Ok, that’s it for the completed challenges.  For the other challenges and my progress, here you go:

I’ve read 34 out of 50 books for this challenge.  Check them out here.

I’ve read 3 out of 10 books for this challenge.  Check them out here.

I’ve read 5 out of 11 books for this challenge.  Check them out here.

I’ve read 9 out of 12 books for this challenge.  Check them out here.

I haven’t even started this challenge.  It ends June 30 and you have to read, listen or watch between 3 and 6 items.

I’ve read 4 out of 5 spinoffs/rewrites and 0 out of 6 Jane Austen originals.  Check them out here.

I’ve met the requirement to read 2 books of poetry, but I’m not sure I’ve finished a badge yet.  I’ve read 5 contemporary poetry books, which I think qualifies for a badge.  Check them out here.

I’ve read 2 out of 6 vampire books from any series.  Check them out here.

I have not started this challenge either.  I think this one is perpetual, so I may be good on this front.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni‘s One Amazing Thing is brilliant in its ability to capture reader’s attention and hold it throughout the narrative as the points of view change and characters share a life-changing moment.  Divakaruni’s writing places readers in the room with her characters and traps them there, making the terror of their impending doom real.  Each character is at the visa office seeking papers to travel back to India when something happens and causes the building to partially collapse upon them.

“I am Cameron, he said to himself.  With the words, the world as it was formed around him:  piles of rubble, shapes that might be broken furniture.  Some of the shapes moaned.  The voices — no, it was only one voice — fell into an inexorable rhythm, repeating a name over and over.”  (Page 11)

Uma is among the first of the characters introduced and she’s a college student who enjoys observing others and creating stories for them, which is why she suggests that each of the survivors — in an unknown disaster — tells the group about one amazing moment that changed their lives.  Many of the stories are heartbreaking, but all of them serve as a basis of understanding.  They create a place from which these different people, with their various prejudices and perspectives brought together by circumstances beyond their control, can begin to accept one another.

“Farah.  She had entered Tariq’s life innocuously, the way a letter opener slides under the flap of an envelope, cutting through things that had been glued shut, spilling secret contents.  Her name was like a yearning poet”s sigh, but even Tariq was forced to admit that it didn’t match the rest of her.”  (Page 30)

Book clubs will have a lot to discuss, including what makes life worthwhile to what moments in life would you revisit if you were trapped.  Imagine seeing one amazing thing before you die.  Then recall your memories.  Yes, you have seen one amazing thing though it may have seemed ordinary at the time, but it becomes extraordinary to you.  Divakaruni’s prose is frank and her characters are dynamic and flawed.  One Amazing Thing is just that.

Thanks to Divakaruni for sending me a review copy of her novel.

***I also appreciated that One Amazing Thing is printed on Certified Fiber Sourcing as part of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.***

About the Author:

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her themes include women, immigration, the South Asian experience, history, myth, magic and celebrating diversity.

She writes both for adults and children. Her books have been translated into 20 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Russian and Japanese. Two novels, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into films. Her short stories, Arranged Marriage, won an American Book Award. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.

This is my 3rd book for the 2010 South Asian Author Reading Challenge.

This is my 34th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 9th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Beth Hoffman‘s debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, has become a New York Times bestseller, and what a debut it is.  Her novel is a prime example of what’s great about southern fiction from the enveloping summer heat of Georgia to the fragrant aroma of orchids and other flowers.  CeeCee Honeycutt is a young girl living in Ohio mainly with her mother as her father travels weekly for his job, but she’s got more worries than just school and peer pressure — her mother is slowly losing her grip.

“‘Oysters are a lot like women.  It’s how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty.’  She fell silent for a moment and gazed out the window.  ‘They say there’s no such thing as a perfect pearl — that nothing from nature can ever be truly perfect.'”  (page 255)

Eventually, CeeCee comes to live with her great aunt Tallulah “Tootie” Caldwell, who is a busy society woman interested in preserving the historical structures in Savannah.  In many ways the restoration of these homes resembles the rebuilding CeeCee must accomplish after her life is irrevocably altered.  At the young age of 12, CeeCee must contend with tragedy, being an outcast, the confusing emotions about her parents, and fitting in with a society that is foreign to her.

