Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Simple Mind by Jordan Taylor

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: November 23, 2014

Private Sharp would never be accused of over-thinking orders. Or anything else. Simultaneously the butt of jokes and recipient of confidences, fears, and fantasies shared by his comrades, Sharp is, in many ways, the perfect soldier. What finally sets this simple infantryman apart, however, will reach beyond isolated trenches in a way those serving with him could never have fathomed.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Personally, the subject matter in A Simple Mind made it the most difficult of the Great War Centennial series. Private Sharp is slow, but the bullying he experiences and the consistency with which he’s taken advantage of because of his condition took a lot out of me. Much more than I’d anticipated with a piece only twenty-three pages in length. 

More than the rest of the series, A Simple Mind illustrates the brutal realities of life on the front and the mentality of those struggling to survive the trenches. Taylor’s portrayal is unapologetically crude and carnal. Again, there is no Author’s Note to verify Taylor’s intent, but I found the contrast in the savagery she created and Private Sharp’s naïve innocence striking on a number of levels. 

And as much I deplore the idea of someone being victimized as Sharp is here, I can’t ignore the fact that the prejudice he suffers ultimately saves his life and immortalizes those who fell in No Man’s Land. Like the other books in the series, A Simple Mind has an acute and stirring message that rivals those seen in fully developed narratives. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
“You’re a good lad. You know—” Gran looked around to the deserted firebay. It was lunchtime in the third line and even shelling sounded as distant as the first roll of thunder. “I don’t think any one of those duffers gives a damn. They don’t mind living like this. It’s all gas over the same jam and lice everywhere, but they don’t give a damn about anything important. I only want to sit a spell in a park: hear birds, see children playing in the fountain,beautiful colors on the ladies’ gowns. What’s one tin of jam and a few bugs compared to that?”
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Old Grey by Jordan Taylor

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: November 23, 2014

There is so much Lieutenant Rhodes never learned in officer training. So much about realities of the Western Front in 1916 he arrived unprepared for. Yet one job faces him which he’s sure he can handle: censoring outgoing letters from the men. As he reads through the gloom of his dugout, Rhodes discovers he knows far less than he imagined—not only about the Front, but about camaraderie, loss, and the human face of war.

═══════════════════════════ ❧ ═══════════════════════════

Taken as I was with the Great War Centennial series, I jumped straight from Poppy Lane into Old Grey. The books are not taxing by any means, but tackling three in a row evidenced I was sacrificing sleep for these books and despite my reputation and voracious appetite for literature, that doesn’t happen as often as you might imagine. 

Loss is poignant and popular theme in war time literature, but I’ve never seen it handled quite like this. Though we only meet one character, Taylor employed a variety of voices in Old Grey. The result is remarkably affective and memorable and highlights a gift few storytellers can claim to possess. 

I’ve seen firsthand the camaraderie that exists between those who’ve served together and appreciate the authenticity in Taylor’s interpretation. Old Grey is a somber story, but a moving one that captures many aspects of loss in the line of duty. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧ ═══════════════════════════
I have mentioned our lieutenant many times, of course. He read my letters, so you see one says only a sample on paper. Now The Old Grey has fallen and his shadow haunts our lips, our vision, our pens. Often, one does not speak much, even any, of the dead. The time is up. The living must remain unaffected. Or suffer madness. The Old Grey will not be ignored.
═══════════════════════════ ❧ ═══════════════════════════

Poppy Lane by Jordan Taylor

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: November 23, 2014

When a stray dog wanders into a trench, it’s no surprise: soldiers often see bewildered animals. Yet the stray of a frontline known as Poppy Lane will not leave, despite encouragement from some to do so. As seasons change and men flux in and out of the trench, the dog remains through floods, snow, shelling, and great battles she cannot understand—until she has transformed the face of Poppy Lane forever.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

I’d planned to read a few pages before putting myself to bed, but the unexpected emotion elicited by Jordan Taylor’s Young Blood prompted me to put my plans aside in favor of Poppy Lane. For the record, the Great War Centennial series can be read in any order, I simply tackled them as they appeared on my kindle. 

Loyalty and compassion take on special meaning in this piece which is rather remarkable as it’s told from a dog’s perspective. The comings and goings of the various divisions, the mixed reactions to Poppy’s presence on the line and the ultimate revelation of her motivation is quite touching and paints very intimate portrait of the traditionally bleak backdrop of life in the trenches. 

Unlike Young Blood, there was no author’s note to anchor Poppy Lane and while I understand the dramatic difference in subject matter, I felt the absence and wished Taylor had left some record of her inspiration. Poppy’s is a simple story, but it resonates a sentimentality that is absolutely timeless and I'd have liked to know more about it.  

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
Each time she looks up, it seems she can see less. Each time she hears a footfall in the doorway at the gas curtain, the sound comes less distinct. Eyes growing clouded, deafened from years of shells, she goes on waiting, watching.
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Young Blood by Jordan Taylor

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: November 23, 2014

Three boys are in search of adventure when Britain calls her subjects to serve in World War I. Determined to join up underage, they embark on adventures they never meant to have and witness more than they could have imagined. Young Blood, a short story based on historical events, brings to life the experiences of the child soldiers who fought in the trenches of the Western Front.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Jordan Taylor's Young Blood is one of four short stories that make up the Great War Centennial series. I don't know what prompted me to buy the books, I wasn't looking for WWI fiction at the time, but something about the titles intrigued me so without fanfare or recommendation all four became part of my ever-growing library. 

