Quantcast

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell tackles relationships on a whole new level and looks at what it means to love someone for better and for worse and in sickness and in health.  While the novel is infused with Mansell’s humorous style, it is more serious than her other novels.

Ellie Kendall, the main protagonist, finds that losing the love of one’s life is not the end of the world, though it is devastating.  She finds a way to move on with her life, though she’s cut herself off from all of her friends and family to do it and feels as though she’s drowning in sympathy.  Meanwhile, Zach McLaren is a workaholic with no idea what his life is missing until Ellie literally walks through and into it.

“It was starting to concern her, just slightly, that it wasn’t quite normal to be doing what she’d been doing for the last year.  Because Jamie wasn’t here anymore.  And he wasn’t a ghost either.  All she did was conjure up a mental image of him in her mind, talk to him and have him talk back as if he were real.”  (page 18 of ARC)

In addition to the two main leads, there are some great side characters who are fleshed out really well, including the U.S. actor/father-in-law Tony Weston and the former girl band bad girl Roo.  Todd, who was one of Ellie’s good friends before her husband died, is not as well fleshed out as the others — at least initially — but readers won’t mind because he’s sort of a stand in for Ellie’s deceased husband much of the time.  Roo is a delight with all of her antics and her selfish nature, which as always gets turned on its ear when she realizes that the man she’s dating is a cheater.

Mansell’s got a wit about her unlike other authors in her genre, she’s connected to her characters in a way that makes readers feel like they are hanging out with friends, even if those friends are formerly famous. Ellie has a great deal of grief to deal with, while Zack must navigate his relationship with her very carefully and wait for her to be ready to begin again.  Readers will enjoy the realistic way in which their relationship blossoms and their tentative interactions as they become friends and more.  Todd and Tony round out the narrative, showing how events can change relationships in unexpected ways.

Readers seeking happy endings at the end of an evolutionary road will adore To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell.  When you need a pick me up, her books are there to cheer you up, provide a spot of romance, and tug at your heart strings.

Around Germantown (MD) Then & Now by Margaret Coleman

Around Germantown (MD) Then & Now by Margaret Coleman takes a look at what Germantown was like before 1980 and what it was like after the Maryland-Nation Capital Park and Planning Commission adopted the area.  Coming from Massachusetts where many of the towns are older than the actual state and older than the United States, I had no idea that towns/cities were actually planned out ahead of time.  I really thought that they just came about when people started settling into an area and the businesses just cropped up naturally to service those people.  Silly, me.

Germantown, Md., is made up of six villages and the heart of the city has been moved a couple of times as populations and transit projects changed.  My husband and I looked at this book together and I told him we must have been destined to move here, since some of the founding families have the same last name as those of the town we grew up in.  The town also was settled by German farmers in addition to the English farmers already here.

We really enjoyed the photos of places that were and what they came to be, though it saddened us that so many of the original historic structures in the town had burned (on purpose or accidentally) and were not restored and of those that were restored were moved to other locations.  Unfortunately, progress seems to be the mainstay of this town as historic homes have been replaced by gas stations and other signs of commerce.  The tone of the book doesn’t seem as maudlin as I do about it, however.

Around Germantown (MD) Then & Now by Margaret Coleman is an interesting peak into the history of this town, its people, and its growth over the years.  I’d recommend it to locals interested in the area they have moved to or to those who have lived here but know little of its history.  I’ve always enjoyed these types of books even if I don’t live in the areas discussed.  The inclusion of photos of places then and now rounds out the story.

This is my 55th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

She by Saul Williams

She by Saul Williams is a collection of interconnected musical poems coupled with a collection of images from Marcia Jones that tells a story about a woman and their journey together.  On his Website, he says, “This book chronicles my thoughts and feelings as a young man working through an early relationship with an amazing visual artist as we embark on adulthood and parenthood in the same breath.”

Each of Williams’ poems has a unique rhythm to it, and should be read aloud for effect.  Each is as expressive as you would expect Williams to be in real life, becoming an extension of himself and his digital, visual, and audio art.  Unlike other collections, Williams’ She is a story beginning to end with a prologue and epilogue and prose poetry.  The nameless She is integral to the journey, a connection to the past and the future, illustrated through short lines and “out loud” cadence that screams to be read aloud.

