Friday, November 30, 2012

Military Books #9 and 10: A look back at the Taliban and "Red Cambodia"

Military Book # 9

Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book will grab you up and place you right back into September 11th, 2001, and then into America's response with special forces shortly thereafter.  Excellent, I couldn't put it down, but I couldn't help but feel a little flat at the end of the book just because of where we are today.  I was glad that there was an epilogue that discusses the facts of the war today and some opinions of why we are where we are.

"Military" Book #10

In the Shadow of the Banyan

I am still reading this, but really enjoy it so far, so I wanted to include it in my November reviews of Military books.  It is really more of a War Story than Military, but is definitely worth a look, and will probably take you someplace you've never been, unless you have watched The Killing Fields, but that isn't really fair because I believe this book has something far different to offer.  Here is what the publisher says:

"For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus."

And, just as extra encouragement to read this book -- here is the embedded video by the author explaining her very own experience in this war and her thoughts on the book.  A Real Experience, Made into a Fictional Story -- In the Shadow of the Banyan

SO . . . My military month is finished.  It was Exhausting but so worth it.  And, to quote Forest Gump: "That's all I have to say about that!"  (Aren't you glad?)  

Hope you all had a lovely November. 

Military Books #5, 6, 7 & 8 -- WWI all the Way!

These WWI books were fascinating to read -- I can't help but wonder if I am into this period more because of Dowton Abby?  If so, that is good because I am glad that I took the time to explore these. I have read many Revolutionary, Civil War, and World War II books (which is why I am not reviewing any of them here), but have for the most part ignored WWI.  Even if you aren't into Military but want more on Dowton Abby, the following books would make a good choice for you.

Military Book #5
All Quiet on the Western FrontAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone says this is THE military book of military books.  Now that I have read it, I understand why.  It is profound writing about the brutality of WWI and the disenchantment and hopelessness of the young men of that generation.  I marked many favorite passages because the writing seemed so real, so truthful, and helped me, as a very much non soldier civilian, understand somewhat the despair of these men.   This writer did not hold back, which is why this book is so loved; it is the reason this book is a classic.   

Here is one quote at the beginning of the book that reached deep, about men and boys:

"For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the word of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress -- to the future.  We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them.  The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom.  But the first death we saw shattered this belief.  We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs.  They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness.  The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces."  

And soon thereafter, the phrase that borrows from a famous poem of the time (reviewed below):

"Kantorek would say that we stood on the threshold of life.  And so it would seem.  We had as yet taken no root. The war swept us away.  For the others, the older men, it is but an interruption.  They are able to think beyond it.  We however, have been gripped by it and do not know what the end may be.  We know only that in some strange and melancholy way we have become a waste land.  All the same, we are not often sad."

Military Book #6

The Wasteland & Four QuartetsThe Wasteland & Four Quartets by Paul Scofield  (written by T. S. Eliot)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved listening to this, but The Waste Land is better digested in writing (and with my college anthology of modern poetry).  So I pulled out my anthology and refreshed my memory - it is so full of literary references that I think all but Harold Bloom would have to have the explanations.  I absolutely loved it.  What surprised me in the listening was how beautiful the Four Quartets sounded when read aloud.  It reminded me of Ecclesiastes, which is clearly a heavy influence on Eliot, and is one of the original works which sounds out man's life questions -- like modern poetry!  But back to Eliot, If you want to understand modern poetry, I really think these are among the most important works in the syllabus, and when read in conjunction with other WW I literature (or even other military books), they really come alive and exude the pain of those soldiers.

Eliot called The Waste Land a "rhythmical grumbling" and said: "To me it was only relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life. . . I wasn't even bothering whether I understood what I was saying."  

It is just fine that Eliot doesn't understand (and we don't really understand), because we readers/listeners GET IT, and even when we don't it doesn't matter because its such outrageously beautiful grousing.  Here is the first famous line:

"April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain. . . ."

Military Book #7

War HorseWar Horse by Nick Stafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweet sweet story about a horse  in WWI.  I didn't get to catch the play and didn't hear great things about the movie, but this was an easy way to hear the story.  Loved it!  This story is not as heavy as my other two favorites above, but is real enough and yet good for animal lovers.  If you are an animal lover, you know what I mean, but I don't want to give too much away.  

