Paradise General, recommended by Paula B
IN 2004, AT THE AGE OF FORTY-EIGHT, DR. DAVE HNIDA, a family physician from Littleton, Colorado, volunteered to be deployed to Iraq and spent a tour of duty as a battalion surgeon with a combat unit. In 2007, he went back—this time as a trauma chief at one of the busiest Combat Support Hospitals (CSH) during the Surge. In an environment that was nothing less than a modern-day M*A*S*H, the doctors’ main objective was simple: Get ’em in, get ’em out. The only CSH staffed by reservists— who tended to be older, more-experienced doctors disdainful of authority—the 399th soon became a medevac destination of choice because of its high survival rate, an astounding 98 percent.
This was fast-food medicine at its best: working in a series of tents connected to the occasional run-down building, Dr. Hnida and his fellow doctors raced to keep the wounded alive until they could be airlifted out of Iraq for more extensive repairs. Here the Hippocratic Oath superseded that of the pledge to Uncle Sam; if you got the red-carpet helicopter ride, his team took care of you, no questions asked. On one stretcher there might be a critically injured American soldier while three feet away lay the insurgent, shot in the head, who planted the IED that inflicted those wounds.
But there was levity amid the chaos. On call round-the-clock with an unrelenting caseload, the doctors’ prescription for sanity included jokes, pranks, and misbehavior. Dr. Hnida’s deployment was filled with colorful characters and gifted surgeons, a diverse group who became trusted friends as together they dealt with the psychological toll of seeing the casualties of war firsthand.
In a conflict with no easy answers and even less good news, Paradise General gives us something that we can all believe in—the story of an ordinary citizen turned volunteer soldier trying to make a difference. With honesty and candor, and an off-the-wall, self-deprecating humor that sustained him and his battle buddies through their darkest hours, Dr. Hnida delivers a devastating and inspiring account of his CSH tour and an unparalleled look at medical care during an unscripted war.
Thanks for the Memories, recommended by Lisa B
How is it possible to know someone you've never met?
With her marriage already in pieces, Joyce Conway nearly lost everything else. But she survived the terrible accident that left her hospitalized—and now, inexplicably, she can remember faces she has never seen, cobblestone Parisian streets she's never visited. A sudden, overwhelming sense of dÉjÀ vu has Joyce feeling as if her life is not her own.
Justin Hitchcock's decision to donate blood was the first thing to come straight from his heart in a long time. He chased his ex-wife and daughter from Chicago to London—and now, restless and lonely, he lectures to bored college students in Dublin. But everything is about to change with the arrival of a basket of muffins with a thank-you note enclosed—the first in a series of anonymous presents that will launch Justin into the heart of a mystery . . . and alter two lives forever.Lisa: "I LOVED this book. I haven't laughed out loud reading a book as hard or as much as when I read this wonderful novel. She writes about wonderful, rich characters and best of all...there's a happy ending!"
Pete recommends a couple of of Jeffrey Eugenides books:
The Virgin Suicides
First published in 1993, The Virgin Suicides announced the arrival of a major new American novelist. In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters--beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighborhood boys--commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. As the boys observe them from afar, transfixed, they piece together the mystery of the family's fatal melancholy, in this hypnotic and unforgettable novel of adolescent love, disquiet, and death. Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the emotions of youth with haunting sensitivity and dark humor and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time. Adapted into a critically acclaimed film by Sofia Coppola, The Virgin Suicides is a modern classic, a lyrical and timeless tale of sex and suicide that transforms and mythologizes suburban middle-American life.
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license...records my first name simply as Cal." So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.
Room with a View
A classic tale of British middle-class love, this novel displays Forster's skill in contrasting British sensibilities with those of foreign cultures, as he portrays the love of a British woman for an expatriate living in Italy. One of Forster's earliest and most celebrated works. Joe says: "A classic I go to again and again. Perfect light, literary reading on a breezy, warm day!"
The Name of the Wind
The riveting first-person narrative of a young man who grows to be the most notorious magician his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime- ridden city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard. It is a high-action novel written with a poet's hand, a powerful coming-of-age story of a magically gifted young man, told through his eyes: to read this book is to be the hero.
A thrilling and original coming-of- age novel about a young man practicing magic in the real world
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he's still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.
He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin's fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.
At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren't black and white, love and sex aren't simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.Joe adds : "It sounds like it could be a Harry Potter rip-off, but couldn't be further from one. A fun, well-written read!"
And last, but certainly not least, is a memoir that has HUGE staff support for the funny, and cringe inducing, memories it brings back to us (did YOUR family have a shag rake?):
Where's My Wand
Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris, and David Rakoff have all produced winning memoirs of their demented, alternately heartrending and sidesplitting late- twentieth-century American childhoods. Now, first-time author Eric Poole joins their ranks with his chronicle of a childhood gone hilariously and heartbreakingly awry in the Midwest of the 1970s. From the age of eight through early adolescence, Poole sought refuge from his obsessive-compulsive mother, sadistic teachers, and sneering schoolyard thugs in the Scotchgarded basement of his family's suburban St. Louis tract house. There, emulating his favorite TV character, Endora from Bewitched, he wrapped himself in a makeshift caftan and cast magical spells in an effort to maintain control over the rapidly shifting ground beneath his feet. But when a series of tragic events tested Eric's longstanding belief that magic can vanquish evil, he began to question the efficacy of his incantations, embarking on a spiritual journey that led him to discover the magic that comes only from within. Watch a great trailer for this book here.
Other staff favorites are The Passage by Justin Cronin and The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, both of which were reviewed recently in BTC (you can find them using the Search box).