Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes is bound to be an instant classic among Vietnam War literature.  Drawing from his experiences as a Marine Lieutenant, much like many of the other authors’ novels, Marlantes’s perspective is not only of Marines on the ground in the depths of the jungle, but of a lieutenant who experienced first hand the political battles and horrifying decisions made by other officers and politicians.  Weaving in political dilemmas and screw-ups into the narrative can be burdensome for many writers — dragging down the plot and characterization — but this is not the case with Marlantes’ Matterhorn.

Mellas, the main protagonist, enters Vietnam as a lieutenant with a variety of ambitions for advancement and medals.  He’s been to Ivy League schools, he’s had a charmed life compared to the others in the bush, but he likes to feel like one of the ordinary guys in the bush, though at the same time, he wants to fit in with the officers and to prove his worth.  He’s a dichotomy in himself, displaying openly the struggle between the grunts and the officers within one man.

“Mellas was amazed and ashamed.  He realized part of him would wish anything, and maybe even do anything, if it meant getting ahead or saving his own skin.  He fought that part down.”  (page 7)

Mellas is thrown into Bravo Company and told to take hold of Matterhorn, only to abandon it when the political forces deem Cam Lo a bigger priority.  But by not having the support necessary from the base camps, his company runs out of water and other supplies, forced to hump through the jungle dehydrated and shot up.  There is more than one instance in which this company is thrown into battle with impossible odds, which will remind many readers of the movies that glorify the marines and their victories.  However, this novel shows readers the true nature of those “hollow” victories.  While these men remain dedicated to their missions and each other, without proper strategy and backing their victories become senseless in the eyes of loss and terror.  Even victories become jokes once the reports are made to the command posts and the reports of confirmed and probable dead are doctored — something that was common during the war.

“The records had to show two dead NVA.  So they did.  But at regiment it looked odd — two kills with no probables.  So a probable got added.  It was a conservative estimate.  It only made sense that if you killed two, with the way the NVA pulled out bodies, you had to have some probables.  It made the same sense to the commander of the artillery battalion:  four confirmed, two probables, which is what the staff would report to Colonel Mulvaney, the commanding officer of Twenty-Fourth Marines, at the regiment briefing.”  (page 91-2)

Mellas finds his place within the company and even becomes respected, but his continued ambition clouds much of his judgment and often forces him into situations that are more dangerous than they need to be.  Beyond Mellas, the company is hampered by continued racial tensions between the “brothers” and their white counterparts, with some elements on both sides more violent and outspoken than others.  Others are aware of the increased tension and racial hatred, but attempt to brush it under the rug or ignore it.  The tension builds within the “brothers” camp, pitting China against Henry, in such a way that it can only be released in one way.

“Jackson folded his arms. ‘You think someone’s going to understand how you feel about being in the bush? I mean even if they’re like you in every way, you really think they’re going to understand what it’s like out here? Really understand?’

‘Probably not.’

‘Well, it’s like that being black. Unless you’ve been there, ain’t no way.'” (page 429)

As for the officers back at the base camp, readers will find in Lieutenant Colonel Simpson a possible mirror image for Mellas, depending on how well he reacts to combat situations and political decisions beyond his control.  Simpson is often drunk, quick to anger, and makes rash decisions just with a few promptings from peers and underlings.

There are so many layers to Matterhorn, it is impossible to discuss them all in a review.  Mellas is a troubled hero, but in a way the hero is not any individual Marine, but the jungle that surrounds them.  It beats them down; it disguises the enemy; and it leaves them begging for mercy, but it also can provide them shelter; offer them food; and improve their chances of success.  Psychological effects of war, loss, and camaraderie in highly intense situations can be devastating and enlightening.  One of the best books I’ve read all year and easily one of the best books of the last decade.  Readers interested in drama, tension, war-related literature, and human interactions and societal contexts will be as captivated by Matterhorn as any other book that has come onto the shelves.

This is my 63rd book for this challenge.