While readers could dip in and out of the collection and experience it in small chunks, it is best to read it cover to cover to grasp its full impact. Tackling issues of separatism, aging, and opposing desires, Williams pinpoints the harshest of realities and deals them a deft blow when he demonstrates the commonalities between us all. Because these poems do not have titles, the clear intent is to create a continuous narrative in which “calamity makes cousins of us all” (page 22) and “we live.” (page xi)

Nature imagery and personification can make the issues more vivid, “there is a gathering in the forest. the leaves have refused to change. they say that they are tired of things never remaining the same, of dying to be reborn, of winter’s dry withered hand.” (page 7) But lest the images become to heavy, there are moments of whimsy as well.

I have seen the truth
many times
but for the first time
she saw me

I wore suspenders
for the judgment
in my pants

(page 13)

As the relationship goes down hill, readers will not a dramatic change in the poems as the narrator struggles to let go for the sake of love. “I am a canvas/painted over/whether it be by your hand/or mine own.” (page 113) The images included in the book are unusual and appear to mix mediums, and often resemble pages from a scrapbook that a mother would keep of her children. In a way these pages resemble Williams’ play on words as he picks them apart and alters their definitions to explain the moment he is in.

Reading She alone in a room is not enough. It should be read aloud, shared with others, and most who pick up a copy will do just that. Seeing Saul Williams read it would make it even better, but its up to you to find out where he’s reading or performing next. There is not enough that can be said about this collection, except go read it!

Some reason Saul reminds me of Don Cheadle in this photo.

About the Poet:

Saul Williams is an American poet, writer, actor and musician known for his blend of poetry and alternative hip hop and for his leading role in the 1998 independent film Slam.

From Wikipedia about Williams and Marcia Jones’ relationship:

Williams and artist Marcia Jones began their relationship in 1995 as collaborative artists on the Brooklyn performance art and spoken word circuit. Their daughter, Saturn, was born in 1996. His collection of poems S/HE is a series of reflections on the demise of the relationship. Marcia Jones, a visual artist and art professor, created the cover artwork for The Seventh Octave, images through-out S/HE in response to Williams, and set designed his 2001 album Amethyst Rock Star.

This is my 24th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 54th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Buoyancy and Other Myths by Richard Peabody

Buoyancy and Other Myths by Richard Peabody is a slim collection that gets at the heart of family drama broken into three parts:  Shooting Myself in the Foot, Kissing Games, and Between Funerals.  The narrator in these poems ages and matures from a young boy eager to help his father but afraid of falling short to an older man similarly worried about falling short, but more accepting of reality.

Unlike the young man in “Family Secrets” who is shaking sense into his brother, the man in the latter poems, like “Orbits,” comes to the realization that the past cannot be hidden and regrets do nothing but hold you back.  You must roll with the punches.  What is striking in some of these poems is the calmness of the narrator, even as violent thoughts or actions are being displayed.  For instance, in “Family Secrets” (page 11) — which is a powerful way to start a collection — “Music isn’t enough tonight./Scratching, clawing, eyes like stones./If I erase him I will expand./His sins wiped clean. Nowhere/for him to leer from. No perch/or receptacle that can hold that/particular weight. He gives up./”  Is his brother still living and he wishes that he didn’t have to remember him or is it what happened to his brother that he does not wish to remember and it would be easier to erase him entirely?

Nearing the end of the collection, it seems as though this narrator has found peace or at least outwardly demonstrates contentment, or is it resignation?  In “I Live Behind a Bakery” (page 55-6), “Only most days/it’s easier/to just read a book/with that smell/all around me/and think buttery thoughts.//”  Peabody has a lot of cutesy ideas that he plays with in his poetry, like living behind a bakery or dating vampires, but these images are metaphors for other things like the contentment that you find in the simple things of life or even in the relationships you have.  However, there is an undercurrent in these poems urging readers to move beyond contentment, leap into more dangerous and possibly fulfilling territory.

Guitar Player (page 36)

Fingers know secrets
that eyes can’t understand.

While not all the poems are memorable or strong, there are a few gems within the collection’s pages that are worth reading more than once. Some are simply powerful in a few lines. Buoyancy and Other Myths by Richard Peabody explores the nature of relationships and how they propel us to greater things to seek out new directions and yes, to grow.

