A grimly beautiful depiction of the ugliness of war.



An American soldier in Vietnam struggles to reconcile himself to the horrors of combat in this debut novel. 

Theo Garrett simply isn’t prepared for Vietnam, such an extraordinary contrast to the Vermont summers of his youth. After the draftee arrives in the war-torn country, he’s handed an M-16, a weapon with which he’s never trained; he discovers that his pants don’t fit; and he’s all but immediately assigned to guard duty. Theo is a combat engineer who specializes in water purification systems but his technical expertise doesn’t spare him from the grim reality of war—the violence and danger are ubiquitous. He’s nearly killed by sniper fire but seems to take no solace in his survival; nor can he find lasting comfort in religion. McGinnis movingly portrays Theo’s mounting emotional trauma. In one heartbreaking scene, his superior officer decides not to risk lives by attempting to rescue fellow soldiers shot down in a helicopter: “I felt nausea build inside my stomach as the convoy pulled out. I felt relieved for not having to go into the valley to fight, but I knew the men in the Chinook would die or be taken prisoner. I felt safe and cowardly.” Theo reacts to his terrifying environment by becoming something of a screw-up—he narrowly averts being sent to military prison, first for shooting up a hotel, and then for going AWOL. The author concludes the book with a personal reflection on his own Vietnam experiences, observing “there is nothing glamorous about war.” McGinnis writes poetically melancholic prose, and artfully constructs a dark atmosphere of foreboding and despair. The only barrier to readers’ full immersion is the inscrutability of the protagonist—one doesn’t have enough of a sense of Theo’s character prior to the war to fully appreciate his withering under it. In fact, readers will develop a stronger connection to the author, who is far more forthcoming about himself than the character he conjures. Still, this is a dramatically haunting book and an emotionally searching peek at the wages of war. 

A grimly beautiful depiction of the ugliness of war. 

Pub Date: April 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5304-8142-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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