Sunday, December 19, 2010

Search and Destroy by Dean Hughes

Rick Ward has just graduated from Milliken High School in Long Beach, CA - Class of '69. He has no set plans. He hasn't applied to college like his girlfriend Judy who will be heading to Cal, Berkley in the fall. He thinks he's like to be a writer but he doesn't have much to write about at this point in his life.
He's on the cusp of adulthood; life is changing and his relationship with Judy is changing too. Judy looks more like a hippie now in bell bottom jeans and peace beads. Rick still wants to hang and have fun.

Rick is curious about experiencing war and with the ongoing Vietnam War this might be his chance. He hopes some life experience will give him something more substantial to write about and what could be better experience than that of war. He's filled with self-doubt though.

When he quits his job and gets thrown out of the house by his abusive dad, Rick impulsively decides to enlist. He decides he wants in to Special Forces - a goal he ends up achieving. But both Vietnam and war is not what he ever thought it would be. The stifling heat and sheer terror of each recon mission is almost more than Rick can handle.

Assigned to Charlie Rangers near Phan Thiet, Rick is befriended by Kent Richards, a young Mormon draftee whose gentle demeanor and maturity provide Rick with an anchor. Kent is the male role model Rick lacked in his father. Both men suffer devastating wounds but despite this it is Kent who helps Rick put his life back together.


Author Dean Hughes read numerous books on war, the Vietnam conflict and also reconnaissance units and this is quite evident throughout. Search and Destroy accurately portrays the realities of war and the dehumanizing element for soldiers from both Vietnam and the US as well as the Vietnamese people. The book brought back memories of watching the nightly newscasts on American TV and the fear it brought into my life (since I was too young to understand fully what I was watching).

Hughes also effectively relates the disconnect that existed at the time (early '70's) between the peaceniks in the US and the Vietnam veterans who returned home after fighting in the conflict. The idea that the veterans of this war were heroes was a preposterous one to the average civilian like Ricks girlfriend Judy. Thankfully, it no longer remains so.

Short and to the point, well written and a great read for teen guys.

Book Details:

Search and Destroy by Dean Hughes
Simon Pulse 2005

Thursday, December 16, 2010

OH NO She Didn't by Clinton Kelly

Straight-shooting Clinton Kelly, cohost of the American version of What Not To Wear (officially my favourite TV show of all time!), sets out to rid America (and the Western world) of the worst 100 fashion faux pas' imaginable. In his book, OH NO, She didn't, Clinton takes on (among other things)
  • tattoos and evening wear - they don't mix
  • gnarly feet (hide them)
  • tracksuits (forget them unless you're in the mob)
  • hairy legs under hose (ewwwww)
Clinton is irreverent, funny and desperate to eliminate these and much, much more! He's also quite insightful:

"Animal print wearers, based on my vast experience, have strong opinions, enjoy their feminity and usually like to have a good time." 

This certainly applies to the one person I know who wears alot of animal prints. She even went skinny dipping which is quite risque for my crowd.....

Although Clinton's attack is hiliarious he really does believe that all women can and should dress properly. Most of the mistakes here are simply from a lack of common sense.

A great book, with great fashion tips and lots of sage advice!

Book Details:
OH NO She Didn't, The Top 100 Style Mistakes Women Make and How To Avoid Them by Clinton Kelly
New York: Gallery Books  2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

you are not here by Samantha Schutz

you are not here is a wonderfully written exploration of a young woman attempting to make sense of her life and her brief relationship with a young man who suddenly dies.

AnnaLeah and Brian's relationship was a clandestine one - neither of their families knew about it. AnnaLeah's friends were not supportive of her relationship with Brian, telling her to find someone else. But when Brian dies suddenly, AnnaLeah finds that she has no outlet for her grief and because the relationship was secret, she cannot grieve publicly. She has no one to share her grief and loss with. So AnnaLeah takes to visiting Brian's grave regularly.
As AnnaLeah withdraws more and more, her friends who are concerned, give her a book about grief and encourage her to reach out. This combined with a few choice words of wisdom from Brian's grandmother who tells her at Brian's gravesite that "Nothing grows here besides grass." help AnnaLeah to free up some of space in her heart for the rest of her life.
New information about Brian also helps AnnaLeah to revisit the nature of their relationship and to see it in a more realistic way. And a new blossoming relationship with Ethan at her new job help to convince AnnaLeah that she must move on.

Samantha Schutz's free verse is elegant, poignant and on the mark. Excellent and considering the subject matter, a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved the poetry. Beautiful!

There are spaces in my heart
that are being filled
by what could have been with Brian,
and the stories
about my father and the Dearly Departed.
I think I need to free up some of the space
for the people in my life
that are actually here.
I need to not keep that space reserved
for people who are never coming.

Book Details:
you are not here by Samantha Schutz

New York: PUSH 2010
292 pp.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Girl, Stolen by April Henry

Lying in the back seat, Cheyenne is sick and waiting for her stepmother to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. Her stepmom has left the car keys in case she gets cold. Covered up with a blanket, Cheyenne hears someone enter the car and start it up, racing out of the parking lot. From the way the person is driving she knows this is not her stepmom. Who is this person and what is happening? Cheyenne doesn't know because she's blind.
Griffin is a young man a few years older than Cheyenne. He lives with his dad Roy who runs a chop shop. Griffin's mom use to be around until he was seriously burned in an accident when she mysteriously left to go live with her family. When Griffin sees the Cadillac Escalade SUV with the keys in, he knows he just has to take it. He wasn't there to steal cars, only Christmas packages from the cars at the mall. How could he be so stupid not "to see past the keys dangling in the ignition." Now he has a bigger problem on his hands - a blind girl in the backseat. He can't just let her go. The cops will find him too quickly.
So Griffin takes her back to his dad's house and shop. Griffin wants to let Cheyenne go, but when his father learns that she is Cheyenne Wilder, the daughter of the president of Nike, he is determined to ransom millions from him.

