Friday, January 30, 2015

Redeployment: A Tournament of Books Selection

Redeployment by: Phil Klay

Source: Purchased.
Awards: National Book Award for Fiction (2014)
Synopsis: (Goodreads)
Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned.  

In Redeployment, a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people "who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died."  In "After Action Report", a Lance Corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn't commit, in order that his best friend will be unburdened.  A Mortuary Affairs Marine tells about his experiences collecting remains — of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both.  A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious Colonel.  And in the darkly comic "Money as a Weapons System", a young Foreign Service Officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball.  These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier's daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier's homecoming.

Whoa. This book takes on some of the hard truths that soldiers and Marines returning from (and participating in) the longest two wars in American history have to face. As a veteran this was a difficult read for me. When I started the book I didn't realize it was a collection of short stories. At first I was disappointed because the first story is so raw and powerful. It's about how a man returning home from Iraq struggles to reintegrate back into everyday life with his wife and dog. I wanted to know more of that character's struggles. In the end though it turned out to be a good thing that this was short stories because I found that I could only read it in short bursts, so harrowing are the narratives at times. Perhaps this is the reason I don't read a lot of war fiction (or war non-fiction, for that matter).

In a time where less than one percent of the American population is in the military - it's so easy for some to forget the experience that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been through. There are many people who don't know anyone in the military. This book is important if not for that reason alone.

A line in the first story 'Redeployment' struck me so hard because it's the honest to god's truth.
"We took my combat pay and did a lot of shopping. Which is how America fights back against the terrorists."

What else is there to do after you're haunted by a war that makes little to no sense to you or the rest of the country? Another line that I ran across hit me hard because as a veteran I've always had a hard time with the "Thank you for your service" type gratitude actions that I would get. It's an awkward feeling that many veterans don't know what to do with (I'm not saying don't do it when you see a man or woman in uniform - just that it's a weird feeling - at least for me).
"I was angry. I'd gotten a lot of Thank You for Your Service handshakes, but nobody really knew what that service meant..." 
I worked as a Unit Deployment Manager for the Air Force, it was my job to tend to all the airmen that would be deployed, ensuring they had all their training, paperwork, and equipment. While because of my rank I was not the one making personal selections on who would go and who would stay at home (unlike the Army, the Air Force does not deploy entire units at one time, instead it's a piecemeal selection of individuals based on job functions that are needed down-range). Despite that I still fielded phone-calls from angry spouses and sent men and women away from their families to miss anniversaries, Christmases, and even the birth of their children.

The stories in Redeployment focus exclusively on the Army and the Marine Corps and I'm okay with that. The problem that I had with this collection is that there were no stories told from the point of view of female characters. Women, despite not technically being allowed in combat, are in combat. I felt that Klay might have strengthened his book if he could have told at least one story from the perspective of a woman.

The other thing that will probably drive civilian readers crazy are the excessive acronyms. It didn't bother me because I knew what most of them meant, but I can definitely see this as being an impediment for a reader with little to no knowledge of military jargon.

Like I said, this was a difficult read for me but I do think that it's an incredibly important and well written book. It's not really about the wars themselves, it's a portrait of the people who fight those wars at the lowest level. I have to highly recommend it to everyone.

As far as The Tournament of Books goes, I predict that it should at least make it out of the first round (depending on what it's pitted against), but it's unlikely it will take the whole hog.

What do you think, Reader? I know this has been a meandering review, but does this appeal to you at all? To those of you that are active duty or veterans, really, thank you for your service.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday Whimsy (and Heartbreak): Lost & Found

Lost & Found by: Brooke Davis

Source: I received this book from the publisher in consideration of an honest review.
Synopsis: (Goodreads)
Millie Bird is a seven-year-old girl who always wears red wellington boots to match her red, curly hair. But one day, Millie’s mum leaves her alone beneath the Ginormous Women’s underwear rack in a department store, and doesn’t come back.

Agatha Pantha is an eighty-two-year-old woman who hasn’t left her home since her husband died. Instead, she fills the silence by yelling at passers-by, watching loud static on TV, and maintaining a strict daily schedule. Until the day Agatha spies a little girl across the street.

Karl the Touch Typist is eighty-seven years old and once typed love letters with his fingers on to his wife’s skin. He sits in a nursing home, knowing that somehow he must find a way for life to begin again. In a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.