This is my 15th book for this challenge.

The Watsons by Jane Austen

The Watsons by Jane Austen is an unfinished novel, but encompasses many elements from her finished novels, such as Emma and Sense & Sensibility.  Elizabeth and Emma Watson hail from a poorer family than the Osborne or the Edwards families.  Emma had been living with an aunt for many years, only to return home to a sickly father and a devoted sister, Elizabeth, who has not married despite her advanced age to care for their father.  The story begins with Elizabeth escorting herself to the Edwards’ home before the ball.

“‘I am sorry for her anxieties,’ said Emma, ‘ — but I do not like her plans or her opinions.  I shall be afraid of her.  — She must have too masculine and a bold temper.  — To be so bent on marriage — to pursue a man merely for the sake of situation — is a sort of thing that shocks me; I cannot understand it.  . . . ‘” (page 110)

Again we see Jane Austen’s insistence that marriage for wealth or improved situation are appalling, yet often done in society.  Emma is a bit more outspoken than Elizabeth Bennet, while Elizabeth has a sense of duty to the family, much like Elinore in Sense & Sensibility.  The sickly father is reminiscent of the father in Emma.  In may ways, The Watsons seems to be a starting point for many of Austen’s novels or at least an earlier work that inspired her to keep writing.

Although unfinished, readers can clearly see where the story would have gone eventually given the sickly nature of Emma and Elizabeth’s father.  One of the most interesting parts of the work are the relationship or lack there of that Emma has with her other brothers and sisters.  The love interests in the novel range from a self-indulgent, young man to an older Lord who knows his place in society and believes women should just fall for him instantly no matter how distant and self-indulgent he is.  Of course, there also is the quiet preacher who has caught the eye of a wealthy woman, but has a silent adoration for another.

The Watsons, like Austen’s other completed novels, has a depth that may be missed upon first reading, but her characters remain enduring and witty.  Gossip is prevalent in many of her novels, but the Watsons provides a great deal of snide remarks and backhanded comments.  Another enjoyable Austen read.

**Thanks to Anna for letting me borrow her copy so I could finish the Jane Austen Challenge.  I’ll probably be reading the other two novels in the new year.***

This is my 14th and final book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.  I’ve officially completed my 9th challenge.

This is my 10th book for the Everything Austen II Challenge.

The Cool Woman by John Aubrey Anderson

The Cool Woman by John Aubrey Anderson begins in 1970 when Lieutenant Bill Mann enters pilot training and begins to live his dream of becoming a fighter pilot.  Mann is a black man entering the military at a time when bigotry and ambition made a dangerous cocktail for his race.  He’s determined to make his mark and do his father proud, and in the process meets the love of his life, Pip.

“In the world of aviation, conventional wisdom says:  To keep an aircraft in the air, a pilot will always need at least one of three ingredients:  airspeed, altitude, or ideas. If any one or two of those ingredients is absent or in short supply, the pilot must have a proportionate abundance of whatever remains.” (page 3)

Throughout the novel, Anderson weaves in Mann’s background and hidden secrets, but he also unveils how the path to God and faith is wrought with many obstacles and trials.  Christian faith plays a large role in this novel, as it should given the combat situations and uncertainty in the lives of the families tied to Bill Mann and his friend Rusty Mattingly and every other combat pilot they encounter along the way.

The three ingredients necessary for aviation are like those necessary for faith, but readers will also note that these ingredients can be boiled down to one word — hope.  Hope is the main message of the novel despite the bullets and bigotry flying through its pages.  Anderson’s use of sparse language to tell his story makes the plight of Mann and his friends in the jungles of Vietnam immediate and harrowing at every turn, but it also helps illuminate the enduring camaraderie and bonds that were created between soldiers, nurses, administrators, and many others.

