31 May, 2010

Well Done, Those Men

Well Done, Those Men - Barry Heard

I've had this on my shelf for awhile. While listening to the radio the other day, I heard an interview with Barry Heard and it was enough to get me motivated to find the book and read it.

Well Done, Those Men is Barry Heard's memoir of army training, a tour of Vietnam and the aftermath. It's one of those books that opens your eyes to the awful reality for returning servicemen who are not supported, cared for or understood.

Heard clearly outlines the steps taken to break the men down so they are almost robotic - follow orders without question. It also explains the process of dehumanising in order to survive the tour of Vietnam and how all the emotions many Vietnam Vets pushed down, ignored and masked in a variety of ways eventually break through and cause a illness - both physical and mental.

On his return from Vietnam, Heard thought he had it all together, he studied, he held down jobs, he eventually got married but if he stopped, the nightmares and the fears would start up again. He finds August an almost impossible month to get through as it is the anniversary of a terrible contact during his tour of Vietnam. One that saw a massive loss of life.

What Heard doesn't realise is he is not the only one. The silence many Vets maintained about their experiences and the issues they faced when the returned meant many thought they were suffering alone.

I think the experiences of Vietnam Vets taught us a lot about returning servicemen and how we need to support them. It taught us that regardless of whether we support a war or not, the men and women on the ground need and deserve support and understanding. I'm sure given the choice many would choose not to be in a war zone. We cannot blame them for a government's decision. I am not a supporter of the invasion in Iraq - never have been and have never hidden it. But, I have a huge amount of admiration for the service personnel over there who put their lives on the line everyday. Regardless of my own point of view, if I ever meet someone who has served, I will be saying Well done, those men. (and women!)

27 May, 2010

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

I discovered this in a box of books I had to cover for my son's school. As I have previously mentioned, my son is attending a school that is in it's first year this year, which means a lot of covering to be done! As a former teacher librarian, I had to offer my services and am lucky that the librarian is happy for me to keep a few to read.

From the blurb:

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, ther lived a china rabbit named Eduward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reaseon: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely.
 And then, one day, he was lost.
Katherine Paterson from Publishers Weekly (and I am assuming it's the Katherine Paterson who wrote such classics as Bridge to Terabithia),summed it up perfectly for me when she said "Why should I care what happens to an arrogant, overdressed china rabbit? But I did care, desperately, and I think I can safely predict you will, too."

Edward Tulane is a beautiful book. I read it in one sitting because I had to know what happened. As Edward gets tossed from person to person, he slowly learns to love and to realise it's not what you look like that matters, but what is inside. I'm going to have to buy my own copy as I see it becoming a firm read aloud favourite not only for my kids, but kids in my classroom. (if I ever manage to get back into teaching!)

The Quilter's Homecoming

The Quilter's Homecoming by Jennifer Chiaverini

Number 10 in the Elm Creek Quilt Series.

This is the first of these books I didn't tear through! Set in the early 20's, Elizabeth and her new husband, Henry set off to take possession of the land he has purchased in California. They leave behind them all their family, knowing it is unlikely they will ever see them again. Packed in her trunk, Elizabeth carries her wedding quilt and a chimney and cornerstones quilt made for her by her female relatives. On arrival in California, they discover the land they have purchased was never for sale and they have lost Henry's life savings. How will they survive alone in this unknown place with no money and nowhere to call home?

I'm not sure why I found this harder to get through than the other books I've read. Maybe because quilting featured less? I still enjoyed the book and towards the end picked up the pace significantly. I am looking forward to the next in the series and hoping in brings back the zing I normally find when reading this series.

12 May, 2010

Circle of Quilters

Circle of Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini

Book nine in the Elm Creek Quilts series

Two of the original Elm Creek Quilters are moving on to other projects, leaving two teaching vacancies. But they can't employ just anyone, it needs to be someone special who will appreciate and understand the uniqueness of Elm Creek Quilts and help it continue the tradition of unforgettable camps for it's clients.

Circle of Quilters focuses on the search for new staff. 5 applicants are interviewed and each chapter explores their story - what led them to quilt, what encourages them to apply for the job and how their interview goes.

I found this a lot of fun! As I read it each story I was assessing each applicants suitability for the job. I am pleased to say that I reached the same conclusion as the Elm Creek Quilters! It's a little ridiculous really, given it's a fictional book. I continue to admire Chiaverini's ability to keep the series fresh and interesting. Almost all of the books I have read would be able to stand alone, but reading the previous books gives you just that little bit extra insight. I'm looking forward to the next one!