About the Poet:

Richard Peabody, a prolific poet, fiction writer and editor, is an experienced teacher and important activist in the Washington , D.C., community of letters. Peabody is the editor of Gargoyle Magazine (founded in 1976), and has published a novella, two books of short stories, six books of poems, plus an e-book, and edited (or co-edited) nineteen anthologies including: “Mondo Barbie,” “Conversations with Gore Vidal,” “A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation,” and “Kiss the Sky: Fiction and Poetry Starring Jimi Hendrix.” Peabody teaches fiction writing for the Johns Hopkins Advanced Studies Program.

This is my 23rd book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 53rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Richard Peabody is a local Washington, D.C., area poet.

Ten Beach Road by Wendy Wax

Wendy Wax has an excellent beach read with substance in Ten Beach Road for those of you looking for an end of summer winner.  Ripped from the headlines, these three women find that their only remaining asset is a rundown beach house (Bella Flora) in Florida after Malcolm Dyer — aka Bernie Madoff — stole their life savings.  Madeline’s life has been flipped upside down when she realizes her investment advising husband not only lost his clients’ money in a giant Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Dyer, but also that of his family.  Meanwhile, Avery has discovered that her father’s estate was similarly lost just as her stint as a co-host of Hammer and Nail on HGTV as her ex-husband edges her out with his elbow.  Nicole’s situation is a bit different because she had a personal connection to Dyer and her trust was more born of that loyalty than a financial desire, which makes her financial crash all the more crushing.

“‘Yes, it’s a fine old home,’ the Realtor said as if their surprise had been of joy.  ‘And as you’ll see a large portion of it has been renovated.  It just needs a little tender loving care.’

‘More like hospitalization,’ Nicole said.  ‘Or a team of paramedics.'” (page 56)

Add to the mix, a former childhood male friend, Chase, who had the perfect family life that Avery wanted and an FBI agent, Giraldi, stalking Nicole and looking for Dyer, and you’ve got a bit of mystery and sexual tension.  Wax has a down-to-earth sense of humor that livens up the playful interactions of three strangers, who soon become friends offering advice and support as they deal with family drama.  Her characters are varied and out to prove themselves to one another, their families, and everyone else, demonstrating their strengths and hiding their weaknesses as best they can.  Avery is the degreed architect portrayed on television as an airhead; Nicole is the bombshell who makes her living pairing up the rich and famous; and Madeline is the trunk of her family tree, the one that holds it all together just as the hurricane is set to rip everything apart.

“The army had spread out to attack different sections of the garden.  John Franklin sat on a camp chair that had been placed near the fountain, a smile on his face as he watched his wife command her battalion.

‘Mrs. Franklin wanted to get started before it got too hot,’ Avery said.  ‘I don’t think a single one of them is under seventy-five.  They’ll fill in with some new plantings after the house has been pressure washed and painted.’

Nicole moved down the hall to peer out the rear windows above the loggia; that was the one advantage in being last in line — she didn’t need to hold on to her spot.  Only her bladder.  ‘Good God, that woman is climbing up that tree.  I think she’s got a . . . ‘

The whir of an electric saw drifted p to them followed by the crash of a limb landing on concrete.”  (page 237)

What makes this novel more than women’s fiction is the mystery of where Malcolm Dyer is and how tragedy can either pull families apart or bring them together.  Readers searching for a summer read to close out their holiday season should seriously consider Wendy Wax’s Ten Beach Road for its tropical locale — Florida — its hot men — Chase and Giraldi — and the triumph of its female leads as they find their inner strength and pursue their dreams of redemption.

This is my 52nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 is adapted from Stephenie Meyer’s best seller and the art is done by Young Kim.  Purchased as a gift, I grew curious about the art work inside since I’ve already read the series of books.  Meyer is a storyteller, but this graphic novel rendition of her story breathes new life into the supernatural love story with its crisp imagery and the stark contrasts generated by its black and white shading and sparse use of color.

Given that I normally don’t review graphic novels, I was more impressed here with the illustrations.  Kim is a stunning talent and demonstrates a clear ability to render lifelike faces to humans, vampires, and werewolves alike.  Don’t expect the images of Kristen Stewart or Robert Pattinson here.  Kim has imagined Bella and Edward in her own way and has pared down Meyer’s text significantly, allowing the pictures to carry the story.