Together, Millie, Agatha and Karl set out to find Millie’s mum. Along the way, they will discover that the young can be wise, that old age is not the same as death, and that breaking the rules once in a while might just be the key to a happy life.

Can we start with the cover? I adore it. That and Monika the Book-Pusher (she really needs to just rename her blog) are the two main reasons that I picked this one up. For the most part this book is delightful. My heart broke continuously for poor Millie after she was abandoned by her mother. I spent most of the book terrified on what would eventually become of her.

Lost & Found is told from three perspectives: Millie, Agatha, and Karl. For the most part this technique works very well for this book - the reader is able to enjoy and understand the backstory of each character without it getting too much in the way of the central story at hand - that is finding Millie's wayward mother. While I enjoyed the sections narrated by Millie the most, so innocent and so weird (in a good way!) Agatha's story was a close second for me. 

As sweet as Millie is there is something a bit haunting about the sections written from Agatha and Karl's perspective, they are both haunted by the simple fact that they are aged - something they could never properly conceive during the prime of their lives. Despite this sense of haunting their characters are fun, quirky, and unexpectedly delightful.

As much as this story is about both the elderly and the extremely young being invisible to our society at large it's also about grief. All of the characters have lost someone - how a person chooses to handle this grief is something I really feel is explored quite well by Davis. I particularly enjoyed the essay included at the end on her handling the grief of losing her mother.

For all the good in this book, I didn't find it to be great. It's definitely well worth the read but for reasons I can't quite pinpoint it lacked the 'it' factor that makes me jump up and down and proclaim "EVERYONE MUST READ THIS BOOK!".  The characters are delightful, the subject matter is heartbreaking but still heartfelt... but there was still something missing for me.

I seem to be on an Australian author kick lately, purely by accident. There's something fabulous for me about trying to figure out which English speaking country the story is located in. (Spoiler: it's Australia) 

Excellent reviews also at:
A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Words for Worms

What about you, Reader? Have you read anything lately highlighting the problem our society has in rendering both the very young and very old nearly invisible? Tackling aging or grief?


Monday, January 26, 2015

Belated Sunday Salon


Time // 7:35 PM, Monday.

Place // The hubs recliner... I'm feeling saucy.

Reading // Still working my way through the Tournament of Books titles. Needless to say I'm excited for March and to see the brackets. Redeployment -- wait. I have to start again. I'm feeling murderous because my cats (twin siamese) just knocked over a glass of water I carelessly left in front of some important forms. Think Disney's Lady and the Tramp, without the infanticide.

Ahem. Back to Redeployment it's not what I expected as it is a collection of short stories, but I'm finding it hauntingly accurate, even if I can only read it in short bursts.

Feeling //  Mostly good. I've been abominable with the blog - but you can't post awesome content all the time and I'd rather post good content some of the time (as opposed to shit all of the time).

Blogging //  I hope to get some of the Tournament of Books ... books ... that I've read over the past few weeks up in review or at least mini-review. I loved The Bone Clocks, but am still weirdly scared to try Cloud Atlas. I'm feeling the need to step it up, maybe because I feel like I've been slacking. C'est la vie.

Coming Soon! // So I wrote a piece (so did AnnaSaurus Rex) for the anthology to be published 2 February by Velvet Morning Press entitled That's Paris: Life, Love, and Sarcasm in Paris. Consider it my literary publishing debut! There are some fabulous established writers in the anthology that definitely make it worth the read for any Francophile. (Check it out and call me fabulous ;) ) I also love the cover.



That's all for my belated Sunday Salon, Readers. How was your week? 
 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Untamed State: A Tournament of Books Selection

An Untamed State by: Roxane Gay

Source: Purchased. Worth every penny.

Synopsis: (Goodreads)
Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places.

Reviewing An Untamed State hopped up on cough medicine and generally feeling ill may not be advisable, but I'm going to try it anyway. It's a powerful book, powerfully written, with a powerful message. That message, like it or leave it, is feminism.


Before reading An Untamed State I have read maybe half of Bad Feminist and admire Gay as an essayist and someone who is making waves (meaningful waves) in current American feminism - attempting to grapple it out of the hands of upper-middle class white women and spread it for ALL THE PEOPLE. The cough syrup is rearing its head already, no?

