Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How To Write Anything: A Complete Guide by Laura Brown

How To Write Anything: A Complete Guide.  Laura Brown. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. April 2014. 608 pp.  ISBN#: 9780393240146.

With the prevalence of texting and email with its abbreviated spelling, the art of writing is for many young people an unknown reality.  Laura Brown has provided a guide to almost every type of writing that will be required by a student, worker or any individual needing to communicate in correct and appropriate form.  Section I and II address the need to have a clear purpose and knowledge of one’s audience when communicating, including the need to revise over and over again so that one conveys a professional stance.  These chapters often address the issue of not writing for and to one’s self but the need to know your audience with their needs and skills and to write toward a very specific person or group.  The issue of knowing when to place a telephone call and when to write is also addressed, as well as the courtesy that is essential even in IMs and email messages.

The text then takes the reader through all those life events that the majority of us experience over the years such as introductions, announcements, condolences, love letter (yes, even that), obituaries, weddings, births, baby showers, personal letters to neighbors, letters to oppose parking tickets, notes to teachers, etc., etc.

The next section is so necessary, even though readers may wrongly assume these skills are taught in school, and include how to take notes, make an outline, and write summaries, research papers and essays in the different forms that different subjects require.  This is followed by just about every type of letter one would need to write in the business environment and when seeking a job or a promotion.

Examples of both the do’s and don’ts of each type of writing are very helpful parts within each section. Essential and important rules are highlighted in shaded grey boxes and circular graphs are included to assist one in progressing through different steps in each process.  Correct grammar and punctuation complete the package.

While this might not seem like endearing reading, it is a fascinating, comprehensive collection of fine writing in every imaginable form.  This should be a staple text for every family – very nicely done, Laura Brown!!!

A Long Time Gone by Karen White

A Long Time Gone.  Karen White. New American Library: Penguin Group (USA). June 2014. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451240460.

“I think that it doesn’t matter how or why, but not having a mama is like being born without a heart.”  Three generations of women whose mothers were “absent” from the lives of their daughters; but don’t judge harshly for there is more than meets the eye in the story of Adelaide Walker Bodine (1920’s), Carol Lynne Walker Moise (1960’s) and Vivien Walker Moise (2013).  Their stories begin with Vivien returning to Indian Mount, Mississippi after being left a drug addict and hopelessly lost young woman whose husband enabled her addiction and then threw her out as an unfit wife and stepmother to his daughter Chloe.  As Vivien was lost before she ever met him because of her own loss of her mother for many years, she’s got zilch self-confidence.  Her life will change however upon her return to her “home.” 

Carol Lynne is now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Vivien wrestles between her anger at her and gradual realization she needs to help what cannot be healed, and perhaps even forgive for reasons she has yet to discover!

Adelaide and Sarah are best friends as children, always accompanied by a young African-American girl, Mathilda, whose job was to chaperon them, hardly a suitable job for the wild Sarah who drags Adelaide into “situations” guaranteed to bring more than trouble. 

Tripp (an old friend) and Tommy (Viven’s brother) gradually adjust to Vivien’s ways, again forced into dramatic change with the arrival of Chloe, Vivien’s stepdaughter.  It’s a new life and Vivien has to battle her resentments and addiction now she has a second chance to give to Chloe what she feels she never got, a chance at redemption and perhaps romance.

Add to the mix the mystery and secrets behind a skeleton discovered next to their home after a lightning bolt struck down a tree that unearthed the stark white bones on dark dirt that haunted them all.  The discovery behind those bones is earth-shattering indeed.

Karen White has done it again, crafting a haunting tale with spunky, dysfunctional characters who must endure unimaginable trials to mature and get over their stubborn, attitude-laden thinking and acting.  Intense, riveting, and mysterious contemporary fiction – finely told – a best seller!

The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin

The Beautiful American.  Jeanne Mackin. New American Library Trade: Penguin Group (USA). June 2014.  384 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451465825.

Expatriate Nora from America remembers her friendship with Lee Miller as a child.  Nora was the child of the gardener who took care of Lee’s yard. At first they were allowed to play together, but then something tragic happened to Lee and the friendship was abruptly terminated. 

Years later Lee and Nora meet in Europe during the WWII years, but Lee doesn’t seem to recall their earlier friendship, only the time of their European journey.  For Lee has evolved into a very successful model who is the lover of the brilliant artist Man Ray. 