Military Book #8 

Birdsong: A Novel of Love and WarBirdsong: A Novel of Love and War by Sebastian Faulks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars  (3.5?)

This book is almost three books -- a love story, a war story, a family -- ancestor search -- story, but when viewed as a whole, it is a story about a man who experienced love and the devastation of war. I read the first part of this book years ago on a trip, and then lost the book! I had picked it up in the airport on a lark, and wasn't paying any attention to title or anything but story, so I never found it again until just recently due to Goodreads. Glad I finally figured it out, because I really did want to know the story.

What impressed me most was the detail on the underground warfare in WWI.  I don't think I have ever even read anything about this, so it was new and fascinating.  Also, the writing is good.  Here is a part of the publisher blurb:

 "As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man's Land, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Giving and Rain, Paris Texas Style, plus a little Dirt

This time of year there is an even greater joy in being thankful and in giving, and Paris, Texas always knows how to do it right. For example, the PISD (Paris) middle school gathered up goodies and letters for soldiers and sent their care package. Shown here is one of their teachers, as well as family and friends of one of the soldiers who will receive and pass out the goodies.


And across the way, the NLISD (North Lamar) is wrapping up its production of Singing In The Rain with a canned food drive on Monday night (bring a non perishable item to the musical and get a ticket for $7.00 instead of for $10.00).


Fit as a Fiddle Capers

I went to the show for opening night (I'm not counting the Thursday in school production) and it was a great show, well worth your time even if you aren't in the giving spirit. And it is just such a perfect time for this uplifting story, sandwiched between the election and the holidays.


The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust BowlOr maybe it just felt like great timing, as I am slowly making my way through The Worst Hard Times, a Book Club pick that is about my old stomping grounds on the Llano Estacado: a time after the Spaniards, the buffalo, the Plains Indians, the great strides in farming, and the wet, money making years of the twenties. This is not a book that I can plow through because it is too real to me, it hits too close to home. I grew up in the plains with a farm family that still made use of every single thing, kept every single thing (I still fight that hording tendency), simply because everything has a use and we might need it someday. I knew those hard years were bad, but I didn't know the half of what this book is describing to me.  Listen, if you want a different vacation, what we cousins affectionately have dubbed "The Red Door Farmhouse Spa" would be a real different treat!  For the most part, you won't see the dust of the years past, due to the crop rotation programs that are still ongoing, BUT it has been very dry, as it was in those years, so some dust storms have rolled in, as shown by this video from last year's dust storm. 

 Dust Storm in Lubbock, 2011 

I doubt that Rain's Lina Lamont would have liked it.
 Go ahead, take a minute and watch that video showing what happened after the worst drought in my memory.  That was the summer that the grass was so dead it was crunchy and the wind break evergreens that had lived there all of my life were mostly dead.  The book says that this 2011 dust storm was nothing compared to what those people lived through (remember, these people did not escape to California like the Grapes of Wrath folks did) because that was just from a year and half of drought -- the families in the 30s lived through at least 5 years of it, and I am only half way through 
the book.  

(Note that Book Club had amazing timing with that book, as it coincided with  PBS Dust Bowl 
 special, which airs this week).

Celebrating first rainfall on Stage!!

So a little Rain at the North Lamar's theater this weekend was very refreshing, and the highest compliment that I heard over and over after the show was:  "They are so good I kept forgetting they are in highschool!"  I heard many belly laughs, from the young and old, and saw some outstanding tapping, not to mention the talented acting and singing.  

And now I can't get some of the songs out of my head -- besides the beloved title song, I have always loved Good Morning (and the couch trick!) as well as the tongue twisters, like: "Moses supposes his toeses are roses. But Moses supposes erroneously!"

Wonder How Many Times They Shot This Until They Got It?

So, I hope to go back for more on Monday night with my canned food gift. I invite you to go with me! 

Just Singing, in the Rain!

We can give and receive at the same time.  And Rain will refresh us, with the smiles and joy that only a musical can give.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, November 16, 2012

Military Book #3 and # 4 -- I'm Lukewarm . . .

