“The Proud Bastards: One Marine’s Journey from Parris Island through the Hell of Vietnam” by E.Michael Helms

proud bastardsThis is a coming of age memoir of a young soldier that was written twenty years ago.  The author, E. Michael Helms, was kind enough to send me an e-copy while also sending me another one of his book’s, “Deadly Spirits” for review.  In “Proud Bastards,” we follow Helms from his brutal experiences during boot camp to the unspeakable acts of violence he witnessed in combat.   I have never read a memoir about Vietnam before, so even though I had heard of the horrors I was still often shocked reading (and mentally seeing the pictures in my mind) of a Marine grunt’s experience of life and death inside a foxhole.  The book begins with an 18-year-old Helms, joining the Marines with John Wayne glory in his eyes.  As a mother, I found the brutality of boot camp difficult to read.  The recruits are immediately thrust into the stressful whirlwind of in-processing, haircuts, uniform and gear issue.  It appeared to me that from day one, the recruits must begin to learn how to cope with emotional and physical abuse.   Just as in the movies, confused kids really were screamed at from the moment they woke up till the moment they went to bed.  “Get out of them goddamn racks you goddamn shit maggots.” The author was such a sweet kid, after any day where he might be forced to eat his own vomit, he writes home “Dear Mama….I am getting along fine.”   His charming ways allowed me to continue reading without breaking for this poor disillusioned boot camp abused kid.

It has been said, Marine Corps recruit training will be the most difficult thing one endures in life that is unless you are sent into the Vietnam War.  I thought boot camp was an impossible situation to live through, and then I read about combat and realized boot camp was a piece of cake compared to what went on during the Vietnam War in 1967.  I found myself in hell with the author and his buddies – especially when he wrote of watching friends die violent combat deaths.  Reading about teenagers with peach fuzz on their chins in horrifying battles scenes often had me in tears.  (Think of the movie “Full Metal Jacket”).   Helms is a talented writer who managed to capture every horrifying experience down as if he experienced it yesterday.  It amazed me that even at war he managed not to lose his natural humor and wit (which I think helped keep him alive) into his writing.  When he first arrives in Vietnam and is meeting his fellow soldiers, he makes a comment that doesn’t come out right and thinks “Way to go Mikey.  Real smart move, boy.  How to win friends and influence people.”    How can the reader not like this kid?

In this riveting memoir, the author does not talk about politics or of the controversy that surrounds the Vietnam War.  Instead, he gives the reader a mix of emotions he felt during the good times (usually the bonding with other young men) and bad times (literally everything else.)  So many heroes, so much maiming and killing of young men had me thinking of the author’s story long after I finished the last page of his memoir.  Helms always made me think, he often made me cry, and sometimes made me laugh.    I highly recommend reading this memoir, even if you are not interested in war stories.  I found it hard to put down, needing to know what would happen next to our endearing and very brave 18-year-old “grunt.”

https://www.amazon.com/Proud-Bastards-Marines-Journey-through-ebook/dp/B000NY12QO/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

A Question For My Blogger Buddies

I have been in Paris for two weeks (I live in the US) and fell in love with the city. But my kindle broke (and is still broken) meaning I couldn’t read my books.

I did get to read some of your book reviews on my smart phone but alas being surrounded by such beauty kept me busy.  I felt as if I was walking in a historical museum (yes I hit them all up.)

My question to you is do you know any Historical Fiction reads on Paris?

I have read a few (they are in my bibliography and way more in my Goodreads account, of course, I do not expect you to check them out before any recommendations) but I am sure there most be other great finds out there.  I also was lucky enough to win (from Goodreads) “The Wine of Solitude.”

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Merci beaucoup,

Martie

 

 

“This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel

 

First off, please excuse this review that was written in a New York minute.  I’m off to This is how it always isParis tomorrow and swamped with things to do.  Okay, the message in the blurb was what attracted me to this novel.  The story was about a brave and loving family that usually was in a hectic state from the responsibilities of raising five sons.    Besides all the challenges that come with a large family, they were also struggling with the difficulties of bringing up a transgender child.  The parents immediately noticed that their youngest son was different.  He was sweeter, calmer and more sensitive than his older brothers ever were.  He didn’t like to wrestle with them or blow things up, he would rather spend his time in a Cinderella coloring book.   At the age of three, he started to ask his parents if he could wear a dress.  They didn’t see any red flags because they thought, Don’t most children of both sexes want to wear their mom’s heels sometime in their early childhood?  By the time he was five, they let him wear a dress at home but not to kindergarten, but it was so clear that this little boy did not want to be a boy.