Nora falls in love with another artist only to suffer a brutal betrayal.  All of the involved characters meet up several times over the years of the Vichy takeover.   During that time Nora will meet and get to know the famous artist Pablo Picasso as well as other notable characters pivotal to the cultural changes rocking European and American society.

Nora loses her daughter toward the end of the Vichy government’s brutal reign.  Heartbroken and possess with the need to find her child, who is actually a grown-up woman with her own story that she definitely does not want to share with anyone, least of all her mother.

An added bonus involves the world of perfume as both a business and an artistic significance during this time – beauty and fragrance in a most unsavory time!

The Beautiful American is a tightly plotted, moving story filled with the bohemian allure of the artists living expatriate lives in Paris and elsewhere throughout Europe as well as the ferocity and complex machinations of wartime soldiers and political leaders.  The story’s haunting ambience will remain in the reader’s thoughts and feelings for a long time after experiencing this exquisitely depicted story of love, betrayal, forgiveness, haunting memories and so much more!

Finely crafted, Jeanne Mackin!  A keeper of historical fiction for sure!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Backlands: A Novel of the American West by Michael McGarrity

Backlands: A Novel of the American West. Michael McGarrity. Penguin Group (USA). May 2014. 512 pp.  ISBN#: 9780525953241.

Emma Kerney is dying of heart disease and is determined to insure that her son, Matthew, eight years old at the beginning of this novel, will be financially secure.  She’s also determined that her ex-husband, Patrick, a drinker and all-around nasty individual, will be able to touch very little of what she’s leaving for Matthew.  While she has a sudden upswing in her health, she accomplishes all she set out to do and even has some amicable moments with Patrick.  But life is never that simple, and eventually Matthew is left with only his father to raise him.  At first it all goes well as Patrick tries to train Matthew in riding and caring for horses, Matthew’s great love.  Matthew’s ultimate goal, however, is to finish high school and attend college, a dream Patrick mocks!

As time passes, we read the remainder of the story of Matthew, Patrick, the New Mexican Spanish residents, including one who eventually marries Patrick for a short time.  This is the story of survival in the lean years of the early twenties and thirties, when these New Mexico residents were faced with drought and the Great Crash that financially destroyed people in this community as well as throughout America.

Matthew, however, evolves into one determined, hard-working man.  As his relationship with his father deteriorates, his luck in obtaining work with the CCC of Roosevelt’s administration and other choices force him into becoming the owner and caretaker of the ranch his father used to run. 

Without giving away the many exciting, challenging scenes in this novel, suffice to say it’s a great novel of the West and a story of the Darwinian struggle to persist and succeed at living and working in a beautiful but tough land beloved by so many – the Great American West!  Very nicely crafted, Michael McGarrity!

Combat and Other Shenanigans: Tales of the Absurd From a Deployment in Iraq by Piers Platt

Combat and Other Shenanigans: Tales of the Absurd From a Deployment to Iraq. Piers Platt. Create Space Publishing. February 2014. 180 pp.  ISBN#: 9781496128676.

Few war stories are both comical and serious, but this one year memoir is unique in both respects.  Lieutenant Piers Platt as a cavalry platoon officer attends enough schooling to sink a ship while in Kentucky and then Germany, but he has to receive even more training after he is deployed to Iraq.  It’s a soldiers world with gutsy language, pranks for all newcomers, a place where rules are made to be broken, where punishments are handed out and then rescinded hours later, and where one lives fluctuating between constant boredom or ever-looming life-death situations.

Platt’s writing includes a lot of acronyms for military weapons and procedures that are incomprehensible to the average reader and could have had more explanation for non-military readers, but those who have served in Iraq will definitely relate to all of it.  The reader isn’t quite sure whether one should be amused or horrified by the deplorable state of the equipment these soldiers rely on for travel, defense and attack while out on missions.  Add to that the realistic scenes of killing and coming close to being killed, and the reader realizes how stressed out these men are and their almost desperate need to have plenty of humor to cope with the realities of everyday war. 

This story actually takes place at the end of the Iraq war when American soldiers were cleaning up after the major battles and dealing with leftover insurgents who must have missed the memo about the end of the war and were still dropping IEDs and shooting at soldiers, all designed to perpetuate the war that was over but really wasn’t over quite yet.

