War, What is it Good For?

I recently completed two books which shared an historical connection Flyboys: A True Story Of Courage by James D. Bradley and The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. The first is non-fiction and the second, fiction, but both take place during World War Two in Asia. One in Japan and the other in China.

Flyboys is a remarkable book about the courageous men who took to the skies in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their ultimate target: Japan.

Tan’s novel is about a young woman in China who marries a brutal man who abuses her beyond words. The Nanking Massacre perpetrated by the Japanese, occurs in this story. Although the main characters are not present during it, they are fortunate not to have been. The plot is mainly about unequal cultural norms in China with regards to men and women, but the ongoing war with Japan figures heavily in the story.

Flyboys is the true story of pilots and their crews who were captured and murdered most horrifically while in captivity on small islands inhabited by Japanese military personnel. Truly, this book is not for the faint hearted. Cultural beliefs figure prominently and as an American, I was sickened. My heart broke for our POW’s and their families who anxiously awaited news of their beloved sons.

In both books we experience the horror of World War Two in the Pacific. We also learn about ideological differences among nations, their leaders and the people they govern. That, I think, is most important if we are ever to live in harmony and peace on this great planet we share.

I highly recommend Flyboys because it is well-written and researched. As stated earlier, it is not an easy book to read because of war atrocities graphically described in it. Until I read this book, I thought the dropping of two atom bomb’s ended World War II in the Pacific, but came to discover the US continued to drop napalm bombs on Japan even after the atomic ones.

The Kitchen God’s Wife is a good fictional novel by an author whose work I enjoy and recommend.

I come away from both books with increased knowledge and understanding and I am grateful.

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O H I O

The Pioneers by David McCullough is a new release by one of my most admired historian writers. This book is derived from actual accounts originally written by people who were early settlers of the newly acquired purchase of territory bordering the Ohio River. This occurred in the late 18th century.

The diary of the daughter of Ephraim Cutler provides rich first-hand accounts of the many tribals and tribulations experienced by her family. The book contains much more than the Cutler family history. McCullough expertly weaves many stories into theirs. Johnny Appleseed, President John Quincy Adams, and Aaron Burr are only a few of the many recognizable figures in the story. There are indigenous Indian tribes included. Before being forced out, it was originally their land which the settlers came to clear and inhabit. Towards the end of the book, the Underground Railroad comes into play.

There is much history to be learned here and unfortunately, it’s not a happy tale for the native people of our country. The author doesn’t take sides, but rather recounts the history of the settlers in the Ohio Territory.

Overall, I enjoyed the latter part of this book. I greatly anticipated its publication, but came away disappointed. I don’t think this is one of McCullough’s finest efforts. Historically, the book has merit. I did acquire knowledge so I am recommending it to those interested in gaining knowledge of that period of our history.

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Thanks Mom

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts has been patiently waiting on my to be read pile for years. In honor of all mothers, I’m happy to report I finally read it!

This collection of stories about a variety of historical women who walked with and influenced other great individuals was interesting. I learned many tidbits of information previously unknown and that’s a good thing! Although I found this book slow moving and not fully what I anticipated, it honors women who, like countless others, rose to the challenging roles placed before them and gave their all; women like Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Read Franklin, Eliza Pinckney, Catherine Littlefield Green, and Esther DeBerdt Reed. These women and others may not be familiar, but they made a difference, made sacrifices, and ultimately left their handprints on our nation in its early years.

I recommend this book in honor of the mothers who went before us, the mothers of today, and future mothers. Whether great or small, what you do, and the love you give, matters more than you know. Happy Mother’s Day.

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What Jackie Said

The Editor by Steven Rowley is a recently published historical fiction novel in which a young author named James Francis Smale finds himself sitting in a conference room at a major New York publisher. Nervous and curious, he is about to receive a shock. When the door opens to reveal Mrs. Jackie Kennedy Onassis who informs him she has read a draft of his book twice and intends to edit it prior to publication; he embarks upon a life-altering journey.

This, like Rowley’s previous novel, is clever and humorous while at the same time emotional, as it deals with love and loss. It’s a quick moving story with a number of surprises. That, I enjoyed. In fact, for awhile, I wished Smale was a real character who wrote a real book about his mother!

What perturbed me was what I thought were unnecessary, graphic homosexual encounters peppered in the book. They didn’t make the story any better. This reader could have done without them.

With that exception, I liked this portrayal of a man’s relationship with his famous editor and his quest to make sense of his life.

