Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Far, Far From Home

Installment number three, takes books that feature the main character(s) and puts them in foreign environments, whether being deployed on a mission to Iraq, or getting R&R from being in Afghanistan at an imaginary Island that is not so plesant, or going to Mallorca on vacation, or going back home to Nigeria after a long absence, or even being left behind on the red dust planet of Mars. All these books feature environments that haunt them or bring out buried secrets causing rifts between characters.

The Martian describes a manned mission to Mars, in the very best of Hollywood sense, as catastrophe happens on page two and one of the crew is left behind. Oh the horrors (oh wait, that is a future post)! It is so Hollywood that the movie version is slated to come out next November. Read the novel first, and here’s Greg’s rec to convince you that it's a must read:
"Mark Watney, a member of a six-man mission to Mars, is struck by debris in a freak accident on the surface of the red planet and is assumed dead by his team. Grieving for their lost comrade, the remaining astronauts reluctantly depart for home, leaving the unconscious-but-very-much-alive Watney behind to fend for himself. Left with only his wits, some potatoes, and the remaining tools and machinery from the mission, Watney resolves to survive being marooned. Andy Weir manages to bridge the gap between NASA-grade technobabble and conventional language, portraying Watney's stark plight with both humor and warmth, giving life to a story about a man trapped on a lifeless world." --Greg Bruce 
In The Vacationers by Emma Straub, a family goes on vacation to Mallorca to celebrate their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. Things go well, until they don’t, and families hold many, many secrets. Sharon is a big fan of this novel and perhaps it will help you warm up during this last polar vortex:
"There is nothing quite like a family vacation. Trapped in a hotel or a rented house with the same people you usually go out of your way to avoid. Everyone can relate to this, whether you are vacationing down the shore, or on the exotic island of Mallorca, like the Post family in Emma Straub's witty and fun new novel. Franny and Jim Post are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. They are spending two weeks in Mallorca with Sylvia, their daughter, who is soon to be leaving for Brown, Bobby, their 28 year old son, Carmen, his 40 year old girlfriend, and Lawrence and Charles, a married gay couple who are trying to adopt a baby. Add to this mix the fact that Jim has had an affair with a 23 year old intern, and has lost his job and his wife's trust in one fell swoop. I read this book at the beginning of February in a vain attempt to feel warmer in the frozen snow globe that is Milwaukee at this time of year. I did, however, spend enjoyable hours with Emma Straub's extremely knowable characters, and enjoyed a story of family, love, and loss that we can all connect with."--Sharon Nagel
Teju Cole is quickly emerging as one of the great African writers that have taken America by storm. His last book, Open City, won the PEN/Hemingway award; and now, this book, which was published in Nigeria back 2007, has been released outside of Africa. Mixed with photography the story revolves around a young Nigerian, who is back from being in New York City for the last fifteen years.  The changes to himself and to his country are at the heart of this. This was one of Terrail’s favorite books of the year:
EveryDay Is For The Thief is an ethnographic narrative that delves into the unique Nigerian experience with both poignancy and candid social commentary. Enjoy!—Terrail Easley
I could talk about how war is horrible and mind-numbing to the soldiers as related to our next book, but Mel’s rec below is says it all:
"Brian Turner's singular war memoir takes place in a fragmented dreamscape narrated by a man whose soul keens from the brink of sanity. Turner shares the unshakeable images of his life before, during, and after his combat service with deft, poetic prose, channeling veterans from centuries of war and linking their stories to his experiences in battles abroad and at home. My Life as a Foreign Country proves that "leave" is a misnomer and shows how combat zones become liminal, haunted crypts for deployed soldiers. In his capable hands, readers march through an emotionally charged landscape that reflects Turner's intense introspection. If you or someone you love has served: read this book." --Mel Morrow
This next book, Tigerman, is a nice bridge from the last one. And, I found my quote I sent in all those months ago, so here it is:
"Lester Ferris, sergeant of the British Army, is in need of rest--in the worst way possible. They pack him off to an island called Mancreu that is doomed to be bombed into oblivion, due to an environmental disaster. So, he is the last British citizen left in the colony, and has been told to cast a blind eye on all the illegal activity going on. However, when a friend ends up getting murdered, Lester feels he needs to help out somehow to catch the killer. There is one person there, a comic-book-reading nerd of a boy who helps Lester find himself, and whom Lester wants to protect and perhaps adopt when the island goes off for the final time in a mushroom cloud. This book hits all the notes of a great novel; there are hilarious moments, followed by some somber tones, followed by a thrill ride action event, and then just keep repeating till the end. Now the hard part comes--waiting for another Nick Harkaway novel." --Jason Kennedy
Last but not least, a second offering from Boswellian Greg. It is The Troop by Nick Cutter. It follows a group of Boy Scouts off on a trip:
"Five kids and the Scoutmaster camp out on an isolated island. A gaunt, ravenous stranger lands upon the same island. Just like that, the scene is set for one of the most horrifying novels I’ve ever read. This is old school, vintage Stephen King-style scary. Come with iron will and a strong stomach." --Greg Bruce

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