Platt writes in a uniquely light tone about the idiotic decisions made by “higher-ups” in sending soldiers into deadly areas such as Samarra.  Yet he also describes the Iraqi people’s joy and determination when they finally got the opportunity to vote.  All in all, what is conveyed most is the unity and powerful friendships that developed between these men who truly “cared” for each other in such an admirable way.  That alone is worth the great read provided by Lieutenant Piers Platt!  Thank you and all who served with you!

Bombay Bhel - Stories by Ken Doyle

Bombay Bhel: Stories by Ken Doyle. Ken Doyle. Loquent Press. February 2013. 190 pp.  ISBN#: 9780615763576.

These stories are redolent with the spices and flavors of Bombay, now called Mumbai, India, but they’re also about the different type of residents who fill that huge city with their loves, hates, struggles, poverty, riches, and more.

Meet Hassan, frantic to find out if his parents have survived the Kapilgaon riots in which his family’s home is burned beyond hope.  His Anglo friend Brian wonders if Hassan is all right, not knowing he inadvertently becomes one more victim of the Hindu-driven violence.
We learn about a student’s love of Mr. Watson, an independent, free-thinking principal of St. Magnus School.  He’s a man despised by the Jesuit priests who do everything to make Mr. Watson a failure and eventually wind up pushing him into an early retirement.  Prejudice abounds on many unexpected levels in these stories.

Annie, whose husband has passed away, is now forced to move into her son’s home.  This story depicts her memories and personal objects associated with tender times.  Change is a difficult but positive reality for these people who have survived difficult but cherished days of old.

So these stories continue, depicting the severity of money-lenders who help the poor but harshly enforce the terms of that assistance.  Kindness and compassion are anomalies in a city replete with those bordering on financial disaster at every moment of their lives, those who scramble for success in a fiercely competitive business environment.

It’s a hard world endured by the poor in these stories but rich in relationships and vivacious in determination to get ahead, no matter what the cost.  Love of food, education, independence and different social groups fill these pages with delightful, yet real, stories sure to engage any and every reader.  Keep writing, Ken Doyle – you’ve got the Muse!

Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel by Naomi Wood

Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel.  Naomi Wood. Viking/Penguin Group (USA). May 2014. 336 pp.  ISBN#: 9780143124610.

Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary were all women with the title of Mrs. Hemingway at different times obviously; but this is the story of their immense love for the famous author and lover, Ernest Hemingway.  It’s about their coping with the fact that they were losing him to “another woman” and their connection with each other despite the fact that divorce and then death robbed each of the greatest love known. 

Hadley was the quietest of the four women, of little wit and yet whose role as not only lover but also editor of her husband’s short stories and early novels cemented the early years of their marriage.  She is the one who loved him through his early writing failures and the constant poverty that stalked the young couple during those barren years. How pivotal was the early loss of Hemingway’s early works and was this an unforgivable act that was part of the eventual demise of a deep relationship? Was Hadley responsible for losing Ernest to another woman by including her in their every vacation and social gathering? The reader cannot help but question why she continued these perverse invitations when she gradually began to realize she was losing him.

Fife was the most energetic of the three, a woman who was so vivacious that no one knew what she would say or do next, the daredevil of them all.  Most intriguing is her closeness to both Hadley and Ernest, even after he had abandoned Hadley and married Fife.  How long would that unique zest for life satisfy the ever-leering Hemingway whose unfaithfulness seemed a vital part of his life, as important as his writing and his need for danger?

Pauline Pfeiffer (Fife) was replaced twenty years later by Martha Gelhorn, a woman who never wanted to be married and who craved the journalistic excitement provided by revolutions and wars overseas.  That shared zest for danger united them until he wanted her to quit working and devote her life to children, a rift that eventually drove Ernest to Mary who loved Ernest’s love for writing and words more than anything else about him. It was Mary who most had to deal with his ever-looming depressive bouts and eventual suicide.

Mrs. Hemingway is fascinating reading for the way the focus is really on these four women and not on the moods and raucous behavior of their husband.  While one might think it’s a tedious story, Naomi Wood has managed to craft a story that gives unique qualities to each woman and yet shows how a particular pattern followed each marriage, ironically one that the wives never really challenge during the time they spent with this wild but unpredictable man.  Nice job, Naomi Wood and a strong addition to the fiction about this most outrageous but talented journalist and author!