This book is raw and powerful. Gay gives descriptions of rape and abuse that are written on a page of onion skin. By that I mean that the reader is sheltered from the worst of the abuse through a layer of beautiful, heart wrenching prose. The tug and pull between Mireille's past, present, and future, is a haunting and difficult part of the novel.

For whatever reason, these novels of abuse and survival are not 'hard' reads for me. An Untamed State was harrowing, yes. But just as other novels have left me with me - so has this one done. I know that my privileged upper-middle class, white cis-woman experiences are a part of it - I've never encountered real fear or hardship - for whatever reason - I've always been shielded from the most terrible parts of life. This does not negate my own difficulties. But all the same An Untamed State is one of those books that lifts the veil on the realities that even the wealthiest face in a lawless, yet beautiful country such as Haiti.

For me the most difficult part of the novel was the not the physical abuse and torment that Mireille faced at the hands of her kidnappers. It was the psychological scars and pain that would not perhaps ever heal from the experience. Maybe this is because I have known psychological pain where I have not known the terror of physical brutality. My heart ached when following her return she suffered from PTSD, when she was unable to 'pull it together' or even verbalize why everything was spiraling out of control after her return to the States. This part of the novel has not left me the way that the section on the torments of her kidnapping have.

Gay balances all of this horror and pain with great kindness. The patience and love that is shown by her mother-in-law is unexpected and because of that it is also more beautiful. 

I highly recommend this book to everyone. The difficult reading combined with the beautiful prose makes this a meaningful read. If you're a rape/kidnapping/abuse survivor, please know this probably will have triggers. 

Andi had an excellent review of this yesterday.

What about you, Reader? Have you read An Untamed State? Do you challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone enough?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Salon: Not So Night Owls


Time // 8:40 PM EST

Place // Couch perch

Feeling // SUPER PSYCHED that I finished Don DeLillo's Underworld. I won't pretend that I understood it all... because I didn't 'get' most of it. But whatever. I'm checking it off the list.

Also still siiiickkkk. The long MLK Weekend here in the U.S. is not going to help speed up my recovery. I KNOW.  Pissed at myself that I missed the Bloggiesta chat.

Reading // All the Tournament of Books (ToB) ... books that I can get my hands on. I've been totally scared of David Mitchell, for some reason I put Cloud Atlas on the difficulty level with Infinite Jest, and while I still can't speak for Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks is readable, delightful, and my only regret is that I didn't start it sooner. I also wish I could have done it in read-along format. I have ALL THE THOUGHTS about it so far. :) I've completed 9 out of the 16 ToB, I'm halfway through two others, and I think that of the ones that I've read only Station Eleven, All the Light We Cannot See, The Bone Clocks, and possibly An Untamed State are the serious contenders. But there are still four more that I know little to nothing about.

Blogging // I completed some of my Bloggiesta tasks - but am again, pissed that I missed the chat.

I know it's not much. But I think I have to go pass out now, Reader.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bloggiesta! Let's Werk.


I'm keeping it simple this go round, let's see what's on tap.

Goals:

  • Clean up sidebar, change social media icons.
  • Reviews, always write reviews.
  • Update 1001 Books and Review Index
  • Renew domain name
  • Continue pondering that move over to WP, if I want to pay for it and other nonsense.
  • Twitter chat! 
  • Try not to die of The Sickness
Whatcha got, fellow bloggers? 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Feckless Friday: Adam (A Tournament of Books selection)

Adam by: Ariel Schrag

Source: Purchased.
Synopsis: (Goodreads)
When Adam Freedman -- a skinny, awkward, inexperienced teenager from Piedmont, California -- goes to stay with his older sister Casey in New York City, he is hopeful that his life is about to change. And it sure does. 

It is the Summer of 2006. Gay marriage and transgender rights are in the air, and Casey has thrust herself into a wild lesbian subculture. Soon Adam is tagging along to underground clubs, where there are hot older women everywhere he turns. It takes some time for him to realize that many in this new crowd assume he is trans -- a boy who was born a girl. Why else would this baby-faced guy always be around? 

Then Adam meets Gillian, the girl of his dreams -- but she couldn't possibly be interested in him. Unless passing as a trans guy might actually work in his favor...

