Saturday, April 19, 2014
Being a Marine Corps veteran, I am drawn to books about combat experiences and military history. I jumped at the chance to review "On Two Fronts" by Adam Fenner and Lance Taubold through NetGalley. It is an account of a combat deployment from the perspective of not just the soldier (Adam Fenner, Army National Guard) but also the best friend back home (Lance). They tackle their emotions and experiences through a back-and-forth of emails and writings in chronological order, from the moment Adam finds out his unit is being activated to his homecoming.
I wanted desperately for the focus to be the effects of the deployment not only on the servicemember but also on the loved one. Instead, Lance's writing seemed like an effort for it to be an expression of his feelings towards Adam and his unrequited love. It is force-fed to the reader constantly. What should have been a unique and needed account of the two sides to a combat deployment is overshadowed with Lance's obvious lust for and infatuation with Adam. The fit Lance throws when Adam wants to invite his girlfriend to his going-away party, his constant reference to 'Adam returning home to me', the sexual nuances...all made me raise an eyebrow after Lance revealed that he is married. I cringed at the thought of Lance's husband, Richie, reading such a public announcement of Lance's feelings for another man. At one point, Lance even confesses that he is in love with two people, Adam and Richie. Being married, I had a hard time reading this and not feeling unease.
Adam's writing teeters on the precipice of being excellent. There were parts where I thought that his writing alone would have made a great first-person account of his time overseas. As someone who has been deployed and experienced foot patrols out of remote COPs in Afghanistan, I often was taken back to the experiences, sights, and smells of a combat tour. There are moments of stark realism and unveilings of life at outposts as it truly is. He is inconsistent, though, in his mature and thought-provoking depictions, vacillating between that and the immature need to constantly remind the reader of how much he enjoys female company, or even self-enjoyment when women are not available. I wish the book spent more time on the actual deployment and time in-country, rather than so much on the time before. His accounts of his time in Afghanistan is when his writing truly shines and it seems he is much more in his element then.
I didn't care for the asides, either. One would write something and the other would jump in and make a comment on the writing. I understand where they wanted to go with that, but I think they missed the mark, especially when some of the asides were simple 'Ugh's.
In the end, I had to fight the urge to put the book down before finishing it and ended up skimming through many parts. I felt like a voyeur into a relationship that left me confused and disoriented, and one I wanted to no longer peek in on.
Friday, April 11, 2014
I feel like I have been on a pretty lucky streak lately, having had the pleasure of reading books that were enjoyable and worthy of being passed on. "You Should Have Known" by Jean Hanff Korelitz is no exception. At 438 pages, it isn't exactly a light summer read, but with writing that flows and a plot that is well-developed, it is a refreshing work of fiction nonetheless.
"You Should Have Known" centers around Grace Sachs, a marriage counselor and therapist living in New York with her husband, pediatric oncologist Jonathan Sachs, and their son Henry. Grace has authored a soon-to-be-published book titled 'You Should Have Known', a self-help of sorts which lambasts women for making terrible choices in companions and spouses when they should have read the tell-tale signs of a doomed relationship from the start. Henry is enrolled at Rearden, a private school catering to the upper-class families of Manhattan, following his mother's footsteps.
Grace's confidence in her expertise on relationships and in her steadfast and loving marriage is shaken and turned upside down when a Rearden student's mother is brutally murdered and Jonathan becomes the primary suspect. In a flurry of humiliation and confusion, the truth about numerous affairs, illegitimate children, and termination of his employment months prior is revealed, leaving Grace devastated and in shock. Everything she thought was true is put to the question. She and Henry quickly depart Manhattan and its inevitable media circus and eventually attempt to start a new life at her lakehouse in Connecticut.
Korelitz is masterful at building suspense. I felt my heart thumping as more and more information was released, felt the frantic helplessness of Grace as she tried desperately to find Jonathan when he disappeared, and gasped when the ropes holding together her life became unraveled string by string. I wanted to reach through the pages and shake her by the shoulders a few times, when 'a-ha moments' would strike me and things fell into place to expose truths before Grace figured them out, or when she purposely and stubbornly fell into denial and refused to see those truths for herself.
The only criticism I have of the book is the romance that Korelitz begins to develop between Grace and her lakehouse neighbor. It starts only a couple months after Grace's world as she knew it came crashing down, and seemed a bit too cavalier and rushed to be believable. A woman who finds out in December that her husband is not only an adulterer but a murderer as well, is not likely to be falling for and kissing another man in late February. I feel as though that part was an attempt by Korelitz to signal that Grace was moving on with her life and would overcome all that had happened, but I believe the book would have been better off without the blooming lovestory at the end.
