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Kirkus Indie Books of the Month - September 2015

Gracefully transports readers on an odyssey that transcends the exotic locale and legacies of war to focus on the power of...

Back To Vietnam

TOURS OF THE HEART

An intimate travel memoir tracing one veteran’s journey from war to reconciliation.

This moving debut, co-authored by a retired career Army officer and his wife, reveals how a trip to confront the ghosts of his Vietnam War experience led to affinity for Vietnamese culture, a humanitarian commitment, annual three-month stays, and deep friendships with many Vietnamese, including former enemies. Logan and Head take turns narrating self-contained vignettes that advance the larger story in an effective contrapuntal style. Logan served two tours, first as a lieutenant in the thick of combat, then as a captain at a beachfront hotel headquarters. His accounts of battles, brotherhood, brothels, bureaucracy and postwar brooding set a fitting opening tone. Head, a retired corporate trainer with a big heart, gentle spirit, and Buddhist leanings, grew up in Canada and married Logan after both were divorced with grown children. She contributes a more dispassionate view of the war as well as helpful insights about her husband. “Vietnam, A Country Not a War,” her introduction to Part 2, epitomizes the book’s message. They share keen observations about the places they’ve been and introspective feelings about the people they meet. Scenes are colorful, chaotic, and full of contrasts, reflecting Vietnam itself—a communist country lacking social services, full of bustling cities with utility outages, agrarian culture facing bulldozers, and tin-roof huts with satellite dishes. Vestiges of war—rusted fuselages, elders missing limbs, and children with Agent Orange–related birth defects—are everywhere; so is hospitality. Logan and Head began as outsiders smuggling toothbrushes and personal care donations. They grew into part-time residents, distributing portable school libraries and providing managerial support for a startup that employs the disabled. In the process, the couple running that enterprise essentially adopted them as family. Historical context helps reshape wartime caricatures as the authors write with a sense of immediacy and attention to detail that fully invoke the moment and setting for each encounter.

Gracefully transports readers on an odyssey that transcends the exotic locale and legacies of war to focus on the power of human connection.

Pub Date: April 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9917623-0-9

Page Count: 341

Publisher: JOTH Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

A fine anthology of some of the best contemporary poetry around.

The Vivisection Mambo

121 POEMS OF THE NEW NEO-REALIST SCHOOL

Fresh new writers rub elbows with past masters in this scintillating collection of verse.

Under the label “New Neo-Realist,” Lark, editor of the Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities, assembles a collection of narrative poems that usually feature frank engagement with ordinary life; a modern, colloquial idiom; and emotion leavened by irony, astringency, and flashes of humor. That leaves room for a huge range of subjects, styles, and moods. Erika Meitner’s “Wal-Mart Supercenter” contrasts the stores’ sublime friendliness with the police-blotter hell surrounding them (“A couple tried to sell their six-month-old for twenty-five bucks / to buy meth in the Salinas Walmart parking lot”), and L.W. Milam’s surreal “Tootie Fruit ME and Ass-Grasp LA” invokes “crowds of crying turtles, & / Peasant armies of hymn-singing, drug-ridden geckos.” Christopher Kennedy’s mordantly funny “Riddle of Self-Worth” laments that “My pet vulture has the disconcerting habit of staring / at the clock and then at me”; Howard Nemerov’s lyrical “Goldfish” spotlights the creatures’ “Waving disheveled rags of elegant fin / Languidly in the light”; and Tom Crawford’s “Companion to a Loon” levels a matter-of-fact elegy: “Listen bird, I’m past making death sad. / The tide has no time for wakes / or tragedies. We’re either coming in / or going out.” The volume contains an especially strong set of poems by women, including Kate Gale’s agonized “What I Did Not Tell Anyone,” in which a new mother confides “That I felt my whole family / greedily feeding off me. / That my body felt stolen. / That I felt like Russia during all the wars / troops tramping over me on their way to Moscow,” and Christine Hamm’s bitterly whimsical “Signs You Are Ovulating”: “As you apply mascara / in the bathroom, your eyes slit, / a crow hops onto your shoulder, / and whispers, right here, now.” Lark juxtaposes works by well-known legends, such as Allen Ginsberg, Philip Larkin, e.e. Cummings, and Langston Hughes, as revealing counterpoints to the newer poems. Unlike the strings of cryptic non sequiturs in much Master of Fine Arts—bred poetry, these poems are decidedly reader-friendly without compromising their literary artistry. Along with their inventive language and dazzling metaphor, their accessibility and immediacy pack a wallop.