“Momma left her red satin shoes in the middle of the road.  That’s what three eyewitnesses told the police.”  (Page 1)

Hoffman creates dynamic characters in CeeCee, Mrs. Odell, Oletta, and Tootie, but she also has crafted a supporting cast of eccentric older women who are neighbors and have their own problems and tensions with one another.  Picture large hats, garden parties, and soirees, and you’ll be transported in CeeCee’s Georgia, away from her hometown in Ohio.

“The bedsheets were damp with humidity and sleep, and from the pillowcase I detected a familiar scent:  it was just like the lavender sachets Mrs. Odell made every year as Christmas gifts.  I rubbed my eyes and tried to sit up, but I was nestled deep in the feather bed, like a baby bird in a nest.”  (page 57)

“Though she’d long since passed the zenith of youth, unmistakable remnants of a mysterious beauty oozed from the pores of her porcelain-white skin.  Swirling around her ankles, as light as smoke and the color of midnight, was a silk caftan splashed with bits of silver glitter.”  (page 81)

Readers will be absorbed in CeeCee’s evolution from young, responsible woman caring for her mother to a mischievous child lashing out and back to a young lady becoming content in her own skin.  Hoffman does an excellent job of painting Georgia and its traditional society in a nostalgic hue that enables readers to grasp that CeeCee is remembering this period of her life fondly and with greater clarity than she probably did as a child.  Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is captivating debut novel and coming-of-age story about a young lady who has lost her way, only to find a new chapter has begun.

About the Author:

Beth Hoffman was the president and owner of a major interior design studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, before turning to writing full time. She lives with her husband and two cats in a quaint historic district in Newport, Kentucky. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is her first novel.

Thanks to Penguin and Inkwell Management for sending me a free copy of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt for review.

Check out the other tour stops:

5/17 & 5/18 – Devourer of Books

5/19 & 5/20 – Diary of an Eccentric

5/21 – Savvy Verse & Wit

5/22 – Medieval Bookworm

5/23 – lit*chick

5/24 – A Novel Menagerie

5/25 – The Tome Traveller’s Weblog

5/26 – Peeking Between the Pages

5/27 – Steph Su Reads

5/28 – Galleysmith

5/29 – The Literate Housewife Review

Giveaway details — three copies for US/Canada readers and one copy for an international reader:

1.  Leave a comment about why you want to read this book; don’t forget to let me know if you are living outside the United States or Canada.

2.  Leave a comment on the guest post.

3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a comment on this post.

4.  Become a Facebook fan of the blog and leave a comment.

Deadline is June 2, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST.

This is my 33rd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

College in a Nutskull by Professor Anders Henriksson

Professor Anders Henriksson has compiled a list of mistakes made by students in higher education in College in a Nutskull.  The spiral bound notebook with lined pages with doodles in the margin is filled with mistakes, misinformation, wrong facts, and spelling errors.  These answers are taken from essay tests all over the world, which were sent to Henriksson.

“Cast aside all worry and savor this text as an opportunity to visit a world remarkably different from the reality we think we inhabit.” (page viii)

The blunders, malapropisms, spoonerisms, and poor facts are arranged by subject, ranging from religious studies to all kinds of history and science and technology.  Many of these examples could be attributed to test-taking jitters as students rush to finish their timed essays, but it makes them no less amusing.  However, some of these lines read more like a “smart ass” spouting off “witty” comments, such as “Descartes began this by stating, ‘I think, therefore I’m Sam.'” (page 11) and “Some of these ideas are unfortunately too long for my attention spam.” (page 69)

Here are a couple malapropisms and spoonerisms:

“A vassal was a kind of servant, only rounder.” (page 63)

“Slavery was the big issue in the Anti-Bedlam South.” (page 76)

Beyond the unintentional word usage, there are just some major factual errors, from “The executive branch exists because Congress allows it to exist” to “Laws are invented by the courts.” (page 90-1)  What is likely to trouble readers, including me, is that the mistakes made are a sad commentary on the state of public education and its ability to prepare students for college.  Terrible grammar, improper word usage, Freudian slips, and other factual mistakes merely demonstrate how ill-prepared students are for college or a career, especially since they cannot communicate clearly.

Overall, College in a Nutskull by Professor Anders Henriksson is a humorous compilation of mistakes by college students that may make an unintentional commentary on public education and student preparedness.  For those who find student errors amusing or for those that enjoy malapropisms, this collection will have you chuckling, shaking your head, and spitting out your coffee.