The Pact

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

I chose this book for our book group to read. I have read it before and enjoyed it and thought it would bring up some good discussion.

From Goodreads:

Until the phone calls came at 3:00 A.M. on a November morning, the Golds and their neighbors, the Hartes, had been inseparable. It was no surprise to anyone when their teenage children, Chris and Emily, began showing signs that their relationship was moving beyond that of lifelong friends. But now seventeen-year-old Emily has been shot to death by her beloved and devoted Chris as part of an apparent suicide pact -- leaving two devastated families stranded in the dark and dense predawn, desperate for answers about an unthinkable act and the children they never really knew.
 I know this is one of the first Jodi Picoult books I read and I remember being bowled over by the twist. Any one who has read a few of Picoult's books know there is always a twist. I only vaguely remembered what the actual twist was this time, but was still taken back by it a bit when it came.

For me, this is one of Picoult's earlier books. The mothers in this are less objectionable to me than mother's in later books. I often find myself getting incredibly annoyed with Picoult mothers who routinely ignore any other child they have for the one who has the "issue."

Picoult keeps the book moving along. You never have time to stop and wonder too much as you want to reach the end, you want to know what happens. As you read, you realise things are not all they seem and there is great danger in placing expectations on your children. I can't say too much else without revealing too much about the book, so I have started a spoilers page. If you want to read more, click here, but be warned - there are big spoilers there!

06 May, 2010

Jane Austen Ruined my Life

Jane Austen Ruined my Life by Beth Pattillo

Way back in January when I thought "Yeah, I can read 100 books in a year!" I read a review of this on Home Girl's blog. You can read her review here. It was the first in my side bar list of Interesting Books from Other Blogs. As this list grew, I decided I had to start on them, so placed this on hold at the library. It took ages to come in, but finally it did!

Emma Grant's life is a mess. Her husband left her for her teaching assistant and together they have ruined her career. Blaming Jane Austen for it all, (she after all is the one who convinced Emma that happy endings were hers for the taking!) she sets of for England, chasing what she is fairly sure a myth, but if it is true, it could save her career.

Not a taxing read. In fact, less than half way through I had worked out several things that would happen before the end of the book. Despite the predictability, I enjoyed it. It travelled along at a great pace and you were never left waiting for something to happen. I, by the way, am not an Austen fan. In fact I will confess to only having read one of her books, Northanger Abbey, and that was because it was set as a course book in English. However, given that every time I read something that has a link to another book (Like Great Expectations in Mr Pip) I now feel the need to read Jane Austen!


Push by Sapphire.

I bought this after the film adaptation Precious won a couple of Oscars. Going on the theory the book is usually better than the movie, I added it to a Book Depository order.

I can't say I enjoyed this book - it's not that kind of book. Precious is 16 and pregnant for the second time. Both children are fathered by Precious' father. Her mother is aware of this. She is illiterate, overweight and wants more from her life.

It took me awhile to get into the flow of the book. It is written the way Precious speaks. This is the opening paragraph.

I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver. That was in 1983. I was out of school for a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got Down Sinder. She's retarded. I had got left back in the second grade too, when I was seven, 'cause I couldn't read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf' grade so I can gone 'n graduate. But I'm not. I'm in the ninfe grade.
 And it continues like that. While it makes in jarring to read, it gives a real voice to Precious and her situation. Some of what is described in this book may be cry out loud. The abuse she suffers is horrendous, her determination to be a better parent and provide more than her parents is heroic.

I would love to say that I feel Sapphire has greatly exaggerated Precious' plight and no one would really suffer this level of abuse. My wider reading tells me that that isn't true and Precious' plight is that of many children. While it was not a long read, it wasn't an easy one. Avoid it unless you want to be confronted.


Shallows by Tim Winton

Shallows is set in the fictional town of Angelus, Western Australia. It's a town built on the whaling industry, and the industry is dying.

At first I though Angelus was a real town. I knew I had read the name somewhere else, but couldn't pin it down. A quick google serach (where would we be without google!) showed the reason it was familiar is because Winton has used it as a setting in more than one book.

The book focuses on a handful of characters, their relationship with the town, the whales and how the arrival of "Greenies" in the town affect them.

I find it really hard to review Winton's books. I love the way he writes. The more I read, the more sure I am that I will end up owning his books rather than just borrowing them from the library. But I think I'm not intellectual enough to truly understand them! There is lots of imagery and bits where I'm sure I'm suppose to be getting some deeper meaning. In the end though, I enjoy reading the books and that's all that really matters - right?