I found the graphic novel adaptation mildly enjoyable for its images, but the text was minimal at best and much is left to the reader’s imagination.  Moreover, I noticed that some liberties were taken with Meyer’s story, much like what you would expect a movie screen writer to do, so it is clearly an adaptation not a reiteration.  Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim is an interesting collaboration to round out any Twilight lover’s collection.

Cross Currents by John Shors

Cross Currents by John Shors is set in the paradise of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand in 2004 as the lives of two families — struggling resort owners Lek and Sarai and brothers Patch and Ryan — cross paths.  In paradise anything seems possible, especially for Patch who is running from the Thai police after a stupid mistake, but even more so for Lek and Sarai’s children with so much ahead of them.

From the moment readers enter Shors’ world, readers are engrossed in the sand, the sun, the stars, and the humidity of the jungles and the resort shops that wait for tourists to arrive.  Lek and Sarai’s plight will draw empathy from readers, but what is more stunning is the strength they show on a daily basis.  It is enough to see Sarai cook, clean, massage, and devise new ways to earn income for her family, while her husband is dreaming and keeping their spirits lively.

“Lek opened his eyes, though his body remained as still as the gecko on the ceiling.  He watched it, as he often did, admiring its patience, aware of its seemingly perpetual hunger.  The creature was the length of his forefinger, and the color of mahogany.  Lek enjoyed gazing at the gecko, though he was jealous of its speed.  If a moth landed nearby, the gecko moved as if lightning filled its veins.  Yet in the absence of insects, the gecko was without motion, a silent sentinel that protected Lek’s home from airborne invaders.” (page 1)

Shors attention to detail draws a larger comparison between the characters he creates and the environment within which they live.  Patch has been helping out the Thai family, building a path, repairing bungalows, and more — almost as though he is doing penance.  In the midst of this work, Patch becomes like part of the family and he begins to feel at home, but that sense of contentment is uprooted once his brother Ryan comes to rescue him.

Cross Currents by John Shors is a devastatingly beautiful novel.  The ground beneath these characters continues to shift, placing them in harm’s way and bringing them closer.  Shors is a master at breathing life into different cultures and bringing different people together to demonstrate the power of love.  It is a novel about family, friends, and much more.  These characters are stronger for their struggles and for having known one another, and readers will not forget them.  A perfect candidate to nominate for the Indie Lit Awards literary fiction category.

Interested in other books by John Shors, check out my review of Dragon House and my interview with the author.  As with his other books, Shors will be making a donation from the sale proceeds of Cross Currents to the International Red Cross.

Believing Is Seeing by Errol Morris

Believing Is Seeing: (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography) by Errol Morris, a filmmaker, unravels the mysteries of documentary photography.  Why is Morris so skeptical about documentary photographs?  Does it relate to his deceased father and the secrecy around his role in the family or to his eye surgery as a child?  Beyond that, Morris seeks out factual evidence through testimony, history, and careful examination of light and contrast to determine the authenticity of photos and the stories behind them.

While some of the discussion and technical analysis of the Fenton photographs of the Crimean War can be a bit much for some readers, the conclusions drawn from these discussions are captivating.  Did Fenton stage the photo with the cannon balls on the road or did he not and which photo did he take first — The one with the cannon balls on the road or in the ditch?  When I first looked at the photographs, the one with the cannon balls on the road appeared to be a more powerful image, but then it appears to be staged because the balls are too evenly randomized.

“To use the familiar gestalt image of the duck-rabbit:  if we believe we see a rabbit, we see a rabbit.  If we believe we see a duck, we see a duck.  But the situation is even worse than the Gestalt psychologists imagined.  Our beliefs can completely defeat sensory evidence.”  (page 83-4)

Photographers often frame images in a way that captures the best of a scene, that’s the most aesthetically pleasing, and that provides the best lighting.  Moreover, photographers will take more than one picture of the same scene, if possible, and choose the best image to submit to magazines, etc.  They are framing the image we see regardless of whether readers realize it or not, but readers also are framing the scene and history.  Morris aptly titles this examination of photography “Believing Is Seeing” because each viewer’s beliefs, prejudices, etc., often frame their perspective when looking at a photograph.