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkMilitary Book Review #3

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I ended up scratching my head over this one.  I think it is more a misconception over what I thought I was getting, (the new paperback cover depicts that story better; once they release it to Goodreads, I will copy it here if I remember).  This is really not a war / military book, it is a Dallas Cowboy Thanksgiving Day book which centers on the experience from the point of view of some US soldiers who are stateside for a short publicity tour.  It is not a bad book, just not a good choice for me.  My reading friend Stephanie Harris, who is also an avid sports fan, loved the book, so take this review with a grain of salt.

Here is the publisher's book blurb, just understand that it doesn't really go on past this beginning premise:

A ferocious firefight with Iraqi insurgents at "the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal"--three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew--has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America's most sought-after heroes. For the past two weeks, the Bush administration has sent them on a media-intensive nationwide "Victory Tour" to reinvigorate public support for the war. Now, on this chilly and rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside the superstar pop group Destiny's Child.

The Yellow BirdsMilitary Book Review # 4

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story is about young soldiers in Iraq and what happens when one of them flips out.  I'm glad I listened to it, but it just didn't feel as believable to me (in comparison to Matterhorn) and I had some issues with the underlying premise.  I hate to explain, because I would have to reveal all.  So if you have read it and want to talk, please dialogue with me.  I will say that it is a good glimpse into what the soldiers over there faced (it takes place in 2004).  Stephanie also liked this book better than I did.

Here is a part of the publisher's book blurb to tell you what the book is about:

"The war tried to kill us in the spring," begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Old Glory, Revisited

In Honor of Veteran's Day, I simply re-post a most loved blog of the year -- Old Glory and Freedom, Paris Texas style.  Hope you enjoy.  Also, check out my November pages, and be sure and let me know of any military books that you recommend.  I know I won't get to all of them in the queue, but I do want to know what is out there that I am missing.  And will you consider finally making that shipment to some soldiers this month?  They are coming up on the holidays, and that is a truly hard time to be so far away from home.

Thank you, Military, Soldiers, Veterans and families!  Freedom does still fit and you make it possible.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Military Book #2: An Original Powerfully Retold

The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 This book made me cry, which is hard to do.  It is ultimately about relationships rather than war, but war is such a central part of the story that I include this in my military reviews.  And honestly, relationships must be such a part of the soldier's life, that the emphasis on the relationship in this story is just right. The first time I read The Iliad, I had to write about it in college.  I came across that essay later and was surprised to find that I had made an argument in favor of Paris and Helen.  When I read The Iliad later, several years ago as a book club selection, I hated those two and fell head over heals for Hector, what a man!  I can't say that this book made me fall for Achilles, but it helped me see a few things from the Greek side, and I loved Patroclus and even understood Thetis better (his goddess mom).  I think I have some friends with hearts as big as Patroclus.  This book embodies the magic of The Iliad, with its larger than life, complicated characters.

Here is a short quote that could sum up The Song of Achilles:

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”

Miller is absolutely believable in her mythology writing. Also, the audio is a real masterpiece. I do agree with others that the sex scenes don't work and are distracting, but the book is so powerful in its ultimate purpose that I count it among my top reads of the year.  

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Military Book #1: Matterhorn

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam WarMatterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so glad I finally took time to read this and I am  glad this book finally came to be published.  (Marlantes evidently wrote it years ago but the book stayed stuck in the rejection pile for decades; I'm not surprised that he didn't give up!)  I didn't realize this was fiction before I started reading, or I probably would have read it sooner.  It is the story of a college graduate who signs up for a tour of Vietnam as a Lieutenant in the Marines; he goes into it thinking he'll take that tour before coming home and running for public office.  Of course, he finds out about life and death and war politics over there.   The voices, the vernacular, the setting, the themes, the politics, the turmoil, the battle scenes, everything just felt so accurate to me.  I also really loved the sense of time warp in which I got a glimpse into soldiers' thoughts while battle was raging around them.  Also, the tunnel vision in which the battles were written made them seem authentic and jump right off the page.   (Reminds me of War and Peace in that aspect).  What makes this book better than most "action books" is that the writing let me care about so many of the characters, and it allowed me to delve into the philosophies of the times, without the author passing judgment on the issues for me (other than to really show how out of touch the decision makers were!). This book is not for the politician; this book is for the "grunt" and "we the people." 