A fine anthology of some of the best contemporary poetry around.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-917320-58-3

Page Count: 202

Publisher: MHO & MHO Works

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

A sophisticated, comic novel that brilliantly captures the triumph and folly of art, media, and publishing.

The Dead of August

A London obituary writer is called to the home of a reclusive artist with a mysterious agenda in Cacoyannis’ debut novel.

James Linthwaite works for the Herald, a London tabloid that’s gaining popularity because of his innovative, witty obituaries. He’s become semifamous around town, but his notoriety is nothing compared with his wife June’s. She’s the author of “posh porn” books, including a bestseller called Susan’s Phallacy that’s flying off the shelves. Although James and June consider her writing to be a radical feminist take on erotic fiction, everyone else simply considers it fairly well-written smut. The Linthwaites have a teenage son named Josh who’s just beginning to have some sexual adventures of his own. Amid success at work and at home, James nonetheless finds his life to be inwardly and outwardly in turmoil, as suggestions of affairs, fears about his marriage’s longevity, and a few alcohol-poisoned nights lead him down some seriously confused paths. Then James’ editor asks him to go on a particularly odd assignment to meet an artist in the south of England. A recluse named Max has invited three writers to his home, each instructed to spend time with him and then write his 900-word obituary. The purpose of the exercise will be revealed later, during an art event, and its consequences will affect James and his career in numerous ways. Cacoyannis writes in a breezy yet erudite way, with eloquent language and insight sharing space with truly funny running jokes. James’ life is at once complicated and complete, imperfect and scary, but somehow just as it should be. The depiction of James and June’s marriage is particularly impressive; the author writes with such passion about insecurities, lust, violence, and love that the characters’ faults and flaws only make them more vivid. The Linthwaites are intellectual but not always politically correct, and they love Pedro Almodóvar films and good wine with venison steaks. They live in a London that’s suitably fast-paced and cutting-edge, and Cacoyannis has a firm yet humorous grasp of the vernacular and culture of personal and professional worlds ranging from Fleet Street to Soho and beyond. James has a kind of fame that’s fairly risky: one daring obituary that goes too far could make the industry and the public turn their backs on him. Indeed, all of the characters take risks, and it’s to the author’s credit that this madcap, smart story has an introspective protagonist whose dedication to his rebellious family is so well-imagined.

A sophisticated, comic novel that brilliantly captures the triumph and folly of art, media, and publishing.

Pub Date: Dec. 28, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-5190-5692-4

Page Count: 371

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

A gorgeous portrayal of a relaxing life in the wilderness.

Pura Vida Mae!: An Original Story for Children

This kids’ book introduces readers to the colorful, exotic world of the Costa Rican jungle through the eyes of an iguana.

Daniel, an iguana, lives a happy life in the rain forest. He enjoys relaxing on a branch in the sun, eating leaves, and smelling the flowers. His favorite saying is “Pura vida” (“pure life”), a term that reflects the cultural idea that one should live a happy and relaxed existence. Daniel has a few friends who agree with his philosophy, such as Vivi the butterfly, Garcia the sloth, and Linda and Carlos, two other iguanas. However, he also knows animals that don’t seem interested in this lifestyle, such as Hannah the toucan, Julian the howler monkey, Arnoldo the grackle, and Alba and Peyton, a jaguar and an ocelot. Despite their occasional urgings for Daniel to change his behavior, the iguana decides in the end that he’s happy with his life and with himself, and that’s good enough. The book introduces a particular philosophy of self-acceptance, but what it does best is show readers the incredible world of the rain forest. Drawn in bold, bright colors, the illustrations bring the jungle and its inhabitants to life. Set against a background of tall trees and brilliant flowers, readers see Daniel interact with gorgeous creatures in all parts of his environment. Garcia hangs languidly from his tree; birds fly in front of a brilliant blue sky with white clouds; and an osprey hovers above an iridescent river, into which Daniel dives. From the subtle blushes of the flowers to the incredible detail of Vivi the butterfly’s wings, each page of this book could be a painting in itself. Overall, the vivid illustrations and charming story are the perfect way to expose children to the incredible vibrancy and unique habitat of the rain forest.

A gorgeous portrayal of a relaxing life in the wilderness.

Pub Date: July 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4575-3977-0

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Dog Ear

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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