Initially I felt Young Blood fluffy. It moved quickly without any real insight to the characters or material and I wasn't at all convinced it worth the short amount time I'd set aside for it. Then of course, the story settled. Taylor's light tone was meant to imitate the youthful exuberance of a generation who didn't understand the gravitas of death, war and sacrifice. 

Her approach shook me to my core, but the final scene is what clinched it. I'm not one to spoil a good story so you'll have to read it to discover what I mean, but suffice it to say Taylor's work is a truly touching testament to the youngest defenders of the British line. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
I don’t know if Jerry feels as we do, hating what our daily existence has been reduced to, or if he’ll feel it after the attack at dawn, but I hope so. Perhaps, with unanimity, we could all go home.
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Monday, November 24, 2014

The War Nurse: A WWII Historical Family Saga by R.V. Doon

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: November 23, 2014

The War Nurse is a historical family saga and epic military romance set during WWII. This historical thriller begins on the eve of WWII in the Philippines. Katarina Stahl an American Red Cross nurse, is the happiest she’s ever been in her life. She’s making love and playing music with Jack Gallagher in an idyllic paradise. Their medical mission is over, the boat tickets to home are purchased, and all that remains is to fly a sick child to the hospital at Clark Air Field. She never expected to witness bombs falling out of planes. In those terrifying first minutes, she frees a German doctor accused of spying and saves his life. She turns to nursing the injured, unaware she’s unleashed an obsession more dangerous to her and those she loves, than the war she’s trapped in. Doctor von Wettin, the man she freed, finds Katarina pregnant and starving in a POW camp after the surrender. He begs her to nurse his bed-ridden wife. She knows other Americans will despise her, but wants her baby to live after surviving Bataan. Their uneasy alliance is destroyed when she discovers he exploited Red Cross diplomatic channels and contacts at the German embassy to wire money to her parents. His benevolent mask slips when he informs her that her brothers and parents are interned on Ellis Island. When the Stahl family is swept up in the FBI’s dragnet, Josep Stahl believes it’s all a misunderstanding. He’s interrogated like a criminal at the city jail, a military camp, Ellis Island, and then the civilian internment camps in Texas. His anger and pride blind him. One by one in this painful family drama, his wife and sons join him behind barbed wire in. There they face ostracism, segregation, and, most frightening, repatriation. Katarina begins an even more terrifying journey into depraved darkness as Manila descends into occupation and chaos. The doctor threatens everyone she loves: infant son, POW husband, and Filipino friends. She’ll do anything to protect them; she lies, steals, and smuggles. As the war turns against the Japanese, they withhold the doctor’s wife’s life-saving medications until he finds a hidden radio inside the civilian internment camp. If Katarina refuses to help him, her son pays the price. Survival has corrupted Katarina; but she’s not about to become his camp rat. After years of hell, she’s earned her nickname, war nurse. Doctor von Wettin is about to find out what that means.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

My nose for WWII literature has led me to a number of interesting titles. The Bone Church, Fires of London and The Wherewithal jump immediately to mind, but R.V. Doon's The War Nurse was different. Since reading Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides in 2009, I've been fascinated with the experiences of those caught behind enemy lines when Japan invaded the Philippines and hoped Doon's fiction would do justice to the history on which it was based.

Did she succeed? I'm hesitant to say. Her effort certainly sheds light on the political situation and how quickly things went from bad to worse, but I felt the material was often lost in the complex intrigue that envelops the Stahl family over the course of the novel. Doon touches on a lot of compelling material and highlights an interesting parallel between the Japanese POW and US internment camps, but in retrospect, I can't help feeling the fictional drama, sizable cast and sheer magnitude of the novel's scope overwhelming and somewhat awkward. 

The story itself is quite intricate, but personally I'd have liked to see more character development and atmospheric detail incorporated into the telling. Doon has the right idea, but plot points hit with the speed and rapidity of .30 caliber Browning, the weight and import of each never being allowed to settle between one impact and the next. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel the themes she wished to express and emotions she sought to elicit would have been more powerful and persuasive if tackled with a more delicate hand.

At the end of the day, I admire The War Nurse for its entertainment value. It leans towards the theatrical, but that's common fair in war era fiction. The story kept me engaged beginning to end and that’s more than I can say of many titles and while I feel it could have been stronger, I think the right reader will find its imaginative complexities and feisty heroine quite enjoyable. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
"You're addicted to taking risks," Evie said, and then she took a deep breath. "From the moment you hit the Philippines, you're ignored the rules. I admire you... I do, but you're incarcerated now. Get used to it."
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Check Out All the Stops on R.V. Doon's The War Nurse Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, November 24
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, November 25
Review at Unshelfish
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Wednesday, November 26
Guest Post at What Is That Book About
Thursday, November 27
Spotlight at Book Babe
Friday, November 28
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection
Saturday, November 29
Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Sunday, November 30
Review at Carole’s Ramblings
Monday, December 1
Review at Luxury Reading
Tuesday, December 2
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Wednesday, December 3
Review at Book Nerd
Thursday, December 4
Spotlight at Boom Baby Reviews
Review at Svetlana Reads and Views
Friday, December 5
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...