 I highly recommend this book -- if you are looking for a good new military book, don't let this one  pass you by! ( The audio version is stellar, although there is much to keep straight.) 

For more information (or if you aren't convinced yet) tune in to the video that describes this in much better detail than I can here, found on this page:  Video about Matterhorn

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 4, 2012

15 Books for Soldiers

MatterhornNovember is a special month, and has all kinds of meanings.  Many people spend the month being deliberately thankful, such as by posting a daily expression of gratitude on Facebook.  I've decided this year  to spend my free time in November being deliberately thankful for the military, and specifically thinking about what it means to be military or military family, in honor of one holiday this month that doesn't get a lot of attention: Veteran's Day.  I have a number of books that I will try to read and blog about as I read them, so that maybe you will find one of interest to read.  I have always loved military/war books so I have been looking forward to having the incentive to read them, as these books admittedly stay in the "to read" pile far too long.  I have already plowed through two excellent books about the military, although one is not what you would traditionally think of as a military book: The Song of Achilles (a retelling of The Illiad) and Matterhorn.

While reading these books (more on them another time) I was inspired to finally follow through on another thing I've had on my to do list for quite some time.  I'm ashamed it took me this long, but glad to have finally gotten it done: I sent a care package to a U.S. Soldier, plus some.  (Actually, I can't take all the credit, the office staff gladly helped).

I wanted to send books along with the traditional goodie supply, but almost chickened out until my husband urged me to follow through.  I was afraid it would seem frivilous in light of what they are doing, but perhaps one of these books will provide something that a soldier needs, even if it is just escape.  So, I share with you the list of books that I sent and I can't help but wonder, if you were to send something in thanks, what special item would you send?  If you sent some books for escape in the moments of downtime, what would you send?  

Perhaps you are making November a month of daily thanks.  Would you act on that thanks, and reach out to a U.S. Soldier?  I am not worth the sacrifice of their lives; I can never thank them enough for what they do.  We cannot be free without them.  We can't hold these bitterly contested elections.  We can't own property or speak out with the lack of restraint that we now have.  We can't pursue our lives the way we want.  I don't ever want to live without freedom; I can never thank them enough.

So here is the list of books that I sent, which I bought at our local bookstore (Hastings). I was glad that they had almost everything I wanted right there on the shelf.


Alexie, Sherman- Flight --  Love me some Sherman Alexie!  This book is his best from a literary standpoint, as it uses a devise somewhat like Charles Dickens' The Christmas Carol, on American soil, ultimately regarding a top ten worst American moment, but with a surprising theme.  May not be as irreverent and funny as Alexie typically is, but the overall theme of the book is lovely.  My only question is when will we see an Alexie on the big screen?  I vote for this one.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Chbosky, Stephen- The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- This is not just another "teen in angst" book from the 1990s.  It will make you laugh and cry, it will make you nod your head in agreement and it will make you shake your head at what teens go through now days.  Another short book that is worth the read, which is why it has such a cult following by many teens and adults alike.  It also deserved a spot since it is currently a movie.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Dumas, Alexandre- The Count of Monte Cristo --The ultimate revenge story and an easily accessible classic.  Great escape and a little classic culture, too. What would you do if you were set up for a crime you didn't commit?

Gone Girl

Flynn, Gillian- Gone Girl -- If you read my blog, you know this is the best book that  I hated this year (excellent suspense writing, just not a genre that I love). Considering that this appears to be one of the top reads of 2012, I thought it definitely deserved a spot in the shipment.  A married couple who-done-it full of twists. For more info see:  (Review of "Gone Girl")

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)

French, Tana- In the Woods  -- Great rogue Irish detective series.  If you like bad boy (or girl) detective mysteries, you need to pick up a French novel.  They are actually stand alone stories about one squad member a book, so you don't have to approach them as a series. 

Outlander (Outlander, #1)
Gabaldon, Diana- Outlander, Dragonfly, Voyager, The Scottish Prisoner -- These books were favorites of American soldiers during the Gulf War, and the series is currently being optioned for television, so I thought, why not?  The problem is that you can't just read one, because, like Martin's A Game of Thrones, you must find out what happens when a WWII nurse meets a Scottish clansman prior to Bonnie Prince Charlie's last stand.
King, Stephen- 11/22/63 -- Another must read in the last year.  Can a man go back in time and save President Kennedy?  And if he does, what happens?  An untraditional King offering that has a little bit of slasher thriller, but is mainly just a great exploration of this historic American event, along with a pretty good analysis of the butterfly theory.  Plus, I really liked the love story and the ending.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Lee, Harper- To Kill A Mockingbird -- Many American readers list this book as their very favorite.  Anytime is a good time to be initiated or to revisit the ultimate book on childhood, prejudice and the law. Pulitzer Prize Winner 1961.

