Book Review: Grounded

groundedThank you to Angela Correll’s publicist for sending along Grounded. It came along following my finishing some fairly heavy reads, so, having a nice, refreshing read like Grounded came along at just the perfect time.

Synopis: New York City flight attendant Annie Taylor is grounded, putting a halt to weekends in Rome and her jet-setting lifestyle. Soon her noncommittal boyfriend’s true nature is revealed, and to top it all off, she loses her apartment.
With nowhere else to go, Annie leaves the city for the family farm in Kentucky, a place she’s avoided for years. She finds a shotgun-wielding grandmother, a farm in disrepair, and a suspicious stranger renting the old stone house.
The country quiet haunts Annie with reminders of a past that can’t be changed. She tries persuading her grandmother to sell the farm, but is met with stubborn refusal? Yet in the midst of her crashing life, Annie sees a glimmer of hope for a second chance.
Jake Wilder is contemplating jumping off the corporate ladder to follow his passion for sustainable farming. He’s almost ready to propose to Camille, a girl who wants more, not less. Annie believes Jake is about to make a terrible mistake, but does she have the right to tell him?

As the summer heats up, so do Annie’s unexpected feelings for Jake and her interest in the land. When a sudden phone call comes from New York, Annie is forced to choose between coming to terms with her past or leaving it all behind. (From Goodreads)

Originally I wasn’t too sure how I would react to Grounded, again, I had just finished a few hefty tomes covering heavy topics in some, so would a “woman’s contemporary” novel appeal at this moment? Correll’s novel has been touted to appeal to Southern fiction (yes) fans of contemporary fiction. Perhaps Grounded was just the novel I needed to read at the moment. And I truly have to tell you, it was!  I felt immediate affection for Annie and her story. Correll has written a very endearing novel with very endearing characters. For instance, Annie’s love for her Grandfather is written with wonderful and genuine love that pulls at your heartstrings.

Annie hasn’t been back to the family farm since her Grandfather’s death and instead prefers to live the jet-set lifestyle in Manhattan, with a jet-set romance with her boyfriend Stuart and loving the life as a flight-attendant with frequent trips to Rome. However, on one fated flight she learns the heart-breaking truth about Stuart, also learns she has lost her job and has now fled home to the farm. Here is where Annie sees what a struggle it has become for her Grandmother, Beulah and the realization that Beulah and Annie are all that is left of her family. As she becomes more and more involved in caring for the family farm and for her Grandmother, Annie’s need to break away and return to Manhattan recede considerably. There is also the matter of her feelings for her childhood friend Jake as well.  Does she have stronger feelings for Jake, and wouldn’t these feelings keep her tied more and more to the farm?

Grounded is a nice easy-going read where the pages turn effortlessly as you follow Annie along through to her life-altering decisions. It’s a book that truly makes you take a step back and realize the importance of easier, slower living.  It was an excellent read at just the right time. Correll has gifted the reader with wonderful characters that are wonderfully developed and easily to attach yourself to their stories. I enjoyed it quite a bit. On the back cover is a quote from Rick Dees, radio personality (remember Rick Dees? I do!) that sums up the book quite nicely:

Reading Angela Correll’s Grounded will take you to a special place surrounded by the fragrance of honeysuckle and warm southern sun. With each page, you’ll be reminded that “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”

2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: We Need New Names


Rating: 3.5
We Need New Names
A Novel by NuViolet Bulawayo
2013 / 298 pages

Darling is a 10 year old girl from Zimbabwe. She and her family have been forced out of their home and now live in a shanty town (called “Paradise”). Her father has gone off to South Africa (to find work/money) and her mother is trying to scrape together what she can so they don’t starve while he is away. Since there is no longer a school to attend, Darling and her gang of friends (Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Stina) are free to spend their days waiting for the NCO truck to arrive with supplies and gifts. In the meantime they hunt for guavas, play intricate games (find bin Ladin, Country Game, War Lord) and get into mischief in the “white” section of town all while avoiding the men with the machetes. They are trying to make the best of what they have but it is hard when they have known a different life– before the bulldozers came; before 11 year old Chipo got a baby in her belly.

More than anything else Darling would like to go to America. Her aunt is already there and has promised to send for her. She has grand plans once she finally arrives. She will drive a Lamborghini, become friends with Lady GaGa and wear beautiful dresses. She will live in a mansion and bathe in money (like all Americans do). She just has to bide her time until the day comes when she can leave this kaka place!