Check out this article on Henriksson.

FTC Disclosure:  Thanks to Workman Publishing for sending me a free review copy of College in a Nutskull for review.

About the Author:

Photo credit: Kevin G. Gilbert

Dr. Henriksson is a professor at Shepherd University is located in historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and the author of Vassals and Citizens: The Baltic Germans in Constitutional Russia, 1905-1914, and The Tsar’s Loyal Germans. The Riga German Community: Social Change and the Nationality Question, 1855-1905. He is co-author of The City in Late Imperial Russia and has published articles in Russian Review, Canadian Slavonic Papers, the Wilson Quarterly, the Journal of Baltic Studies, and the Modern Encyclopedia of Russian, Soviet, and Eurasian History. His research interests focus on the role of class, ethnicity, and gender in the development of civil society in Russia and Eastern Europe. He is currently at work translating and editing the memoir of a Russian nurse in the Russo-Japanese War. Also a chronicler of the humorous side of campus life, Dr. Henriksson is compiler of Non Campus Mentis: World History According to College Students. A second humor book, College in a Nutskull, is due to appear in 2010.

This is my 32nd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

What do you do when your world spins out of control and changes so drastically that you begin to feel adrift?  Colum McCann‘s Let the Great World Spin examines these issues, while at the same time demonstrating how individuals can be connected to one another without even realizing it.

“But it struck me, as I sketched, that all I wanted to do was to walk out into a clean elsewhere.” (page 153)

“No newspapers big enough to paste him back together in Saigon.” (page 81)

McCann focuses his story in 1974, mostly in New York City, where a tenuous thread is stretched between a series of characters from an Irish monk and a grieving mother who lost her son in the Vietnam War to a young artistic couple and a black prostitute. That thread is the a tightrope walker, Philippe Petit who traversed the still under construction World Trade Center towers.

“It was the dilemma of the watchers:  they didn’t want to wait around for nothing at all, some idiot standing on the precipice of the towers, but they didn’t want to miss the moment either, if he slipped, or got arrested, or dove, arms stretched.” (page 3)

In a way, the tightrope walker is all of us, teetering on the edge of every decision we make, but what we often do not have is the courage to enjoy the moment or revel in the thrill of each step we take in our lives.  McCann is a gifted storyteller, but some readers may find the shifts between story lines hamper their ability to become emotionally tethered to the characters.  There are some moments where the prose takes on a list making quality, which is a bit overdone and jambs up the narrative.

The Vietnam War plays a significant role in the novel, touching lives in immediate ways and peripherally.   In many ways the tightrope walker symbolizes the perceived precariousness of the world at large in the 1970s, with the threat of communism and the deteriorating situation in Vietnam.  Overall, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is a satisfying examination of the 1970s, the Vietnam War, and modern society, and would be a good selection for book club discussions.

About the Author:

Colum McCann, a Dublin born writer, is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. His fiction has been published in thirty languages. He has been a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was the inaugural winner of the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. He has been named one of Esquire’s “Best and Brightest,” and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing Program. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

Check out the other tour stops.  Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Random House for sending me a free copy of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann for review.


This is my 5th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge

This is my 31st book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 2nd and final book for the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.

Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop Jr.

George Bishop Jr.’s Letter to My Daughter is narrated by a Louisiana mother whose daughter has just run away from home after a typical fight with her parents.  To cope with the anxiety, the mother writes a demonstrative history of her own teenage angst to provide them some common ground from which to begin anew.

“But believe it or not, I was your age once, and I had the same ugly fights with my parents.  And I promised myself that if I ever had a daughter, I would be a better parent to her than mine were to me.  My daughter, I told myself, would never have to endure the same inept upbringing that I did.”  (Page 4 of ARC)

Laura Jenkins takes her daughter back in time to when she is a young high school girl during the 1970s and the Vietnam War.  She falls in love with a young man, Tim Prejean, but he’s the wrong kind of man in her parent’s eyes.  How can she make them see that he’s exactly the man they should want her to be with and love.  But it all hits the fan one night and she’s sent away to Catholic school even though her family is Baptist.  Charity runs deep at Sacred Heart Academy, but Laura’s love still burns for her sweetheart, Tim.

Bishop’s prose is conversational as Laura continues to write her letter to Elizabeth, whom she named after the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese #43 says, “I shall but love thee better after death,” and her poems would complement this novel well.  There is a great sadness and love in this letter.  Laura wants to make amends to her daughter and to generate the closeness she always dreamed would be between them.

