Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What It Was Like: A Novel of Love and Consequence by Peter Seth

What It Was Like: A Novel of Love and Consequence. Peter Seth. The Story Plant. September 2014. 464 pp.  ISBN#: 9781611881905.

A nameless high school graduate has his future all lined up.  He’s going to work in a summer camp and planning to begin student life at Columbia University.  Obviously, he’s a bright guy who’s just wanting to earn some money for his college days in the fall of 1968.  However, It should be noted that he’s (nameless throughout the entire story) writing this from jail and so we realize it’s really an account of his memories, flashbacks and reflections on the pivotal days that landed him where he is now.

Falling in love very quickly with Rachel Prince, a relative of the owner of the summer camp where the narrator is working, the narrator will do anything, anywhere, anytime to be with her.  She’s very attractive and carries a spark of energy the narrator refers to as “musical.” It also turns out she’s rather mercurial with her temper, one minute delightfully endearing and mesmerizing and the next sharp-tongued and/or tough.  She is between a counselor and camp member, and there are very strict rules for this in-between position. However, she’s very good at her job and the camp kids love her.   It also turns out that Rachel is very ticked off because she was supposed to take a “teen tour” of Europe, a bucket list goal that got trashed when her parents announced they were getting divorced.

The story gets a bit draggy midway through the book and yet somehow even though they are repetitive scenes, there’s enough rebellion and breaking of rules, as well as sexual dalliance, to keep the reader flipping the pages.

All of a sudden (no spoilers here), the danger heightens and rapidly escalates to the point of two scenarios the reader cannot ever envision while reading those previously pages that are hot only with passion, albeit threaded through with quite a bit of obsession.

In the beginning of their relationship, the narrator senses there is something “dangerous” about Rachel and later some conversations about what her “therapist” and family says drop more hints but nothing further.

This is no Love Story with a gushy, maudlin ending. It’s passionate, stark, haunted fiction that nails it on the head about young adult romance gone awry. It’s also about the naive hormonal dominance that goes into total denial about some rather obvious “warning” signals beyond the physical attraction both so deeply embrace! Nicely done, indeed, Peter Seth!  Keep writing!

What the Future Holds by Joan Fleming

What the Future Holds.  Joan Fleming. Tirgearr Publishing.  June 2014. 145 pp., 1292 KB. ASIN No.: B00LEWCJO8.

Amy Wilson loves her cottage on the island of Mull in Scotland.  She’s an accomplished accountant, has a boyfriend Matt, has a good relationship with her colleagues at work, has caring friends and all in all is content with life.  Now all of a sudden she receives a packet that was hand-delivered which describes a potential building project of a holiday resort that would spoil her view and she believes wreck what is a historical site of great value.

Worse is the realization that the person directing the project is a relative.  The story is really relatively straight-forward involving feuding relatives over a strip of land that one used without the other’s permission, but the attempt to end the feud by a relative on his deathbed has so far failed to produce the desired result.

Add to the mix a change in Amy’s job situation and the looming demise of her love (or lack thereof) life with Matt and you have the perfect combination for a mix of chaos that makes it hard for Amy to make any decision at all about any of her problems. 

Amy meets Sandy, someone she admired when she was much younger, and their attempt to have serious conversations about the holiday resort go nowhere.  This at first is intriguing but then with too much repetition of “Will you listen to me?” becomes annoying.  However, the charm Sandy exudes enables the reader to bypass the conflict part of their encounters and eagerly await the unfolding of the full family story and Sandy’s real feelings about a resort and Amy.

What the Future Holds is a quick read.  What is even more endearing within the plot are the cultural portions of the novel that describe dances, parties and more about Scotland.  The author excels here and makes the reader want to visit this island to partake of its quaint customs and food. That and the beautiful descriptions of the land on Mull Island and the views of the Abbey and more are intriguing and appealing.  Joan Fleming is a romance writer for sure and one who has a unique flair for her homeland Scotland. Nicely crafted romance, indeed!

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel by Matthew Thomas

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel. Matthew Thomas.  Simon and Schuster.  August 2014. 640 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9781476756660.

Eileen Tumulty grows up with alcoholic parents but with the cultural promise of the American Dream.  Work hard and make enough money to have a beautiful home, nice “things,” and enough to educate one’s children so they will have to work less hard for the same dream.  For some it happens; for others events and circumstances provide impediments galore.  Yet that doesn’t diminish the Dream; it just means one works around those bumps in the road, sublimates them into something larger or surrenders.  Eileen Tumulty will never, ever surrender! 

Eileen’s journey begins in the early 1940s and continues to the present.  She meets a man whom she thinks is totally different from her father.  Ed is a research scientist who seems polite and sensitive.  Yet after they marry, he becomes obsessed with his work and won’t spend an extra penny unless Eileen pushes and pushes and pushes.  Here is what makes this novel unique – while Eileen’s resentments and frustrations accumulate, she at pivotal points remembers why she loved this soft, gentle man and how what is so much imperfection is actually what makes him reliable and perfect. That is the key to all the disasters and shocks that follow.

Eileen and Ed have a son, Connell, and after much struggle, Eileen can say she now owns the home she always dreamed of.  One is almost waiting for the Damocles sword to fall and so it does!  Ed, the brilliant scientist, research man and Professor is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The rest of the novel is about cherishing every moment as special and dealing with a devastating disease that breaks down the brain, nervous system and then the body.  Eileen is determined that Connell will be educated and have a chance at that dream; but this is hard to maintain when he watches his father’s demise, then swerves elsewhere and finally finds hope in love to continue on his own dream.  The author leaves nothing to the imagination and presents an issue rarely discussed about this disease, the fear that it generates in children who wonder if they are carrying the same gene that will mar their future with this hideous disease.

