Review: THE COOL WOMAN by John Aubrey Anderson

Savvy Verse & Wit recently read and reviewed The Cool Woman by John Aubrey Anderson for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Throughout the novel, Anderson weaves in Mann’s background and hidden secrets, but he also unveils how the path to God and faith is wrought with many obstacles and trials.  Christian faith plays a large role in this novel, as it should given the combat situations and uncertainty in the lives of the families tied to Bill Mann and his friend Rusty Mattingly and every other combat pilot they encounter along the way.”

Read the full review.

 

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Read-a-long Discussion #3: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Since Anna and I both wanted to read Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes for this year’s Vietnam War Reading Challenge, we decided to read it together in small chunks since it is over 500 pages long.

Each Friday throughout December, we’ll be posting discussion questions with our answers. Please feel free to join in if you’ve already read the book or want to read along with us.

Today’s discussion will be on ch. 11-15.

1.  China has some of his illusions shattered about the black power movement in the military.  How has his attitude and role changed?

Serena: (spoiler alert) Once China realizes that the black power movement’s goals in the military are different from his own, in terms of gathering drugs rather than ammunition and guns, he has to reassess his role and how he can remain in the group and useful.  His ideals about the movement and what it needs to accomplish its goals are shattered once he realizes that the “brothers” are trading for marijuana and other drugs, which the movement can sell back in the states.  But those drugs are not just meant for whites, but for other brothers too.  I think against his better judgment, China has suppressed his authoritative nature and become more subordinate in the movement, but how long that lasts is anyone’s guess.

Anna: China likes being in control, being the leader of the “brothers,” and when he realizes he doesn’t have as much power as he thought, he’s not happy about it.  He also feels stupid when he realizes that his contributions to the movement are no longer needed and even laughed at.  From the way he is portrayed in earlier chapters, I really thought he was someone with pull, but that’s not the case anymore; maybe it never was.

2.  Describe how Mellas’ interactions with his troops and the other officers has changed.

Serena: Mellas seems to have mellowed out in his interactions with the troops and the officers in that he’s not over thinking each command or each conversation before answering or even after answering.  It seems that as the battalion comes under fire or is in danger, his military instincts take over and he interacts with the men as he should.  While he does still rise to anger quickly on occasion, it’s less like he’s a toddler looking to get attention and get his favorite toy away from his siblings.

Anna: He seems like he’s growing up.  To a certain extent, he’s still motivated by his ambitions and desire to get a medal — which has disastrous consequences for one member of his platoon — but he makes a lot of decisions based on his love for his men and the brotherhood of the Marines.  He more easily fits in with the other lieutenants and the lower ranking grunts, and they all seem to have more respect for him, as he’s proven himself to be competent.  He also seems to be less tolerant of the superior officers he once wanted to impress.

3.  What’s Blakely’s motivation for leading Simpson into decisions that could have severe consequences for Bravo Company?  And is Simpson too naive or too drunk to notice?

Serena: I’m on the fence for this question.  I’m not sure Simpson is too dumb to realize Blakely’s manipulations, but I do think his drinking does impair his ability to think clearly.  But there also is the element that suggests Simpson is allowing Blakely to talk him into things that he would normally choose to do himself.  Simpson’s career has not been the smoothest, and I think in a way Blakely backing up his thoughts gives him the confidence he needs to go ahead with the tough decisions.  Blakely, on the other hand, is clearly using Simpson as a shield given his higher rank and combat experience.  Blakely is in his first major war, and while he has specific ideas about how to run the troops, he needs the shield of another officer to protect himself from backlash should those decisions fail to meet expectations.

Anna: (spoiler alert)  There is one scene where Mulvaney tells Simpson that he uses people to advance his career and even lets people use him to advance their careers.  I think it’s a bit of both.  Blakely thinks he can manipulate Simpson, and Simpson always looks to Blakely for guidance on anything.  Blakely sees an opportunity to get ahead, and Simpson thinks Blakely has his best interests at heart.  I don’t think Simpson is dumb, but he strikes me as a bit incompetent and he’s always looking for a drink.  Blakely seems to have thought out every option and their superiors’ reactions to any action or inaction, and Simpson lets him lead.

4.  Upon Vancouver’s departure from the platoon, why do you think he is referred to as the soul of the company?

Serena: Although Vancouver is a Canadian in the U.S. military — at a time when so many draftees in the United States were running to Canada to avoid going to war — his courage, decisiveness, selflessness, and keen sense of his surroundings have kept the company safe and on track more than once.  The men looked up to him as a soldier to emulate and to fear.  He’s the Rambo of this novel; the one man show that combats the enemy without much assistance, but who has no problem being in that role.  Vancouver is the essence of the company, and it makes me wonder what will happen to the remaining soldiers once he’s gone.

Anna: Vancouver’s willingness to serve as point man all the time really motivated the men.  He was strong and even a bit crazy but he had heart.  When the men are trying to retake Matterhorn and one charges forward, Vancouver follows because he can’t let one of his friends go forward alone.  And when a racially-charged fight nearly breaks out, he doesn’t want to choose sides.  He was a model soldier, and one of my favorite characters in the book.