But things turn ugly quickly and both Griffin and Cheyenne must make difficult choices. Will Griffin help Cheyenne escape? Can Cheyenne trust Griffin to protect her from Roy and his men?

April Henry's book is another twist on the kidnapped girl theme that is currently very popular in YA fiction. It follows books like Stolen (Lucy Christopher), Living Dead Girl (Elizabeth Scott) and The missing girl (Norma Fox Mazer).

In Henry's tale, there is the added tension of not knowing just where Griffin's loyalties lie. Griffin is portrayed as a basically good kid caught in bad circumstances. He is a thief but Henry shows us that he does have some redeeming qualities. He seems to want to do the right thing but is terrified of his father. He develops a growing attraction to Cheyenne whose helplessness and illness seems to bring out the protector instinct in Griffin. When Griffin gradually comes to the realization of what his father is planning to do, he realizes the situation has escalated far beyond auto theft.

The twist at the end seems highly implausible. But Henry leaves it open to the reader's interpretation. Told from both Cheyenne and Griffins perspective, Girl Stolen is an enjoyable, suspenseful read!

Book Details:
Girl, Stolen. A novel by April Henry
New York: Henry Holt & Company 2010
213 pp

Girl, Stolen

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The year of finding memory by Judy Fong Bates

Judy Fong Bates came to Canada with her mother in 1955, reuniting with her father who had lived in Canada on and off since 1914. Her father ran a hand laundry business in small-town Ontario.
In 2006, after both her parents were dead, Fong Bates returned to China with 12 other relatives and more than thirty pieces of luggage in what she thought would be a kind of tourist trip to see her parents ancestral villages and to learn more about her family history. She was also interested in learning more about her parents and why they were so unhappy in their marriage. What led these two very different people to marry in the first place. What WAS their story?
What Judy Fong Bates discovered offered a very different picture of her parents lives. She was able to fill in many blanks and to uncover some shocking truths about her mother.

I wanted to enjoy this memoir but I felt in some ways it didn't meet up with my expectations.

First off, I found the number of family characters simply overwhelming. It was hard to keep track of who belonged to whom despite the list of family at the beginning of the novel. Perhaps a family tree would have been beneficial. After finishing the book I felt that I didn't know any of the authors family, including herself and her husband, any better than when I started. The lone exception was the mother to some degree. None of Fong-Bates family are portrayed with any depth, including her husband whom she seems to adore. I also didn't know she had two daughters until well into the book.

Fong-Bates mother married at age 16 to a handsome but "very no-good man" who had a serious addiction to opium and was abusive. She left him and went to live with her brother. Eventually in 1930, her mother was hired by her father to teach in his village of Ning Kai Lee. After many years, and a very convoluted life in which circumstances worked against her, her mother married her father who was much older and was living most of the time in Canada working as a launderer. They soon had a daughter, Judy. When she and her mother joined her father in Canada in 1955, life was difficult and her parents fought a great deal of the time. Judy was often caught in the middle. This made her wonder why they had married in the first place and whether they had ever loved one another.Thus the trips to China.

Through meeting her many relatives in China Fong-Bates was able to piece together her mother's life and why she entered into this marriage. Unfortunately, we know little of her father's story, which also would have been interesting since he came to Canada in 1914 and was, at the end of his life, a broken man who eventually committed suicide.

The story that emerged was one of thwarted dreams and of two people who were victims of circumstances and events well beyond their control. There is great tragedy in both lives. The sense of tragedy comes out in The year of finding memory but at times gets lost in the telling. This is because the revelations are mixed in with a sort of touristy account of visits to various relevant areas of China, intermingled with conversations of relatives, Fong-Bates life in Canada, and her mother's life. It made the storyline of what is primarily her mother's life very difficult to follow. In fact, I found at times I had to go back a reread portions of the story to help me fit in the new information as it was revealed. Still, there are some parts of the book that are particularly heart-rending; the account of Fong-Bates father's suicide is one such portion.

Another difficulty is the author assuming that readers will know their early 20th century history of China. To this end, a prologue perhaps outlining this period would have been most helpful for setting the background. As an example, I am sure there will be some readers asking who are the Kuomintang?

The map at the front of the book was bland and too small to be useful. The book could have been significantly enhanced by larger photos of family members as well as pictures of her parents ancestral villages, the homes, rice fields and even some photos of family members they encountered on their two trips to China. After all, we got a verbal account of this part of the whole discovery process so why not enhance it visually?

All in all, this was an average book done in the form of storytelling that I felt could have been truly exceptional if done in a different manner. I still plan to read her "Midnight at the Dragon Cafe".

Book Details:

The year of finding memory by Judy Fong Bates
Random House Canada 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Movies in the works......

There are lots of new and what I hope will be exciting movies in the next few months.

First off Jane Eyre is being remade (again) but this version looks equally interesting with Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender cast as Mr. Rochester. The film is due in theatres in March 11, 2011.

Check out the trailer:

The other movie I'm very interested in is The Eagle which is another book to movie adaptation. This time the book is Rosemary Sutcliff's historical fiction classic, Eagle of the Ninth. If you haven't read the book (and you should have!) do so before seeing the movie which is due out in February, 2011. Director Kevin Macdonald has tried to ensure the film is historically accurate. Channing Tatum has been cast as Marcus Aquila.