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel is a long, engaging story that one can’t put down.  It’s drama lies in the everyday realities where one tries to make sense of the incomprehensible, where one struggles not to sink in despair at the formidable obstacles life offers, and where one truly loves “for better or worse” while still striving for more.  The dream is nothing without the love and vision of the dreamers and therein lies the rub!  Lovely, Matthew Thomas and fine, fine writing!

Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

Fives and Twenty-Fives: A Novel.  Michael Pitre. Bloomsbury USA.  August 2014. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9781620407547.

Lieutenant Peter Donovan and his buddies, Lester “Doc” Pleasant and Kateb “Dodge” el Hariti, are the main characters in this war novel about fighting in Anbar Province, Iraq.  These are fictional characters who serve as representative military personnel fighting in Iraq for one, two and even more tours.  Their story is told in flashbacks between their past service to their present lives now they are no longer in the Marines.  Their job is to clear out former battle areas or roads where explosives and grenades have been left behind for the traveling American military personnel. It’s a life and/or death mission!

The rule of the title is to scan carefully and quickly, looking for explosives or enemy attackers. It is repeated often and never taken for granted as the story shows how random and shocking every death or severe injury is.  It’s obvious that it’s almost impossible to spot every looming danger but these Marine fighters are superbly trained in tire tracks, spotting color, and other phenomena that save many more lives than are taken!  But these men are human and it’s obvious that the horrors of this war take their toll; on the job, a type of black humor and constant teasing and joking help them survive, but upon their return to civilian life, booze, sex, and violence clearly show the PTSD effects of living with this hell on a day-to-day basis.

Other issues abound such as issuing a command that might cause the Marines to miss an ensuing attack, thereby causing questions of blame.  As these fighters are so united, any diminishment of trust is as deadly as an exploding device psychologically and therefore a danger.  Another is about those men who agreed to work for American troops as translators, as “Dodge” does.  Never totally trusted, befriended but not too close, and their “native” issues are superbly depicted.  Dodge works for the Marines while his family are trying to kill them. We see the debacle of Tunisia through his eyes, the brutality that fostered that rebellion, and Dutch’s slow but solid involvement in the horrific aftermath of those protests.  We also observe how hard it is for these men to return to so-called “normal” life with jobs; very often the same fight or flight behavior of the war becomes the norm in civilian life. It’s a debacle as those who confront these destructive behaviors don’t seem to know its source and therefore have no inducement to help foster a slow but positive recovery.

War is hell; most of us have no doubt about that fact.  However, the tales must be told so that America and other nations understand the successes and failures, the patriotic service and the devastating aftermath from living around constant violence and death.  Whether one approves or disapproves of political policies made surrounding the issue of war, readers will perceive how this war is different from all others and how these Marines served so honorably in the middle of such insane thinking and behavior. 

This author served two tours in Iraq and his accuracy and heightened perception about all individuals involved are more than obvious!  This is a well-written war novel that should be required reading for all political, military and civilian readers. Highly recommended but not for the faint of heart!

This is How I'd Love You: A Novel by Hazel Woods

This Is How I’d Love You: A Novel.  Hazel Woods. Penguin Group (USA). August 2014. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9780142181485.

Hensley Dench has a “modern” relationship with her father in pre-WWI America; they share intellectual ideas and Hensley is proud of his anti-war writing for the New York Times.  He’s also an avid chess player and begins a correspondence with Charles Reid, an American medic, in which they briefly talk about current politics and news, in each letter adding a single chess move to their game played from afar. 

Hensley meanwhile has developed her considerable sewing skills and applied them to being accepted as a costume designer for a high school drama club’s productions.  The director takes advantage of her naiveté and the consequences are devastating to Hensley, compounded by the fact that her father is fired from his journalism position when America enters the war.  He’s now a German-American pacifist who is forced to accept a managerial position of a mine in New Mexico, and they are forced to move there in order to survive.  From the vibrant lively streets of Manhattan, Hensley is hard put to find beauty in the stark, bleak New Mexican desert-like atmosphere.  She finds partial friendship and conversation with a woman and her brother but it’s a world strange to her metropolitan background, a world to which she opens to perceive and react accordingly.

One small idea germinates into the pivotal point in this novel.  Hensley begins to add her own lines in between her father’s lines in his letters to Charles Reid.  This introduces a poetic, informative and romantic phase into their lives, one direly awaited by Charles, who with his friend are finding the brutality of this war almost unbearable.  The notes back and forth between Charles and Hensley are philosophical in many ways, fostered by pivotal questions arising out of war and peace, ugliness and beauty, and more. 

The rest of the novel concerns the choices arising from the death of a loved one, the wounds crippling young men, the difficulties in forging one’s way when numerous obstacles seem to mandate unhappy, resigned choices, and an ultimate decision to unite when the barriers seem insurmountable. 

A microcosmic world constantly inundated by the effects of WWI, Hensley and Charles Reid’s surroundings convey the power to totally dehumanize or strengthen the essential connection to human ideas and love of life.  These dynamic characters slowly but dramatically embrace the latter in a memorable story that celebrates the human spirit’s ability to do more than survive the vicissitudes of war.  This Is How I Love You: A Novel is a celebration of those heroic steps that we remember and honor.  Beautiful, literate historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!