5.  What does it say about human nature that when there is a lull in adrenaline and battle that soldiers get incredibly bored?

Serena: These young men have been taken or volunteered to leave their quiet home life to battle the enemy in a foreign land under harsh circumstances.  The adrenaline has been pumping through their veins off and on throughout their tours, and it seems that when that rush is gone, they come down from a high that drops them very low in spirit.  This sense of loss from a high can be devastating and couple that with the anticipation of further battle, these men are on pins and needles and are full of anxious energy.  Boredom would come easily and become devastating, especially in lulls from combat.  It may even be intensified.  It makes you wonder what these men will go through when they are home and back to the lives they’ve left.

Anna: They’re always on edge, they have to be.  It’s interesting that when they find themselves getting bored, later on when they’re plunged into the action, they are dreading it and wish they could be back in the boredom.  I think it also has to do with them not always understanding the purpose of the war, and with death and destruction all around them, they want to have a purpose.

Our next discussion on Dec. 31 will be for Chapters 16-23.  We know that’s New Years Eve, but just weigh in when you can.

Review: IN THE WAKE OF THE BOATMAN by Jonathon Scott Fuqua

Layers of Thought recently read and reviewed In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  Here’s an excerpt:

“In this heartbreaking yet redemptive literary novel, there is an underlying question as to whether a person who is “confused” or who has a sexual identity which is not entirely accepted  socially is less capable of defending his or her country.”

Read the full review.

 

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

 

Review: SEMPER COOL by Barry Fixler

Impressions in Ink recently read and reviewed Semper Cool by Barry Fixler for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Barry tells his story matter of factly, without any fanfare. He tells the readers of his amazement in what he witnessed in Vietnam during combat, his shock, and the choice to push that aside in order to finish his job.”

Read the full review.

Musings of a Bookish Kitty also reviewed Semper Cool, check out what she had to say:

“The author has a great sense of humor, even about himself, which is one of the things I most liked about the book. His pride in his country and as a Marine is clear throughout the book. The book is written in a simple and rather plain manner, but that isn’t necessarily bad. As a reader, I got a real feel for who Barry Fixler was and what he was going through. He didn’t coat the truth with sugar or try to paint himself a hero–although he certainly is that in his own right.”

Read the full review.

 

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Review: THE LOTUS EATERS by Tatjana Soli

You’ve Gotta Read This!!! recently read and reviewed The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  Here’s a snippet:

“I thought I’d read it all when it came to this war. For the Vietnam reading challenge alone, I’ve witnessed the war from the ground, from the air, from the survivors who became foreigners in their own homeland. In fact, this book sat at my bedside for most of the year (I won it from Carrie), because I really didn’t think it was going to show me anything new. I’ve been humbled. This book rendered me gobsmacked.”

Read the full review.

 

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Review: THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien

Diary of an Eccentric recently read and reviewed The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Wow.  So I guess it boils down to this:  War is ugly, and there is a bit of both truth and fiction in these stories.  Sometimes the true facts are unemotional and distant, while a fictional account that truthfully portrays war is more emotional and more alive.”

Read the full review.

 

 

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Review: RAINY LAKE by Mary Francois Rockcastle

Layers of Thought recently read and reviewed Rainy Lake by Mary Francois Rockcastle for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  Check out this snippet:

“With the Vietnam war looming in the atmosphere and in the character’s minds and psyches, there was an internal and philosophical conflict which is a key part of the story.”

Read the full review.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Review: 13 CENT KILLERS, THE 5th MARINE SNIPERS IN VIETNAM by John J. Culbertson

Impressions in Ink recently read and reviewed 13 Cent Killers, The 5th Marine Snipers in Vietnam by John J. Culbertson for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  Here’s an excerpt from the review:

“The language used by the author, his slang, I’ve heard many times especially from a brother in-law (who has now passed from this life). This language was not something new to me and I was not shocked, or lost.”

Read the full review.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Review: THEN CAME THE EVENING by Brian Hart

Layers of Thought recently read and reviewed Brian Hart’s novel, Then Came the Evening for the challenge.  Here’s a bit of the review:

“This is a difficult book for me to review. It’s well structured and well written and is a fine accomplishment for a debut novel, but the trouble is that the book just doesn’t resonate with me.”

Read the full review.

 

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Read-a-long Discussion #2: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Since Anna and I both wanted to read Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes for this year’s Vietnam War Reading Challenge, we decided to read it together in small chunks since it is over 500 pages long.

Each Friday throughout December, we’ll be posting discussion questions with our answers. Please feel free to join in if you’ve already read the book or want to read along with us.

Today’s discussion will be on ch. 6-10.

1.  Do you think Mellas’ ambition clouds his ability to connect with the other officers and his troops (esp. when he seems to think of every command as a test)?