Lonesome Dove

McMurtry, Larry- Lonesome Dove -- The ultimate cowboy book about friendship, horses, cattle and honor.  Pulitzer Prize Winner -- 1986. 

Gone With the Wind

Mitchell, Margaret- Gone With the Wind -- Another American classic portraying a lost society and another part of America's history that even the author wouldn't want to resurrect.  Pulitzer Prize Winner, 1937.  

The Night Circus

Morgenstern, Erin- The Night Circus -- Popular fantasy book this year about star-crossed lovers who happen to be magicians pitted against each other in the ultimate battle. Chose this for its escape value and because it was so popular this year and it won a number of awards.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)Rothfuss, Patrick- The Name of the Wind --  One of the best written fantasy books that I have read in a long time, and -- even better -- my teen son couldn't put it down: he loved it so much that he even convinced his Dad to read it.  This is almost an adult Harry Potter, although I hate to make that comparison because the writing is on a completely different level.  If you love fantasy and haven't read this, go out and buy it right now so that you won't have to be playing catch up when the third book of the series comes out and it becomes a landslide sensation. 

And that completes the list of books that were recently shipped to a few U.S. Soldiers.  See you guys stateside in a few. 

Thinking about “Home” - Lifestyles

Thinking about “Home” - Lifestyles

Home.  Such a simple word. Such great feeling. So much to talk about, which is why I chose Toni Morrison’s 2012 book “Home” to review at the Paris Public Library in October. (If you missed it, there will be another book review in January).

We had a fun discussion, but I saved one issue for you, hoping you will rush out and read the short book, and then get back with me on this one last burning question: Why is the book named Home?
Morrison begins the book with this poem:

Whose night keeps out the light /
In here? Say, who owns this house? /
It’s not mine. I dreamed another, sweeter, brighter /
With a view of lakes crossed in painted boats; /
Of fields wide as arms open for me. /
This house is strange. Its shadows lie. /
Say, tell me, why does its lock fit my key?”

This opening is gripping, and the book is no less substantive despite its scant 160 pages. “Home” is the story of growing up, of finding one’s self, of finding that home has made a lasting impression on you. Perhaps, on a grander scale, it is also a reconciliation of the awareness and owning of our country, for all of its good and bad.

“Home,” while lacking the mention of almost all color references except in the ending of the book, is replete with matter-of-fact imagery of the pre-civil rights era, as well as with rich characterization so you can vividly picture each person.

“Home” is about Frank, a Korean vet who was treated equally in the war but slips back into segregated America as it if it is still his norm. But Frank has bigger worries, because he is haunted by the war and because he must go on a quest to find and save his sister, who has lost herself during his absence. A journey book is always about growth and reflection, a very American theme, in the fashion of Mark Twain and Charles Frazier ("Cold Mountain"), borrowed from the Greeks in the original travelogue, "The Odyssey."

Cee (Ycidra), Frank’s sister, thinks maybe she’d have learned to think for herself if Frank hadn’t been there to constantly protect her. She is an accident waiting to happen, a consummate victim, so trouble finds her when Frank leaves for the war. Cee’s journey is tied up with learning her own self worth. True to Morrison, Cee encounters both eugenics and natural healing, and learns that book smarts do not count for everything.

Morrison trueists do not appear to like this book very much because it doesn’t use the magical realism style they all love. If that includes you, know this is American realism fiction, and take the time to think about more than just the story. There is so much to it that it is perfect for deep thinking such as in a classroom or through a book club discussion. Perhaps that is why Morrison chose the title, because there is always so much to consider when thinking of our own definitions of the word “Home.”

But that is just my opinion. So I hope you will turn off your gadgets of choice and read it for yourself, then talk with me or someone else about what you think the title means. Who knows, you might just save your life.