Morris’ book is tutorial, historical, and poignant in how it examines photography, conjecture about photography and news articles, and human reactions to images.  My analytical brain was working overtime with this analysis, particularly when I got to the Abu Ghraib’s The Hooded Man.  One thing Morris clearly demonstrates is that each photo has a history or a context behind it, and without conducting appropriate research and background verifications, viewers and readers can draw the wrong conclusions.  In the discussion of The Hooded Man photo and the false identification of Ali Shalal Qaissi (called The Claw) as that man, two photos from two different perspectives are discussed, one taken by Sergeant Ivan Frederick without the flash that became iconic and one taken with a flash by Sabrina Harman.  While Qaissi is not the man in the iconic photo, Abdou Hussain Saad Falah (called Gilligan) is said to be that man, but in his testimony to the Taguba Commission he mentions a flash when his captors took his photo with the hood and blanket on.  So, is this telling us that he only remembers the flash and that maybe something happened between Frederick’s photo session and that of Harman’s, or is the flash more memorable because he was wearing a hood?

Believing Is Seeing: (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography) by Errol Morris is captivating from page one, and it will have readers, photographers, and more reassess their view of photography and history.  It raises questions about whether appropriate research was conducted, evidence collected, and correct facts appropriately used.  Like any good journalist or photographer, documents should include the facts of the moment, the event, and the context, and Morris’ book demonstrates that while many blame the 24-7 world in which we live for the slipshod journalism completed today, it has happened throughout the ages and may have less to do with technology and more to do with human nature and our desire to frame the story.  Photography is not the mystery here, it is the human mind and human behavior that is the mystery.  How are things cropped, framed, and modified to suit our purposes and why?  How can we as readers know that images and stories are modified to suit a specific purpose?  Morris suggests research, analysis, and skepticism, but also a curious mind bent on uncovering the truth.

About the Author:

Errol Morris is a world-renowned filmmaker—the Academy Award-winning director of The Fog of War and the recipient of a MacArthur genius award. His other films include Mr. Death, Fast Cheap & Out of Control, A Brief History of Time, and The Thin Blue Line.

Find out more about Errol Morris at his website, and follow him on Twitter.  Also there is this interesting interview from California Magazine.

 

Click the TLC Book Tours button to see the rest of the stops on the tour.

 

 

This is my 51st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Dance Lessons by Áine Greaney

Dance Lessons by Áine Greaney is about the dance we play with our husbands, wives, in-laws, and our own parents as we strive to keep things amicable and not reveal too many of our own secrets, especially secrets we’re not comfortable with ourselves.  Sometimes, it is about the dance the characters play with themselves, balancing the truth and the lies.  Set in Boston, the North Shore, and mostly Gowna, Ireland, Greaney’s prose sways like a graceful dancer telling Ellen Boisvert’s (a young lecturer at Coventry Academy) story.  She learns that her Irish husband, Fintan, was not an orphan as he had told her, but has a mother still in Ireland, and there are many other secrets he never revealed to her while alive.

“Ellen has read this about nurses, psychotherapists, doctors.  Even the largest or most life-saving job boils down to its component pats, a roster of daily tasks.”  (page 132)

Despite Ellen’s desire to leave her husband, she stayed with him for more than a decade and never left him before he died in a tragic sailing accident.  Upon learning that she has a mother-in-law, she writes a letter to inform Jo Dowd of her son’s death.  After an eerie conversation with the woman and several ghostly dreams, Ellen decides to travel to Ireland.  Each step and each movement is part of a larger story, a larger existence.  Fintan’s life and decisions had more of an impact on those around him than he realized, from his mother to his one-time girlfriend and his current wife, Ellen.  Greaney’s story is not one just of grief, but of moving on, stepping out into the light and claiming one’s life back.

“It comes at night, that dagger-pain in the lower back.  It jolts her awake, then circles, snakes up to her shoulders.  You can bear anything, she tells herself, then tries to go back to sleep.  She reminds herself of all the pain, years and years of it, she has borne and borne well, without troubling a soul.  Giving birth.  And there were bee stings as a child.  Or once, years ago, in one of the upper meadows, a hay fork went straight through her foot.”  (page 53-4)

In death, there is a renewal, a new beginning, but people have to be willing to reach out and grab it.  Ellen, like Jo, has lived in the shadow of her sister, but unlike Jo, she is given the chance to excel to take a hold of the reins and steer her own destiny.  Greaney’s story is heartbreaking, heart warming, and as turbulent as the weather of Ireland and the human heart.  Readers also get a taste of the Irish hierarchy and the depressed economic times of the 1950s, and the influx of foreigners.  From jealousy and rage to pity and understanding, the range of emotions in Dance Lessons are reminiscent of the ballet and operatic pieces of some of classical’s greatest artists.