Guys, I'm not trans, but I am an ally and it's going to be hard to hit all the reasons that this book is offensive. You know I don't mean offensive in the sense that there's a ton of swearing, (there is), graphic descriptions of sex (there are) - but offensive in the sense that this feels like a book written by a cis-female lesbian to shock and awe her audience into thinking that this is some sort of breakthrough in trans fiction. 

I don't think I can write this review without spoilers. So, you've been warned. There are so many directions to go, I hardly know where to start. I guess we'll just start with Adam being a bit of a creepy douchebag. Scratch that, the entire cast of characters all kind of turn out to be creepy douchebags. But we'll start with Adam. Within the first few chapters, to impress his life-long friend he spies on his sister having sex with another woman. On purpose. Seriously? I'm really not sure what this was to add to the characterization of Adam except maybe he's insecure and just wants to be popular. 

I actually laughed out loud at the idiotic assumption that Adam makes while looking at lesbian porn that he should know what real lesbians do, because his sister is one. What?! 

So sad and rejected from the 'cool kids' at school Adam decides he wants to spend the entire summer in NYC with his sister who had just finished her freshman year at Columbia. The siblings move into a flat with June, who is continually thought of as 'butch' and intensely ugly by Adam, and Ethan - who June and Casey have found on Craigslist.

Casey (the sister), comes across as a know-it-all on everything counter-culture sexuality. Actually, she comes across as a bitch. She also fails to do anything to offer readers any sense of empowerment with her own sexuality and really is representative of that sad girl who will do anything for attention and fails to recognize her own poor choices that put her in compromising and hurtful situations. 

If I cared enough I would go back through the book and find the number of times women are referenced as butch, ugly, or some clever insult thereof. Worst of all there is no redemption from Adam on thinking these awful things or for judging a book by its cover. Again and again women are objectified and lesbian women in this book even more so. I have to think that the shocking scene in the NYC sex club where Adam watches his sister having very public and rough sex (again), is a furtherance of that objectification. Why does this kid spend so much time watching his sister have sex?

Oh, but let's get to where the real offense is. Adam meets the girl of his dreams (no literally, he has a vision on the plane to NYC about this girl) and *gasp* she's a very pretty lesbian. Somehow, somehow, she mistakes Adam for a female to male transperson. ...and what does Adam do? He rolls with it. So he's totally in love with Gillian - learns everything he can about trans-culture (all the better to fool you with, my dear) and keeps up the subterfuge until blessedly the author pulls the trigger and Adam has to come clean. What happens then? Does she feel violated that she's been having sex with someone who had committed an incredible transgression of her trust? Does she get angry and run away? 

NOT AT ALL. After Adam reveals he's a cis-male that has been posing as trans for months, Gillian just says. "I know." ...and they stay together. WHAT?! So basically skeevy teenage boy poses as trans to get into the panties of a lovely lesbian and gets away with all the goodies. No lesson learned, nothing. I also find this offensive in reinforcing the idea that gay people can choose their orientation. All the sudden Gillian is straight and we see no struggle in her identity about that.

Are you going to say anything nice? Sure. There were tidbits of educational information about kind of maybe what it might be like to be trans. (Nothing of the terrible discrimination or the fact that the suicide rate is higher than any other population in America), but there is some education on types of surgeries a trans person may choose to go through, or why they may not choose to go through them. 

Overall though. This book is a hot mess. I read it because it's a part of The Tournament of Books and I would love to see it destroyed. I didn't go into it as a hate read, but somewhere along the way it ended up being one.

Edit: I thought I'd add some quotes for context.

Racism: "She had transferred ... mid semester and was the only black kid in Adam's American history class, and whenever they were talking about civil rights or racism, Kandis would get all huffy and groan really loudly any time a white kid had an opinion." p.38

Homosexuality: "June was clearly gay. Like, no doubt about it, this was a lesbian. Casey, who had long hair and often wore skirts, wasn't obviously gay..." p. 41 Excuse me, what does 'clearly gay' look like?

"It might be fun to talk with a girly lesbian, just for the night, even if it went nowhere, but none of these girls were remotely hot. Why would you want to make yourself look so unattractive?" p.56 So much for body-positivity.

Transgender: "Everyone kept talking, and all the sudden it hit Adam. He got it. The lesbians here weren't hemaphrodites - they were girls who wanted to be guys. And somehow this was possible." p.60

I lack questions, Reader. I guess, does this sound offensive to you from the synopsis? I had reservations going in - but it was really worse than I possibly could have imagined.