My heart broke for this child when he asked his parents, if when he grew up, would he finally be a girl.  He was so miserable being a boy that both parents knew something needed to be done.  With the help of the school’s social worker, his parents let him wear a dress, hair barrettes and all sorts of “girly” accessories to school. This was too confusing to all at the school and the poor kid had to use the nurse’s bathroom.   The family decided to move from Wisconsin to Seattle, which is a more gay-friendly state. However, even in Seattle (where their little boy is now passing as a little girl) they still kept their secret, because they simply didn’t know how to explain the situation.   Nevertheless their unhappy five-year-old son starts school as a very happy little girl.

In the end-notes, we learn that the author has a transgender daughter, but she makes it clear that this is not her story.  She does a wonderful job of raising awareness on gender dysphoria.  But for me, the story read unrealistically.   All the complications that would arise in such a family were too easily solved.    All of her brothers were 100% supportive without any questions asked.    At the age of ten, this child was “outed.”  Of course the transgirl was devastated.  So the mother, who is a doctor, takes her youngest child to Thailand on an excursion to work at a clinic there.  Here the child is exposed to Buddah and discovers that Buddah could be a man or a woman.  In Thailand, she meets many people who are genderless.  The country is very accepting of all gender identities and she gets a big boost of encouragement and decides that it was time to go home and try school again.  This is wonderful for the character, but let’s be realistic.   Most moms wouldn’t be able to just pick up and go to a foreign country.  Plus, the ending was so tidy, it should have been wrapped up in a bow.  Back in the States, at her school (where now all know what is under her pants), she is completely accepted.  At her first dance, she is asked to dance by a boy she has a crush on.  It is doubtful to me that such acceptance would come so easily to children. How I wish this was true, and maybe one day soon, it will be.  But in the year of 2017 it was hard to buy.  I hope I’m wrong about this.

This was a sweet story about a loving and wonderful family who would move mountains if that was what it took to raise a happy child.  The story was more about how to be a loving parent to a transgender child, so I guess the book needed to be written.  But, I found that the tale often went flat.  (I actually started to skip the father’s fairytales created to help his daughter cope).  For me, I much preferred the novels “Trans-Sister Radio” by Chris Bohjalian and “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides that were also on the subject of being transgender.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

 

 

 

“Small Mercies” by Eddie Joyce

 

small mercies

I appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed this novel, which is a portrait of a family,  a portrait of everyday life taking place in Staten Island, NY.  The story reminded me of my own roots, growing up in Queens, NY in the 1960s and 1970s.  Maybe a different place, but the same cultural mix, where Irish Americans and Italian Americans frequently marry and produce the most beautiful black haired blue eyed children.   The author, Eddie Joyce (who is from Staten Island), writes as if the actual island is one of the characters.  The Verrazano Bridge is a metaphor for the ethnic customs and class battles just as the Queensboro Bridge is for that NY borough.

In this story, an Irish girl from Brooklyn marries an Italian boy from Staten Island where they live and raise their family of three boys. The story revolves around the week leading before the birthday party of the couple’s seven-year-old grandson, the son of a firefighter, their youngest, who was a casualty of 9/11.  Each member of the family has a variety of knots they must untangle before they meet the boyfriend of the widow of the firefighter.   The young widow, who is very close to the family (of course, this is Staten Island), and has been a part of them since she was a teenager.  She too is dealing with the changes in her life.  And if one thing is clear, in this novel it is that the only constant in life is change.

The narration shifts each time a family member reminiscences about their own youth to the present day.  The oldest son is the only one who leaves the borough to become a successful lawyer and marry a WASP (a foreign religion to the family), but immediately before the birthday party, we learn that his professional and marital life is crumbling. The mother’s relationship with her eldest adult son is and always was strained. “He was fourteen or fifteen. Cock of the walk…. Already entitled, not in a rich-kid way but expectant…She wanted the little prick to taste some disappointment. Strange how you can hate your own kids at times.”  The middle son is an alcoholic, like his maternal grandfather and basically is the black sheep of the family who never recuperated from his brother’s death.  He was “a drunken ruined memorial to his dead brother.”  As a grown man he often slips into his parents’ home “drunk and melancholy, while they were sleeping, spreading one sadness over another.” His parents thought they had reached rock bottom when he was a young adult and was arrested.  They realized he would never sober up with the love of the right girl, because the right girl would never date this particular son.  And then real tragedy struck when death took their youngest son on 9/11.  The dead firefighter is very much alive in all their memories.  He was the sweet brother, everyone’s favorite.  His personality was “easy as a hammock…(in his room there is still an award reading) MOST IMPROVED PLAYER, FARRELL JUNIOR VARSITY 1990–91.”  For years his widow couldn’t bring herself to date because she thought, “He was the absolute best possible version of a man, the absolute best. To try to love some lesser version of him would be the greatest insult to his memory,” which is why it took her seven years to attempt to find love again.