About the Author:

Born and raised in County Mayo, Áine Greaney is a writer and editor living on Boston’s North Shore. She is the author of the novel The Big House and the short story collection The Sheep Breeders Dance. In addition, she has written several award-winning short stories and numerous feature articles for the Irish Independent, the Irish Voice, Creative Nonfiction, and the Literary Review, among others.

 

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

 

 

This is my 50th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard by Belinda Roberts

Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard by Belinda Roberts reads like a campy “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” with its posh boutiques and yachts, and it is a parody of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  In the seaside resort town of Salcombe, the Bennets are on vacation and their mother is thrilled to learn that Netherpollock has been bought by Mr. Bingley, an eligible bachelor.  The quest to marry off one of her daughters has begun, though the appearance of Mr. Darcy on the yacht, Pemberley, sours the first meeting as he considers Lizzy only tolerable.  All of this should very familiar to those who love Austen’s classic, but the story is more modern in its sensibilities and humor.

Roberts characterizations of Kitty and Lydia as in competition over dresses and boys, and Lydia’s “valley girl” attitude and use of “like” and “whatever” in conversation are welcome updates to the classic.  Humorously, the soldiers are now lifeguards in this story, and naturally, Lydia and Kitty are eager to become the “victims” in their training exercises.  Unlike the classic where their catty and flirtatious nature are subdued, Lydia and Kitty are more over the top as they become streakers at one gathering.

“The ordeal of a near drowning for the second time in one day had so shocked Mr. Collins that he was unable to stand, so Darcy was forced to carry him, in his arms, up the steps.  Physically, Mr. Collins succumbed like a baby to this mode of transport.  Mentally, however, he was quite alert and was not one to miss an opportunity.  Recovering slightly, he could see the closeness of the situation was the perfect moment for a little intimate conversation and proceeded to wrap his arms fondly around Darcy’s neck and to introduce himself.”  (page 84 of ARC)

There are moments of utter ridiculousness, and Roberts stays as true to the characters as she can in her wild rendition.  However, readers will note that her characterization of Mr. Bingley as a bit dim is outside the mark.  He cannot remember Mr. Bennet”s name correctly, and he continues to dig himself a hole when he talks of Jane’s various body parts in traction and how he will miss them, but she is still beautiful, though he doesn’t want her inconvenienced.

Readers looking for a story that is closer to the original will be disappointed, but if they are seeking a fun, parody of the classic, Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard is for them.  A quick light read to pick you up when you need it.

This is my 49th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner, who served in the U.S. army for seven years after receiving his MFA and was a team leader for one year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award and was printed by Alice James Books — a nonprofit cooperative poetry press.  (The title poem, Here, Bullet,” was recently profiled in the Virtual Poetry Circle.)  The collection is broken down into four sections, and each section is preceded by a quote relevant to it, with some even quoting the Qur’an.  Turner is adept at illustrating the violence of war, but also the humanity that accompanies it.  From the startling nature of rockets going off over head to the silence of bullets as they enter the body, he provides a keen eye into how those instruments of war impact both sides of the battle equally psychologically, physically, and spiritually.

Soldiers who craft wartime poetry have generally either fallen into the category of using graphic violence to shock and awe the reader or using quieter imagery to bring about reader understanding about psychological impacts of battle.  There also are those that have political poems that are heavy on criticism or propaganda, but those would fall less into the wartime poetry category.  Turner combines both violence and peace in his imagery, but in a unique way that has violence silently creeping into the lines and shocking readers.  For instance, in “Eulogy” (page 20), readers may hardly notice the suicide of Private Miller because he takes “brass and fire into his mouth,” but once the birds fly up off the water by the sound, it is clear the brass and fire are from a gun.  While outright, violent images can be eye-opening for readers, the quiet power in some of Turner’s lines are that much more lasting.