The day finally arrives when she gets on the plane– promising to write, promising to return. Things are not what she imagined. The streets are not paved with gold. “Destroyedmichygen” looks like a different kind of war zone– slummy and bare . And there is snow! Everywhere!! Still, Darling makes the best of what she has while she is there.

This book does have some flaws. Some of my fellow BookerMarkers might even say many flaws plus a pile of kaka on top. But, because I listened to it I was able to over look (or not notice) what has now been pointed out. Narrator Robin Miles’ sing-song African accented voice made Darling seem, well, darling!! She charmed me– especially in the first part while they were still “innocent” 10 year olds living in a cruel, cruel world. The language and presentation almost made their lives seem light hearted when nothing could be further from the truth– a heartbreaking scene where the girls attempt to give their pal Chipo an abortion, a maniac preacher who seemed to be raping the devil out of a woman and a mother’s absolute anguish as she buries her only son– but maybe in Africa this is what children are used to seeing.

As Darling spends more time in America she loses her charm (and in the narration she also loses her accent as well– very well done and very clever!!). Six years in she has used America for all it is worth– she has attended school, found a steady job and has even made some American friends. She still feels a kinship with Zimbabwe and would like to return to visit but she feels that she has truly belongs in America. Trouble is she never will be. Her visitors visa has long expired and she risks never being able to return if she leaves. Darling has found herself stuck between worlds– not really belonging to either place. It is actually very sad.

Maybe not the best written book in the world– and it is still surprising to me that it made the short list instead of Transatlantic— but I think that I know what Ms. Bulawayo was trying to do here. 3.5 stars from me.

This review was simultaneously posted on BookerMarks.

2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: The Luminaries #2


Rating: 3.5
The Luminaries
A Novel by Eleanor Catton
2013 / 848 pages

The Luminaries was a looooooooong book– a whopping 848 pages, at least 20 main characters and a complexed structure featuring the phases of the moon, the alignment of the planets and the signs of the zodiac. It took me a while to read this one. There was detail up the wazoo– every ship in New Zealand was mentioned by name, every building or tent was described in full, every dirty fingernail was picked, every speck of gold dust was included as a main character– but essentially this was a pure mystery novel with a little bit of “magical realism” thrown in.

From Goodreads: It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.

I ended up reading this book in spurts. The first time I picked it up I only got through part I– learning all of the backgrounds of the characters and the town and getting used to the old timey dialogue and stuffy Victorian opinions (don’t call her a whore! Say she worked in the world’s oldest profession!). Next, I was in a mad rush to get it done before Book Club night– getting about 500 pages read in 4 days but still coming up about 100 short before the big night. Everyone was kind enough to not give away the ending but as I read the last bit yesterday, I thought that it was a tad anticlimactic. Maybe it was because there was an almost 2 week gap between my marathon reading and the ending but I still have questions now that it is all over. What was the point of Walter Moody? He seemed to just fade into the background by the end. What happened to Carver in the back of the cart? Did I miss the explanation? And seriously, was there really a point for 200 pages more following the court case? There was a bit that was interesting/relevant but the rest seemed just like more pages to be added to make the structure fit (each part is half the length of the last– like the phases of the moon– see the cover).

I liked this book– but just liked it.  The fancy structure and zodiac tie-ins were really lost on me. I was more interested in the story and solving the mystery– 400 pages would have been enough. The MAIN main characters were interesting enough not to have needed all of the LESS MAIN main characters. I would have given it a 3 star rating but bumped it up to 3.5 because I can appreciate the time and effort Catton went through to construct the novel the way she did.

Funny: I like to highlight interesting passages in my iBooks and it seems out of the 800+ pages in The Luminaries this was the only one that I marked! Hmmmmmmmm….

It was a strange thing to behold a whore in mourning– rather like seeing a dandified cleric, or a child with a moustache; it gave one a sense of confusion.

This review was simultaneously posted on BookerMarks.

Book Review: Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment

17739465Rating: 5
Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment
By Paul Conroy  
Weinstein Books 2013 /320 pages

It’s only been a few short hours since I’ve closed the pages of Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment by Paul Conroy. I’m truly at a loss for words. I am not at a loss however for emotion or deep pensive thoughts. Which is what I have been doing since reading the final lines of this remarkable book.  It’s certainly a book that I’m so glad to have accepted from Paul’s publicist. I also cannot stop looking at the cover photo and feeling a tremendous sense of loss and sadness. Journalism certainly lost a remarkable woman and an incredible champion to bringing to the world’s attention to the plight of every person suffering within their war-ravaged countries.

