Brutal Bataan (Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides)
Ghost Soldiers is the account of a WWII Japanese concentration camp rescue mission, integrating stories of the infamous Bataan Death March and the battle for the Bataan peninsula. While not as cohesive as his later work, still an excellent read, and it clearly shows Hampton Sides unique ability early in his writing career to make history come alive.
Clear Skies (The Hunters by James Salter)
Follows the tour of duty for a Korean War fighter jet pilot flying missions over the Yala River and engaging MIG-15s. It is the tale of Cleve Connell and his ambition to become an ace (five victories) while encountering “bad luck,” and the camaraderie, competition, and arrogance of fellow pilots.
James Salter’s prose is tight, not a word wasted, often poetic and incandescent. The Hunters is a book about men in the 1950s in difficult situations and therefore might not appeal to women. But not many can deny that Salter writes with a precision seldom seen in contemporary literature.
Good Project (The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion)
A well executed romantic comedy with some clever misdirection. However, the premise of having the narrator struggle with Asperger’s, the very thing that makes it simultaneously unique and trendy, also makes it annoying. Reading the narrative of an adult who exhibits a restricted range of interests and has repetitive behaviors can at times become tedious.
Taking this narrative position was a daring effort and the author should be commended for it. He almost pulled it off; however, he became too bound to the disorder in the narration. Please stop telling me everyone’s BMI! He could have bent reality just a little to make it more of a pleasant read, leading into the culminating chapter and denouement.
Waiting Is Worth It (Waiting by Ha Jin)
Overall, a great work of literary fiction. The main character Lin is at times sympathetic, frustrating, depressing, but always interesting, as are the other characters, written in clear, precise prose that makes them come to life. Waiting is partly about the divisions between rural and urban China in the aftermath of the cultural revolution, and provides remarkable insight into their daily life.
However, there seemed to be one major flaw that almost ruined it for me. The prologue. Aside from providing a wonderful opening sentence, it disclosed too much information, unnecessarily sucking suspense from almost all of the first two parts, unless Ha Jin was wanting to emphasize the hopelessness of their situation, which comes through just fine without that opening. Some of the prologue is good background info, but knowing about what happens makes much of the narration a little anti-climatic. Skip over the prologue. It’s not an epilogue, but I recommend reading it last.
Lost Child Repetition (The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld)
Naomi, the nameless one, is the child finder who tracks down cold case missing children. The novel seems to purposely lack clarity regarding Naomi’s own background in the guise of being enchanting and mysterious. Narration about the current investigation slides back into previous cases, and has a parallel track with another, unrelated except for the pervading theme, which is obvious and repeated. While initially interesting, the writing dragged on and became predictable.
The voice of the narrator Naomi often becomes indistinguishable from the voice of the current abducted child, Madison, and from the other characters, all of them sounding, well, childish. The novel could have been condensed to about 100 pages without giving anything up. Attempts at insight often come across as platitudes worthy of Hallmark sympathy cards.