From “Katyusha Rockets” (page 32), “Rockets often fall/in the night sky of the skull, down long avenues/of the brain’s myelin sheathing, over synapses/and the rough structures of thought, they fall/into the hippocampus, into the seat of memory–/where lovers and strangers and old friends/entertain themselves, unaware of the dangers/headed their way, or that I will need to search/among them.”  These poems not only pay tribute to soldiers on all sides, but the civilians, the heroes, and a soldier’s fears and his regrets.  Some poems are infused with deep sadness, while others are steeped in great pride.

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner and the title poem are a testament to war and all of its trappings.  Readers will enjoy the quiet power these poems hold and the deft hand with which Turner paints the humanity of both sides in war.  The collection also contains moments of observation that will have readers thinking about war in the greater context of our own “supposed” morality as espoused by the Bible and the Qur’an, noting in “Dreams From the Malaria Pills (Turner)” (page 46), “He knows the Qur’an and the Bible/have washed page by page to the shore,/their bindings stripped loose, their ink/blurred into the sea.//”

About the Poet:

Brian Turner is a soldier-poet who is the author of two poetry collections, Phantom Noise (2010) and Here, Bullet (2005) which won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award, the New York Times “Editor’s Choice” selection, the 2006 Pen Center USA “Best in the West” award, and the 2007 Poets Prize, among others. Turner served seven years in the US Army, to include one year as an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division. Turner’s poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, and other journals, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name.

 

This is my 48th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 22nd book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles is set during the U.S. Civil War in Missouri, which is torn apart by Union ties and Confederate rebel robberies and mischief.  Adair Colley’s father is taken by Union militia on suspicion of helping rebels, and the union soldiers have ripped through their home and taken many of their belongings.  Following the capture of her father, she and her sisters walk to inquire about their father’s imprisonment and to possibly barter for his freedom.  However, along the journey, Adair’s tactless mouth gets her in trouble and she is imprisoned in St. Louis and her sisters flee to relatives.  The novel is about the civil war peripherally and directly and how it impacts Adair and her life.

“There will be trouble in Missouri until the Secesh are subjugated and made to know that they are not only powerless, but that any attempts to make trouble here will bring upon them certain destruction and this . . . must not be confined to soldiers and fighting men, but must be extended to non-combatant men and women.” (Page 1 from beginning correspondence)

Jiles peppers the beginning of each chapter with “authentic” correspondence and dispatches from union and confederates alike, as well as from ordinary people.  On some occasions, these passages speak directly or indirectly to the action in the chapters they precede, but on others they do nothing more than offer additional background to the war and its terror.  They do provide a certain authenticity to a novel that is more fanciful in nature as Adair seems younger than her 18 years.  She sees the world as a young girl who believes that justice always prevails, and despite the challenges she faces, she seems unable to let go of her naivete.  She often is surprised by how people act and react, which she finds extremely disappointing.  Unfortunately, not much changes with Adair’s character throughout the book.  At times, she can be cunning and quick to make decisions that are beneficial, but at other times, she’s fumbling around and unable to be courageous.

“Do you not want out of here? He said.  He seized up the papers.  You think perhaps you care for me.  Would you care for me if you were not here? And dependent on my good will?” (page 126)

Jiles does have her moments where she demonstrates the changes in Missouri from farmland and traditional ways of life to a more industrialized and modern society.  Questions also are raised about whether Adair would have fallen in love with a union soldier had the war not taken place and they were not thrown together.  Readers may enjoy the plight of Adair, but they also may grow frustrated with her lack of growth and the plodding nature of the prose throughout the book.  War scenes only occur once or twice in the book, and while most of the book is about Adair and her journey, there are a couple of chapters thrown in that focus only on Major Neumann after he is sent to the war front from the St. Louis prison where Adair is held.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles illustrates the transitions Missouri and its people endured as a result of the war and its aftermath, and the harsh conditions the war brought to union and confederate alike is well depicted.  However, dialects and uneducated speech are not done well, and there are no quotation marks at all.  Moreover, the characterizations falter in several points in the book, and there are some convenient plot devices used to get Adair where she needs to go and to save her from discovery.  The ending left a great number of unanswered questions given the cryptic prose used by Jiles in the final moments of Adair’s story.  While Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles didn’t work most of the time, readers interested in the social impact of the U.S. Civil War might enjoy the story.

Please do check out the discussion for the read-a-long on War Through the Generations if you’ve read the book.

 

This is my 47th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 2nd book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.