“Up until that day I had known her only as a pale older nun who seemed unnaturally preoccupied with grammar; she smelled musty, like a library, and she rustled when she walked, like her very insides were made of parchment.”  (page 35 of ARC)

“And then there was silence:  black silence, that in the moments as I gripped the phone seemed to grow deeper and deeper until it was black as the dark spaces between the stars.” (page 59 of ARC)

Bishop’s prose is poetic and easily absorbing, transporting readers to a tumultuous time in U.S. history when the country was divided about war.  But as young men and women engaged one another in high school, how would these larger issues have impacted them?  Letter to My Daughter answers these questions in a way that will tear into the hearts of readers, generate a profound sympathy and confusion about what motivates humans to make war, and how teens handle not only the typical struggles they face of which boy to date and which dress to wear, but also the larger issues that permeate their lives.

About the Author:

George Bishop, Jr. graduated with degrees in English Literature and Communications from Loyola University in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles to become an actor. He later traveled overseas as an English teacher to Czechoslovakia, Turkey and Indonesia before returning to the States to earn his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where he studied under Clyde Edgerton, Wendy Brenner, and Rebecca Lee.

Giveaway; I have one copy of the book for U.S./Canada only:

1.  Leave a comment about whether you think a male can do justice to the mother-daughter relationship.

2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline is May 11, 2010, 11:59 PM EST.

Check the other stops on the tour.


This is my 4th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

This is my 30th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb (Earth Day Celebration)

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  I try my best to celebrate Earth Day and its 40th anniversary.  What better way to take action in our homes to save the environment and become healthier than by heeding the advice in Aviva Goldfarb‘s SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue.

Before we get the actual cookbook, I wanted to let you know that each copy purchased includes a one-month subscription to the Scramble and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Environmental Working Group, which works to use public information’s power to help consumers improve their health and save the environment by offering resources to make better decisions and to affect policy change.

Goldfarb’s cookbook expands upon her popular Web site with its seasonal weekly meal planner subscription for busy families.  The introduction discusses how the organization of the Scramble and its weekly meal planning enables families to reduce their carbon footprint by:

  • limiting trips to the grocery store to once per week
  • reducing the use of takeout containers
  • limiting food waste
  • using highly sustainable fish
  • and reducing the heavy use of meat in our diets.

Following the introduction, Goldfarb outlines the items you need in your pantry at all times, with indicators next to those that you should consider buying in bulk (among others):

  • nonstick cooking spray
  • minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • reduced sodium soy sauce

Once the staples are purchased and available to you, you should check out the break down of fruits and vegetables by season so that you shop for those items when they are in season.  Shopping for veggies and fruits in season reduces your carbon footprint, according to Goldfarb, because it reduces the need to truck those foods across the country or from another nation where they are in season.

The rest of the cookbook is broken down by season and includes a weekly plan of menus for families to try out and advice for keeping the menu plan on schedule, using canvas bags or reusing plastic and paper bags, creating healthy and tasty lunches for school, picking healthy snacks, and more.  However, the book does not include photos of the recipes, which novice cooks might want to check out to see how well they are doing with their own attempts at the recipes.

For busy, book blogger and other moms, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue is an excellent edition to your cookbooks.  Goldfarb’s book is more than a cookbook, it is full of advice on how to make healthy choices for families, how to reduce carbon footprints, shop locally, and more.

About the Author:

Aviva Goldfarb (Photo credit: Rachael Spiegel) is author and founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble®, a seasonal online weekly menu planner and cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 2006) who lives in Chevy Chase, Md.  She has just released a new cookbook, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families.  Aviva is regularly quoted in popular online and print Family and Health publications. She is an advocate for healthy families, actively working with national nonprofit organizations and with parents to improve nutrition.

Thanks to Diane Saarinen and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy of SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb for review.

The giveaway details:  (I’m buying 1 copy and giveaway is open internationally)

1.  Leave a comment about what you are doing to celebrate Earth Day.

2.  Leave a second comment with a tip about how you live greenly.

3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, Stumble, spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline April 29, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

This is my 29th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip with Chevy Chase, Md., author Aviva Goldfarb.

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Also check out today’s stop on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Necromancy Never Pays!