A few weeks ago, I asked for some help with reviewing my ARCs, and you guys stepped up. The first two of these reviews are below. Many thanks to C.B. and to WordLily for these well-written and thoughtful ponderings on these two volumes. Please visit their blogs sometime and give them some lovin’.

Heavier Than Air by Nona Caspers

A farm girl becomes too attached to another, a youngster obsessed with John F. Kennedy takes her brother on a fateful boat ride, a father recovers from a stroke, one woman is abandoned by her lover, a mother dies–the stories that make up “Heavier Than Air” by Nona Caspers paint an intimate portrait of small town America, even when they take place in the big city. Her characters are so rooted in the rural countryside, that they take it with them when the move away. You can’t escape your family, not when your roots are deep.

The best of the stories in “Heavier Than Air,” Nona Caspers new volume of short stories, are about farm girls. Ms. Caspers clearly has a great affinity for the experience of growing up in rural America; it shows in both the depth of her understanding and her empathy for her characters. She understands the way Carson McCullers understands. In “Country Girls” the fourteen year old narrator moves to a Minnesota farming town where she begins to fall in love with Cynthia, the girl who lives on the neighboring farm. The young narrator is mystified by love. She wonders why her father married her mother not her aunt whom he seems to prefer; she becomes interested then obsessed with Cynthia’s family, and in the end publicly declares her love for a horrified Cynthia at the town dance. What does one do after that?

Outsider girls grab Ms. Caspers’ attention in “La Maison de Madame Durard.” Two young women spend a night trying to have some fun. They end up driving around with two guys they meet in a bar whom they later abandon by the road as they slowly discover their true interest is in each other. This same type of girl can be found at a younger age in “Wide Like an Eagle’s Wings” and all grown up in “The EE Cry” and “Mother”. Ms. Caspers writes about other types of people, writes about them well, but it’s these girls and the women they become who stay with the reader long after their stories end.

In “Mother” a young woman, Deborah, is abandoned by her lover, who simply states that she is in love with someone else and can’t stop it. Deborah calls her mother who comes out to San Francisco from Minnesota to help Deborah find a new apartment and to visit the city for the first and probably only time. Deborah’s mother liked her ex-lover, thought she was a charmed girl and said so. She does not seem to know what to do with Deborah now that she is single, now that she has to face her without someone to divert them both and provide each with a safe distance. Mother and daughter visit a series of bad apartments and begin to grow on each other’s nerves even as they begin to grow on each other. There is some unfinished business between them, some few things that now separate them much more than either ever thought possible. In the end, there is a small epiphany, a moment when Deborah really sees her mother and loves her as she is, fully aware of how alike the two of them are. Many of us only get these small epiphanies. Ms. Caspers understands how important they are.

The is much to enjoy in Heavier Than Air by Nona Caspers, and many rewards to be found in its pages. I’m giving the book four out of five stars. I look forward to her next volume.

**************************
The Reluctant Colonel by Michael J. Merry

The 618-page ARC of The Reluctant Colonel by Michael J. Merry AndiLit sent to me, WordLily.

Set in the fictional Central American country of Maraguay, The Reluctant Colonel relates the story of a 1964 coup, its leaders and their ensuing efforts of setting up a new government. I did feel hampered by my lack of historical knowledge of the time period, though; perhaps the book would be helped by a brief overview of the historical setting, from real life. I felt Merry might have had a political message, but I wasn’t educated enough about the time he wrote about to recognize it.

Some of the points I make here certainly reflect on the self-publishing platform, BookSurge, rather than on the author.

I like how much space the interior pages have, and how large the text is, but actually the text might be a bit too big. Six hundred-plus pages is enough to be daunting to some readers. Making the font slightly smaller, along with a couple other changes (see below), would not only make the book less daunting, it would also decrease production cost of the physical product.

By the third chapter I wondered if this — with all its brief chapters and snippets from different periods of time — would be a better short story collection, with the same characters recurring. It seems there are just too many interruptions, especially early on. (This solution didn’t plausible later.) I also felt disoriented, because of the numerous flashbacks to various points in time, never knowing what year it was. Perhaps BookSurge didn’t allow Merry to add these notations?

I did get into the story once I was about 100 pages into The Reluctant Colonel. The story, as it directly relates to the coup and its aftermath, is quite nice.

I dislike the crass language and views of women in the book. It’s degrading, and not in the least funny. As I try to see this from the writer’s perspective, I think these interludes were probably intended as comedic breaks from the intense action? I would much prefer, though, that the action continue straight through, without these awful chapters.

It really needs to be edited. Words can be removed, which shortens the work. Rewording in places could eliminate the stilted feeling on some pages. This is so important. There are also problems with capitalization (mostly words being capitalized when they shouldn’t be), punctuation, and with how Spanish words are thrown in and handled.

These problems really kept me from enjoying the book as much as I could have. Perhaps some of these issues were addressed before the final copy was produced. However, I’m somewhat doubtful that they were, since I ignored for this review the corrections that were found and submitted to BookSurge (presumably by the author?), according to a printed sheet tucked inside the pages. Regardless, I hope they were fixed.

Thanks again for these great reviews, and if you’d ever like to guest review a book on my blog, please let me know. I don’t get to read as much “fun” stuff once the school year begins, so I’d love to get more reviews up here. Just drop me a note at andilit at gmail.com.