Serena: Sometimes I think Mellas is too worried about how to fit in on both sides of the coin.  While he has a number of ambitions for his military and other career options, he still wants to be friendly with his troops to ensure they trust him.  However, his constant focus on whether certain orders are a test may just drive him crazy and force him to make more mistakes.  I think this character needs to realize that these life and death situations are real and that whether an order is a test or not is irrelevant.

Anna: I think he tries too hard sometimes, and he tries to play both sides of the coin.  He tries to impress his superiors, and it’s so obvious you want to roll your eyes.  He even makes it obvious to Hawke that he wants his job, which doesn’t help when you’re trying to build a relationship with someone. As for his troops, he tries to fit in with them, especially the “brothers,” and he’ll stand up for them even if it means butting heads with another officer. And while I think he really does care for his men, everything he does in some way or another is for himself.

2.  Explain why you think Cortell broke after Cassidy brought two baby tigers into camp?

Serena: (Spoiler alert) Though this isn’t a significant portion of the book, the event with the higher officer bringing baby tigers into camp is used to further illustrate the tensions between the men in the company.  Not only does it cause an eruption of anger, but it also illustrates the racial tensions in the camp and how easily they can boil over.  However, my question is what was the officer thinking when he brought the baby tigers to camp in the first place?  Doesn’t he realize a mother tiger is around and probably stalking their scent, which could pose a danger to not only him but the other members of the group?  It just seemed like a dumb move to me.

Anna: (spoiler alert) Cortell just lost his good friend to a tiger attack, and it was a bit insensitive of them — never mind completely stupid — to bring baby tigers back to camp.  It’s not like they don’t know what a tiger could do to them; they’ve been lugging around Williams’ mutilated body for days! And Cassidy just doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut.  He lords his authority over the black soldiers, and even though he could cut Cortell some slack because of his loss, he won’t.

3.  How would the battalion in the jungle feel about the accommodations of Colonel Mulvaney and Major Blakely etc.?  What purpose does it serve to illustrate this contrast?

Serena: I think the battalion in the jungle would be mighty pissed to learn that the officers were enjoying the lap of luxury while they were humping it in the jungle on half rations that were dwindling fast.  Not only are they forced to share their rations with another company, but then they are denied pick ups for medical and supply purposes.  I think Marlantes is using this to contrast the situations of officers and ground troops, but also to illustrate how the officers can remain so nonchalant about certain decisions that can have adverse effects on ground troops.

Anna: I think they must know that the colonel isn’t suffering like they are. The starvation and the endless humping for no reason just illustrate how political the war was.  Bravo Company couldn’t get relief because of a senseless operation in Cam Lo that would make for good PR.

4.  Lieutenant Colonel Simpson begins rationalizing poor decisions he’s made regarding Bravo Company’s orders.  How accurate of a portrayal do you believe this is for officers making poor decisions during the war?

Serena: Simpson has no alternative but to rationalize his commands to himself because he’s already committed the troops to their mission without rations and rescue.  In many ways, he reminds me of Mellas, with his quick trigger responses when challenged by higher officers and others he finds to be his competition.  This competitive nature seems to be a central theme thus far, and I wonder just how far this theme will be pushed.  As for how accurate the portrayal is, I really couldn’t say, but my guess is that it might be for some of the officers at the time.

Anna: Part of the problem is Simpson is an alcoholic, and he’ll make decisions and give orders when he’s been drinking that are cruel or even senseless.  One minute you think he realizes he’s been harsh and too hard on Fitch for not making the checkpoints on time, but the next minute he’s finding an excuse for making them go hungry for another couple of days before sending out a resupply chopper.

5.  After setting up the Fire Support Base on Hill 1609, Mellas one day decides to go on a recon mission in the valley below.  Do you think his decision and the outcome of this mission do anything to further the battalion’s efforts to wipe out the NVA in the region?  Do you think this could be a turning point for Mellas?

Serena: I really think that the recon mission was more about Mellas’ ambition and need to prove himself, especially after speaking with Hawke who calls him a politician.  He wants to be more than just a talking head; he wants to show that he has combat experience and to prove his courage not only to himself, but also his troops.  Perhaps if he receives some recognition from Fitch or the other troops, he’ll be less on edge about his ambitions. 

Anna: It almost seemed as though Mellas was bored, having been fed and going back into a routine similar to the one they had on Matterhorn.  The recon mission was his idea and simply a means of getting noticed among his superiors.  However, despite all he and his men have been through so far, Mellas still seems naive about war.  Even his men are telling him to turn around and go back to camp, but he doesn’t want to seem like a failure and pushes onward.  While deemed a success from the point of view of the superior officers, the mission is a hard one for Mellas, and the decision he makes about the wounded NVA soldier — whether to let him live or die — gives him a lot to process.  Was he weak or was he acting compassionately? I wonder how this scene will play out in terms of character development in future chapters.

Our next discussion on Dec. 24 will be for Chapters 11-15.  We know this is close to Christmas, but just weigh in when you can.

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