“Apparently, the sound told the gunners exactly where they were; the anti-aircraft fire intensified and became a steel curtain woven of angry red and white arcs.  Driver’s grip tested the stress tolerance of the handholds.  Within seconds the airplane was standing on its nose — the engine was threatening to come off the mounts; swarms of tracers flashed by on all sides, barely missing them.  Driver was as far down in his seat as he could get, mesmerized by one particular string of red balls that seemed frozen in space just outside the canopy.”  (page 107)

Overall, The Cool Woman is a captivating novel about Air Force pilots and the struggles they faced.  It also explores the racism in the military, the politics that gets things accomplished or screws things up, and the faith it takes to not only do what needs to be done, but get through the roughest patches.  Anderson’s cool woman is not the plane, but the inner self that must be crafted and nurtured in times of combat.

This is my 62nd book for this challenge.

This is my 14th book for this challenge.

127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston (audio)

Aron Ralston, if you are not yet familiar wit his amazing recovery from being trapped in a Utah canyon, reads this abridged edition of his memoir, 127 Hours:  Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  In only five discs, listeners will get lessons in climbing equipment and the actual stamina and skill involved in hiking treacherous terrain out west.  Ralston is a man who often likes to hike and climb alone to commune with nature, but also to be with himself in a way that allows him to just be and assess his own life.

Listeners are walking beside Ralston as he tells his tale, climbing steep canyons with him, and feeling the agony and pain of dehydration, starvation, and major blood loss.  His enthusiasm for the outdoors and climbing are infectious.

127 Hours is a gripping real life tale of a human struggle alone in the wilderness and the enduring nature of hope and humanity.  Ralston’s struggle is immediate and harrowing.  The audio, especially narrated by the actual subject of the tragic event, is mesmerizing and even disturbing in its detail.  Overall, this is one of the best audio books of the year.  It is more than just a story about a man’s struggle and courage, but about what he does following tragedy to change his life and appreciate the friends and family he has.

My husband and I listened to this audio on the commute to and from work.  My husband says the best part of the book is how the narrator describes the process through which he amputates his arm to miss his major veins and nerves until the harder parts are severed, etc.  There is a true sense of how the human spirit seeks ways to keep the body going, and how the body keeps going regardless of moments of weakness in human will.  Ralston explains his plight really well.  Very profound and memorable.

***Thanks to Eco-Libris and the Green Books Campaign for sending us this wonderful prize.***

This is my 61st book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Brontës by Pamela Norris

The Brontës by Pamela Norris is a collection of selected poems from not only the Bronte sisters, but also certain poems from their brother Patrick Branwell Brontë.  According to the introduction, Patrick Bronte was a good poet, but did not reach the level of sophistication of his sisters.  Emily Brontë, according to Norris, is the most accomplished of the poets in terms of grasping meter and other components of poetry.  Anne Brontë is the most accessible, and readers often find it easier to emotionally connect with the poet.  Charlotte Brontë‘s poems often resemble her novels with their passionate women and abrasive men, but Norris says her narrative style can often overwhelm the poem and obscure its meaning.

The collection begins with a selection of poems from Charlotte, and many of these poems are bogged down in narrative, poetic prose, but the meaning of the poems are not completely obscured.  In fact, the selection of poems offer a sense of longing and despair topped with a current of optimism and rays of hope.  In “Mementos,”  Charlotte alludes to the precious nature of material objects, which even though tied to loved ones, are now moldy and dusty — long forgotten.

“Once, doubtless, deemed such precious things;
Keepsakes bestowed by Love on Faith,
And worn till the receiver’s death,
Now stored with cameos, china, shells,
In this old closet’s dusty cells.

I scarcely think.  for ten long years.
A hand has touched these relics old;
And, coating each, slow-formed, appears,
The growth of green and antique mould.”  (page 7, “Mementos”)

However, while Charlotte tells a unique story in each poem there is an emotional detachment even though the images and story tackle harsh topics and delve into questions of mortality and loss.  Charlotte’s poems about her deceased sisters, Anne and Emily, are more emotionally present, though the loss of Anne seems more substantial to her.