While giving voice to six different family perspectives, the author uses flashbacks to develop well-drawn life histories.  I felt as if I was going through the family photo album, flipping pages from their youth to the present day. (And when looking at her teen sons in this imaginary album I always thought of the character “Vinnie Barbarino” played by an unknown John Travolta from the 1970’s TV show “Welcome Back, Kotter”).    Then I turn a page, and the present day grandmother of the seven-year-old grandson “takes a quick look in the mirror. Not for vanity, not anymore, but for its older sister: dignity.”  And her husband who is shocked to see his long-dead father’s Italian “right off the boat” face in the mirror looking back at him.  To bring his characters to life, the author focuses on family, community, marrying young, tradition, and participation in the NCAA basketball pool at the neighborhood watering hole with lots of booze all around.  I usually felt as if I was sitting there myself sharing a pint with a neighbor while making bets. The author takes the reader through four generations of an immigrant family.  My favorite author, Richard Russo, who also writes about blue-collar families, summed it up perfectly: “Eddie Joyce’s terrific first novel is so American that the story might as well have taken place at the base of the Statue of Liberty.”

However, nostalgia can be funny and play tricks with our memories.  I so liked reading about a time and place when there was no need to be politically correct about, well anything, but I guess I like to forget that back in my own youth some members of my Queens community were silently hurting because anything outside the norm was simply unimaginable.  In my real life, a boy in high school who is now a 60-year-old man just came out as gay.  He spent his whole life lying solely because he was a tough Queens kid and gay does not fit into that mold.  But in this book the reader does not need to think of such discrepancies, we only need to focus on this family’s strength and failures that are common to Staten Island (or any NYC neighborhood).  There is much-noted pain in this book about an ordinary family.  They weathered many storms, a husband made a wrong career move and someone else gets rich on his father’s butcher shop, a son cannot tame is addictions, a wife almost has an affair, a son dies and now another man will be raising his children.   But each chapter has a “small mercy.”   Joyce focuses in on how human we all are, and that sometimes a “small mercy” is just being able to enjoy a good veal parmesan sandwich.

(If you enjoyed this book try “The Clancys of Queens: A Memoir” by Tara Clancy).

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

Blog Tour: Disenchanted by Heide Goody and Iain Grant 

Novelgossip


Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK
Release date: May 5, 2017

Publisher: Pigeon Park Press

Genre: Chick Lit

Blurb:

Ella Hannaford has a small business to run, an overworked father to look after and a future stepmother who wants a perfect wedding.


Can she avoid a girly night out with her clueless stepsister? Can she side-step lovesick suitors at every turn? Not if it’s up to that team of foul-mouthed dwarfs who want to forcibly drag her into her happily ever after.


Gingerbread cottages, dodgy European gangsters, gun-toting grannies, wisecracking wolves, stubborn fairy godmothers, ogres, beanstalks and flying carpets abound in a tale about what happens when you refuse to accept your Happy Ending.

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Disenchanted. I have a funny guest post to share with you today.


Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale…

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“Small Hours” by Jennifer Kitses

Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)                  

Pub Date:  13 Jun 2017

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  

I chose to read and review this book since it is being pegged as the writing is in a Richard Russo and Tom Perrotta style.  I beg to differ.   These are two of my favorite authors and I just did not see it.  The only similarities I could find are that “Small Hours” written by Jenifer Kitses, evokes a sense of place, and money, or lack of it, in the blue collar world of upstate New York.  The protagonists are in their early forties with twin three-year-old daughters.  Like many city couples, they buy a home in the suburbs that they really cannot afford.  Unfortunately for them, they bought the house at the height of the market. When they realize that their new neighborhood has a seedy side, obviously little research went into the buying, it is now too late to sell for it would be at a loss. So the wife, who works from home, is surrounded by those she would rather not have to interact with, her own neighbors.

The story is told in a span of one day, hour by hour, minute by minute using a James Joyce Ulysses format.  If you think you ever had a bad 24 hours read this story and it will no longer seem so bad.  The narration alternates between the husband’s and the wife’s point of view.  Neither knows that the other is on the verge of getting fired.  They both have been severely distracted and not at their best work wise (actually anywise).  The tale almost reads like a suspense story with the tick, tick, ticking of how many more work related, phone calls, emails, and deadlines they are each avoiding.   Both are stalling with their answers to their perspective employers.  But, Kitses plays this sort of suspense hand one too many times for her readers.  Three-quarters through, I was hoping that the damn clock would just break already and get it over with.  Both are also hiding a secret from the other (besides their soon-to-be-unemployed status).   I think the author was going for more of a “Desperate Hours” theme rather than a “Small Hours” one, either way, she lost me.   Having a book’s plot take place in a 24-hour period is not unheard of there are quite a few out there.  The classic novel “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf is one of them.  Or a more contemporary example is Everything Happens Today” by Jesse Browner, these were thought provoking novels with fascinating characters.  I am afraid that Kitses’s perpetually frenzied married couple simply were not.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read