Marie Colvin’s drive and determination to enter into some of the most horrific and deadliest countries being gutted and destroyed by war had nothing to do with seeking adventure or being an adrenalin junkie. The true reason Marie Colvin risked her life, and ultimately gave her life, was to bring our attention and awareness to the everyday person’s struggle to survive while their country was being torn apart, usually by some maniacal leader. They would consistently slip “under the wire” and secretly in to these countries, and It was in this final assignment in Syria that Paul writes about, doing exactly just that, where Marie lost her life.

In Paul’s words:

“This is what it was all about for her – reporting on the ordinary people caught up in war. Much is written about journalists being war junkies or adrenalin addicts. I would challenge anyone in the world to accuse Marie of being one of these. Yes, she would jump borders and risk life and limb, but only ever for the story; for the very people we were now about to visit. She had little time for people who accused foreign correspondents and photographers of being dysfunctional thrill-seekers.”

Paul Conroy has written a remarkable tribute to her, their friendship and her incredible courageousness. He has done so with amazing attention to detail and a fierce command of language. It is also written with humour but incredibly as well, with a sense of non-stop, on-the -edge-of-your seat anticipation and anxiousness. You feel as though you are actually there, by their sides, as they dodge bullets, brace against the impact of non-stop mortar shelling and the crippling fear and desperation to arrive safely across a border, to a safe-house or into an area where they can release these horrifying images and stories of the young children, babies and women and men suffering while trying to survive in countries that are living through war and crippling devastation every single day.

There was a speech Marie Colvin gave at St Brides on Fleet Street, that Paul writes about (included below), again giving importance to the work that war correspondents are doing. You can also read her full speech on the site dedicated to Marie here and at

“In a famous speech she had given at St. Brides on Fleet Street, a church traditionally associated with journalists, a few years earlier, she argued passionately for the need to send reporters to dangerous places. She believed war reporting was a way of speaking truth to power, of holding governments to account by telling the public what their governments were doing in their name. For her, war reporting was about bearing witness to the plight of ordinary civilians so that she could record it for the world and reveal the brutal consequences of decisions taken by men in high places. It sounds grand, but she believed that without war correspondents governments could conduct themselves as if in a vacuum: their lies and propaganda could be conveyed without challenge, allowing them to carry out atrocities far from the prying eyes of the world. In her words, it was about sending back the first rough draft of history and cutting through the sandstorm of propaganda that flares when armies, tribes or terrorists clash.”

Under the Wire is an emotionally crippling yet wild adventure-ride of a story. But it is also an essential one that requires wide readership. You can assure yourself however that you are reading a great, great story at the hands of a very accomplished writer. Conroy’s command of the language is stunning. And while he is writing of his great respect and love for a great friend and accomplished journalist, you are also reading about an incredibly courageous Paul Conroy. I could not begin to imagine doing this on a frequent basis, but he’ll just pass it off saying he can’t imagine the trouble he would get in to if he held down a “real job”. Please read Under the Wire, and at the same time give pause and consideration not only to the incredible and remarkable job these war correspondents take on in order to ensure the world does not ignore what is happening to others less privileged than we are, but also to what these people themselves are suffering and enduring. As Conroy wrote at the very end of this book, at the time of his writing, no nation had yet stepped in to help the people of Syria.

5 stars for this incredible story.

From the publisher: Zero Dark Thirty meets 127 Hours – Under the Wire is a riveting war journal from photographer Paul Conroy, who accompanied Marie Colvin (called by her peers “the greatest war correspondent of her generation”) during her ill-fated final assignment in Syria.

Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Last Assignment (Weinstein Books; Hardcover; 320 pages; October 8, 2013) is by photographer Paul Conroy. A former soldier with the Royal Artillery, Conroy has worked extensively in combat zones, producing footage from conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East and Libya.

Marie Colvin, the internationally recognized American foreign-war correspondent who was killed in a rocket attack in 2012 while reporting on the suffering of civilians inside Syria, was renowned for her flair and her fearlessness: she reported from dangerous places no other hard-core correspondent would dare to go. Conroy, who had forged a close bond with Colvin as they put their lives on the line time and lime again to report from the world’s conflict zones, was with her when she died. Under the Wire is Paul’s gripping, visceral, and moving account of their friendship and the final year he spent alongside her.