The next set of poems are from Patrick Brontë.  His poems weave a sense of loneliness, and not just a passing sadness and solitude, but a loneliness that weighs down the narrator.  From “Memory,” “Winds have blown, but all unknown;/ Nothing could arouse a tone/ In that heart which like a stone/ Senselessly has lain.” to “Oh, All Our Cares,” “But here this lonely little spot,/ Retires among its trees,/ By all unknown and noticed not,/” there is an emptiness in Patrick’s poems that is deeper than that in expressed by his sisters.  Camaraderie between the sisters must have been tough for a brother to penetrate, and to seek help from his sisters with his writing may have been a bridge he was unwilling to cross.  Regardless, his poems are no more poignant and enlightening about the human condition than those of his sisters.

Emily Brontë’s poetry is possibly the most well known of the siblings work, and her poems tend to be well crafted, adhering to style elements known for the forms she has chosen.  Her rhyme schemes are cleaner than her siblings, but her style is often dense and fantastical.  She blurs the lines between reality and a fantasy world she creates.  In some ways, readers may find that her poems are hard to decipher if they get too bogged down in the details she throws into each line.

“Will the day be bright or cloudy?” (page 39)

Will the day be bright or cloudy?
Sweetly has its dawn begun,
But the heaven may shake with thunder
Ere the setting of the sun.

Lady, watch Apollo’s journey,
Thus thy firstborn’s course shall be —
If his beams through summer vapours
Warm the earth all placidly,
Her days shall pass like a pleasant dream in sweet tranquility.

If it darken, if a shadow
Quench his rays and summon rain,
Flowers may open, buds may blossom,
Bud and flower alike are vain;
Her days shall pass like a mournful story in care and tears and pain.

If the wind be fresh and free,
The wide skies clear and cloudless blue,
The woods and fields and golden flowers
Sparkling in sunshine and in dew,
Her days shall pass in Glory’s light the world’s drear desert through.

Anne Brontë’s poetry is more childlike in its reverie with nature and the memories and emotions those things can arouse in the narrator.  Her poems are immediate and easy to comprehend; readers can connect with her more easily than her siblings’ poems.  However, her poems do not differ from theirs in subject matter; she tackles not only loneliness, longing, and emptiness, but also happy moments encapsulated in time and memories.  From “The Bluebell,” “Yet I recall, not long ago,/ A bright and sunny day:/ ‘Twas when I led a toilsome life/ So many leagues away.”  (page 74), and from “The Captive Dove,” “Poor restless dove, I pity thee;/ And when I hear thy plaintive moan,/ I mourn for thy captivity,/ And in thy woes I forget mine own.”  (page 80).

Overall, The Brontës by Pamela Norris is an excellent selection of poems that displays the diversity of the Brontës and their similarities.  Norris’ introduction can help readers understand the dynamics of the family, but the poems often speak for themselves about the depths of their loneliness and desolation.  However, some members of the family were more desolate than others and others coped by relying on fantasy and memories of happier times.

This is my 1st, and probably, only book for the 2010 All About the Brontës Challenge.

This is my 60th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 15th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

The History of England by Jane Austen

The History of England by Jane Austen is the final story in the Love and Freindship collection, and the author warns you from the beginning that there are very few dates in this history.  For readers unfamiliar with most of English history, some of these obscured events may be harder to decipher.  However, this story is not to be taken as truth given that it is mainly a commentary on history, rather than a unbiased account of past events.

She begins the narrative with Henry the 4th, of whom she says, “Be this as it may, he did not live forever, but falling ill, his son the Prince of Wales came and took away the crown; whereupon the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespear’s Plays, and the Prince made a still longer.”  (page 63)

Throughout her history, Austen often refers to other writers and plays.  Items that may color the perspective of society on certain historic events, which Austen readily talks about in reference to herself.  In fact, she often refers to her own religious proclivities and the biases those entail.  Many times throughout the narrative, her wit will have readers scratching their heads or giggling.