All in all, this is a solid book. It has a compelling plot and well-developed characters, but is too intense for what I would consider a summer read. Read it when you desire something with more substance, and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
I am, by all accounts, a fairly voracious reader. I love books of a variety of genres and writing styles. I do, of course, have preferences and pet peeves. One thing I do enjoy in fiction books is an ending that ties up loose ends. While I appreciate a reader desiring to create their own version of a character's future, I highly value when an author delivers me to the end of the journey I embarked on when I cracked open the cover. And with certain novels, I become so intimate with characters and so invested in their outcomes that an ambiguous ending results in a few curse words directed at the author and frustration that seems to permeate my day.
"China Dolls" hooked me with well-written characters, trials and tribulations they experienced that were wholly believable, and an ending that left me satisfied and breathing a sigh of relief. Lisa See's novel is the story of Helen, Ruby, and Grace, three young women living in San Francisco in 1938, who meet and become dancers at the Forbidden City, a nightclub near Chinatown. Though they come from very different backgrounds, the three become fast friends, navigating the world of prejudice of their Oriental backgrounds and their own dreams of the future while battling the rollercoaster of their pasts. Helen comes from a privileged and highly respected family living in Chinatown's largest compound. Grace hails from the Midwest and went to San Francisco seeking a new life away from her physically and emotionally abusive father. Ruby is a seductive vixen with no qualms about using her wiles to get ahead. Each of them, though, harbors secrets which lead to chasms within their friendships and tumultuous years ahead.
The novel is written in first person accounts by the three, each one narrating various different chapters throughout. It is easy to get wrapped up in their storylines, to cheer them on when they do good, to get frustrated when they are being naive, or to feel disdain when they do something offensive.
The story ends 50 years later, when the characters gather together for a 50th Anniversary show for the Forbidden City. It does a phenomenal job of resolving the fates of all the characters, tying up all the loose ends in a neat bow, just the way I like.
I received the book as an ARC from the publisher. It will be on sale on June 3, 2014, but is available for pre-order through Amazon and other booksellers now. I highly recommend getting this book and embarking on this journey, courtesy of Lisa See.
Monday, April 7, 2014
I was fortunate enough to receive an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of "The Blessings" by Elise Juska. I devoured this book quickly, and am eager to pass it on to my mom, a bibliophile like me, who is the lucky recipient of books I have loved.
The Blessings are a large Irish-American family from Philadelphia. They are your stereotypical big family, with aunts and uncles and large gatherings. During family events or dinners, the men gather around the television watching sports, while the women gather in the kitchen, talking about neighbors and friends and the latest gossip.
What makes "The Blessings" such an enjoyable novel, though, is Juska's brilliant descriptive writing and the multiple points of view that are presented. Each chapter comes from the perspective of a different member of the Blessing family. There is genius in this, in that the reader not only gets an intimate look at each character's thoughts, but also builds empathy and emotional attachments to each one within the course of a single chapter.
The novel encompasses a couple decades, starting with Abby, a freshman in college experiencing the world outside of her close-knit family for the first time, and ending later on with Elena, a young college graduate who has looked up to Abby and is now on her own to experience the world as well. Through the years, the Blessings face the loss of one of their own to cancer, the decline into senility and eventual death of the matriarch, divorce, bulimia, troubled young men, and the temptation of infidelity. While all these themes might normally be too heavy a burden for lesser novels to encompass at once, Juska's presentation as glimpses into different character's viewpoints makes the transition between each event seamless. The vignettes of each character and how they perceive each circumstance allows the book to flow easily through the years. Certain flashbacks enable the reader to see a situation from various point of view, and how each has affected multiple member of the family in one way or another.
I was left cheering for this family and feeling as though I was tied to them through the heartstrings that Juska wove in this novel. It is splendid in its telling. Her descriptive writing is not heavy, making for light yet deeply penetrating reading. I highly recommend this book, especially as a solid summer read. It is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers. It is set to be released at the beginning of May 2014.
- ▼ April (4)
- I first joined the Marine Corps in February of 1999. I was stationed at Camp Pendleton for three years and in Okinawa for one. I left active duty in 2003 and joined the Reserves that year. I had my first daughter in 2005, and moved from California to Massachusetts in 2006. I left the Marine Corps at that time, and had my second daughter in 2007. I reenlisted in the Corps in September of 2008 and went Active in 2009. I'm currently stationed back in California, loving the weather and the life!