Please note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Missing My Mother

All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy is a touching novel about a man named Myshkin whose mother abandoned him when he was 9-years-old. After reading the first line of the book, I had a tough time putting it down.

Told in the voices of Myshkin, now a retired man in India, and his mother through an envelope full of letters she wrote to him and her friend over the course of years, we discover the reasons which made her leave everything familiar behind. We also experience her truths as well as her son’s pain.

This moving story is one which explores the wide variety of motivations behind the choices made by the principal characters in the book. Myshkin’s parents were as different as night and day which allows for a great contrast and comparison themed plot.

This is the second novel I’ve read by Roy and I admire his style of writing. This story tugged at my heartstrings. The end found me in tears. Highly recommended.

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I Am Back!

A recent surgery on my hand provided me ample reading time. Review writing however, has been sidelined while I’ve been recovering. Here is a brief summary of novels and books which I found to be good company over past weeks.

The Razor’s Edge by W Somerset Maugham is a tale about a young man named Larry Darrell and his fiancé Isabel. Larry is reluctant to marry Isabel prior to gaining life experiences on his own and love struck Isabel agrees to wait. Little does she know that her wait may become a lifetime. The story takes place after World War One and one aspect I found interesting was the acknowledgement of PTSD. It wasn’t called that then, but the mention of it bears weight on the character’s actions in this novel. The story is about love, loss, and the search for the meaning of life. I liked it; recommend it.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen is a fictional story about a woman in England named Joanna who comes across a letter written by her recently deceased father to a woman in Italy which was never sent. Knowing her father was shot down over Italy during World War Two, her curiosity is peaked by the letter’s shocking content. A quest for truth ensues and an engrossing journey follows for Joanna. The plot held my interest and it is a book I recommend.

Dinner in Camelot by Joseph A. Esposito is a non-fiction account of a dinner party hosted by President and Mrs. Kennedy in April, 1962. Their dinner guests included the creme du la creme of top science, art, and literary personages of the era. Approximately one-third of the attendees were Nobel Prize recipients. The book is well-written and the anecdotes fascinating. The author chose to tell much of the story “by table”. I thought that was clever. I enjoyed this book a great deal from a historical perspective. I recommend it!

Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Ellenberg (editor) is a book I enjoyed so much that I purchased a copy for my home library. This is a collection of letters written by Doyle over the course of many years. Most were written to his mother. These are one-sided conversations as Doyle destroyed the letters he received, but his responses are clear enough to allow us to fill-in the blanks. I learned a great deal about the man who penned Sherlock Holmes mysteries. He was quite extraordinary as were his interests and accomplishments. His loyalty to his family was admirable. This book, I highly recommend.

Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer confused me for a good portion of the novel. The story is about a young man and his mother who escape from the USSR. Archer wrote two stories; one in which they escape to England, and another where they escape to the U. S. Unfortunately, it took me a while to catch on! Either way, I enjoy Archer’s stories and style so I recommend this one.

Lie Down In Darkness by William Styron is a fictional tale which begins with a terrific hook – a father waiting for a train to arrive with the coffin carrying the body of his dead daughter. The emotional story only gets better as we peer inside the lives of a dysfunctional family living in the South. There’s a great amount of suffering and finger pointing in this novel, but a large dose of wisdom to go along with it. Excellent novel. Highly recommended.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis is a retelling of the mythical story of Cupid and Psyche. Oruro, Psyche’s unattractive older sister tells the tale from the misguided perspective of a loving sister. Lewis is a master storyteller and I found this tale engrossing up until the very end. In ways, it reminded me of Cinderella. If you appreciate Lewis’ wisdom and work, you will most likely enjoy this.

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Swiss Cheese

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a 72-year-old retired schoolteacher who lives in Maine. Olive is a controlling woman who thinks she knows better than everyone else. We’ve all known people like her. Understandably, she’s not very popular, not even with her only son. In this novel however, Olive gets her comeuppance. As the story unfolds, we as readers, witness Olive’s transformation and even come to see her goodness along the way.

What I loved most about this story is Strout’s masterful command of character development. This isn’t the first novel I’ve read by Strout and I think she’s amazing! There are a wide variety of characters in this story and I came away feeling as if I knew each one well. That’s a rare gift. Many heavily populated stories have well-defined main characters and the others pale by comparison. This is not the case here. Why I even felt like I knew Olive’s dog! That’s excellent writing.

If you haven’t read this novel, I hope you will do so. I loved it!

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