With regard to Richard the 3rd, she writes, “It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephew and his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to believe true; and if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard.”  (page 65)

The History of England is another piece by Austen from her earlier years, and she took true events to highlight the follies of others and the ridiculous nature of royal society.  Effectively, she shows how these royals are no better or different from others in society, complete with love, hate, and secrets.  For another look at her earlier writing, readers will be able to see how her love of societal commentary began.

Also within this volume from Barnes & Noble’s Library of Essential Reading is A Collection of Letters, which comes with an introductory note from the author that alliteratively describes the letters wherein.  These letters are equally witty and fun and should not be missed.

This is my 13th book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.

This is my 9th book for the Everything Austen II Challenge.

Lesley Castle: An Unfinished Novel in Letters by Jane Austen

Lesley Castle: An Unfinished Novel in Letters by Jane Austen is part of the Love and Freindship collection and is written in letters mostly between Margaret Lesley and her friend Charlotte Lutterell.  Readers will see a little bit of Emma in Charlotte as she talks about her matchmaking work and her failures at it.  In each letter, Austen uses societal norms of the time to poke fun at traditions and exaggerate the reactions of women in highly emotional situations.

“And now what provokes me more than anything else is that the Match is broke off, and all my Labour thrown away.  Imagine how great the Disappointment must be to me, when you consider that after having laboured both by Night and by Day, in order to get the Wedding dinner ready by the time appointed . . . ” (page 37)

Again, Austen shows adept understanding and mastery of the time period and traditions, turning them over and exaggerating their dramatic side.  In typical Austen style, the characters become connected in unusual and unexpected ways. Some of the best scenes involve societal gossip, and the dialogue that impugns the reputation of the Lesley women spoken by their latest stepmother.

While this story is not as over the top or outrageous as Love and Freindship, Lesley Castle shows the darker sides of friendship but also the ability of friends to be frank with one another even if it is hurtful or causes disagreement.  Austen’s early attempts at writing novels are indeed full of entertainment, and readers will instantly see why they captured her family’s attention.

This is my 12th book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.

This is my 8th book for the Everything Austen II Challenge.

Love & Freindship by Jane Austen

Love and Freindship by Jane Austen is among her earliest stories written for her family’s entertainment, and she’s said to have written it sometime between ages 14 and 17.  Yes, it is complete with misspellings in the title and throughout the short story, which unfolds in letters mostly from Laura to Marianne.  Laura tells a tale of misfortune and love to an apparently young and impressionable Marianne, her friend Isabel’s daughter.

The story begins with a plea from Isabel to Laura to discuss her misfortunes with Marianne, perhaps as a way to warn Isabel’s daughter away from similar hassles and heartache.  It is clear that Laura and Isabel’s relationship has been long given the frankness of the letters, which in some instances clearly illustrate flaws they find in one another.  In a letter from Isabel to Laura, “Surely that time is now at hand.  You are this day fifty-five.  If a woman may ever be said to be in safety from the determined Perseverance of disagreable Lovers and the cruel Persecutions of obstinate Fathers, surely it must be at such a time of Life.”  (page 3)

Much of this story is comical in that Laura is always fainting with her friend Sophia or she is running around madly because of one misfortune or other.  Otherwise, there are chance meetings with unknown and lost relatives that send Laura into dramatic action.

“She was all sensibility and Feeling.  We flew into each others arms and after having exchanged vows of mutual Freindship for the rest of our Lives, instantly unfolded to each other the most inward secrets of our Hearts–.”  (page 11)

Love and Freindship shows some signs of the writer Austen became, but it also showcases her novice writing skills.  Entertaining as this short story is, readers may find it too short to fully grasp the depth of these characters.  Marianne and Isabel are merely on the periphery and their characters are only seen through Laura’s eyes, who has her own biases.  Laura’s explanation of her marriage and other events often includes highly dramatic, even soap opera-ish, description and commentary.

This is my 11th book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.

This is my 7th book for the Everything Austen II Challenge.

9th Judgment by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (audio)

9th Judgment by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, and read on audio by Carolyn McCormick, begins with the murders of a mother and her young infant.  It’s clear that Lindsay and the other members of the Women’s Murder Club are in for a rough ride this time around.  McCormick does an excellent job providing different personalities and voices for each character, though at some points in the audio her interpretation of coroner Claire Washburn’s voice is a bit too deep and masculine.

Lindsay is not only tasked with finding the lipstick killer who kills women and children firms, but she also must take on a high profile case involving a movie star, Marcus Dowling, whose wife was murdered following a robbery.  Is the husband acting or is he devastated by the death of his wife, and was the robbery committed by the famed Hello Kitty cat burglar coincidental?

9th Judgment delves into how being a solider in war can twist your psyche, and how when these men return from combat, things are just not the same for them or their families.  Additionally, this novel connects characters in ways that are unusual and surprising, deals with physical abuse, and more.  In terms of depth, this novel has more of it than some of the others given that the motivations behind the criminals are examined.

Patterson and Paetro make a good team in the Women’s Murder Club series, although readers may find that some of the story lines are not as well crafted as some others.  However, in 9th Judgment, readers will find that even though they are introduced to the criminals in the first few chapters, how their capture unravels is titillating and edgy. Overall, this installment in the Women’s Murder Club series is a great addition and will have readers looking forward to the next one.

My husband and I listened to this one on our commute northward for Thanksgiving and finished it up on the way back.  He enjoyed the chase scenes for their vivid description and the comedic elements as Lindsay plays go-between for the FBI and the lipstick killer.  There were fewer instances of sound effects in this one, with just a few gunshots in the beginning, which was fine with us.  We’ve grown attached to these characters, even the latest member of the club, Yuki Castellano.  At one point near the end, my husband and I almost thought we’d have to write Patterson a scathing letter, but alas we just had to listen onward to learn that our fears were misplaced.

This is my 15th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella has become a chicklit icon with her shopaholic series, but after five books what could be left to hold readers’ interest?  Rebecca Brandon (nee Bloomwood) is back in Mini Shopaholic, credit cards in hand, and white lies streaming from her lips.  However, instead of simply facing rising debt, she must learn to deal with her two-year-old daughter Minnie and her penchant for shopping and acting out.  She also bites off more than she can chew as her and her husband, Luke, try to find the perfect home and navigate an economic meltdown.

“‘My darling, we’re not quite that penurious.’  Luke kisses me on the forehead.  ‘The easiest way we could save money, if you ask me, would be if you wore some of your clothes more than once.'” (page 100)

Kinsella takes a real-life situation and makes it wildly funny, but there are times in the novel where Becky seems to have learned absolutely nothing over the course of six books.  She still shops for brands, barely uses or wears the brand items she buys, and lies to her husband about the purchases she makes.  The one main difference in this novel is that Becky is not just shopping for herself.

“Minnie definitely scores top marks for her outfit.  (Dress:  one-off Danny Kovitz; coat:  Rachel Riley; shoes:  Baby Dior.)  And I’ve got her safely strapped into her toddler reins (Bill Amberg, leather, really cool; they were in Vogue).  But instead of smiling angelically like the little girl in the photo shoot, she’s straining against them like a bull waiting to dash into the ring.  Her eyebrows are knitted with fury, her cheeks are bright pink, and she’s drawing breath to shriek again.”  (page 8 )

Readers who love the previous books will enjoy the latest in the series, but some readers may find Becky’s lack of growth disappointing.  Readers looking for the focus to be on Minnie will find that the daughter plays more of a subordinate role, though Becky continuously deals with keeping her under control.  Kinsella does provide a bit more depth to the character in that she clearly loves her daughter, refuses to believe that she needs a boot camp, and would rather run off with her daughter than send her away.  Overall, Mini Shopaholic is a fun read that pokes fun at addiction and the lengths people go to to hide those addictions.  What will happen next in this series is anyone’s guess.

About the Author:

Sophie Kinsella raced into the UK bestseller lists in September 2000 with her first novel in the Shopaholic series – The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic (also published as Confessions of a Shopaholic). The book’s heroine, Becky Bloomwood – a fun and feisty financial journalist who loves shopping but is hopeless with money – captured the hearts of readers worldwide and she has since featured in five further adventures in Shopaholic Abroad (also published as Shopaholic Takes Manhattan), Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Shopaholic & Sister and Shopaholic & Baby. Becky Bloomwood came to the big screen in 2009 with the hit Disney movie Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Other Kinsella Books Reviewed:

Can You Keep a Secret?
The Undomestic Goddess
Remember Me?

The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates

The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates is an excellent resource for aspiring novelists, especially those that have full time jobs and are writing in their spare time.  Housed in a hard bound, spiral notebook format, the book makes it easy to find the best advice for the crisis of the moment for beginnings, middles, or ends of novels with its outlined table of contents.  Most writers are fond of taking notes or using sticky papers to highlight gems of information . . . what’s even better is that we color-code that information to keep it all fresh.

Some of the ideas in the book are those writers have heard a number of times, such as keeping a small notebook handy at all times when dialogue is too juicy to pass up or someone’s style catches the eye.  Story ideas always come from experiences and what writers see in other art or in other books.  What’s unique about this reference book is that it counters advice given to many writers that they should write what they know or write about things that have never been done before.

National Novel Writing Month participants would be wise to check out this book, but even those not engaged in the month-long marathon, should take a look at Bates’ advice.  From creating the three-act structure complete with conflict and resolution to ensuring the larger structure is supported by a smaller structure of action and development, The Nighttime Novelist offers direct advice about plot and point of view choices, differences between POV and voice, settings and description, and much more.

Overall, Bates provides a comprehensive outline for writing a novel and offers a “coffee break” to help writers assess their progress throughout the novel.  While the book is written in a linear fashion from beginning to end, writers can plunge into any section of the book and obtain excellent advice.  There are additional online and other resources listed in the back of the book, and appendices with empty worksheets, which writers can copy to use multiple times for multiple novels.  The Nighttime Novelist is a great addition to any novelist or writer’s shelves.

About the Author:

Joseph Bates’ fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Identity Theory, Lunch Hour Stories, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.  He holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and fiction writing from the University of Cincinnati and teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

For more information please visit www.nighttimenovelist.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

Also check out the excerpt from the book posted earlier in November.

***Thanks to Writer’s Digest Books, Joseph Bates, and FSB Associates for sending me a copy for review. ***

This is my 59th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Fall of Saigon by Michael V. Uschan

Michael V. Uschan‘s The Fall of Saigon provides an observant look at the history of how the Vietnam War begins, unfolds, and ends.  Unlike other books on this topic, Uschan begins with the fall of Saigon or the end of the war with one of the largest helicopter evacuations in history.  Although many would argue this is a civil war between its northern and southern counterparts, this war occurred at a time when democratic governments were wary of the spread of communism.

There is a great mix of photos and text in the book to provide a simplified explanation of the war and all of its moving parts.  It does touch upon the My Lai massacre and the deaths of innocent victims, but without the horrifying images that polarized many of those back home.  To teach students about the war, this is an excellent edition, but for children reading about the war on their own, it may be a bit dry.  However, photos often supplement the text and can provide a visual aid to kids.

Even adults can learn or relearn things about the Vietnam War and what may have happened as a result of the war.  For instance, the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973 required all future presidents to gain approval from Congress each time troops are sent into action overseas.

Overall, The Fall of Saigon is for older children, possibly between the ages of 9 and 12, and provides a great deal of information in just 30 pages, but in some ways the text needs to be supplemented with additional material on the Cold War and other events.

This is my 58th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 13th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.