Hurtling Toward Hermosa

Tomorrow I begin my journey from the Philippines, my adopted country since 2012, back to my original hometown of Hermosa Beach, California.  I will be staying with my younger brother and nephew in the same house I grew up in, less than a mile from the beach.  Hermosa Beach, a long-time surfing hub and at one time a family-oriented town, is now home to big time volleyball tournaments, fiestas, and trendy eateries and clubs.

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    Hermosa Beach      —————     Walkway up from the Hermosa Beach Pier

After seeing family and a few friends, during the July 4 weekend I will take a side trip with another friend to the remote plains of Eastern Arizona, and stay in a small trailer with no amenities (water, electricity, or bathroom!).  I am looking forward to solitude, and catching up on reading on my Kindle.)

The next weekend I will take another side trip in which I pick up one friend in San Jose and we journey to a buddy’s house to the small town of Isleton in the Sacramento Delta area.  (I see these same two guys every November for a week in Puerto Vallarta at a luxurious time share.)  I have a feeling not many people know about the Sacramento Delta.

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‘Al the Wops’ —–  Locke, California

It has many waterways, bridges, marinas, and restaurants set on marinas.  It also contains the town of Locke, a historic Chinese-American rural community, now designated a National Historic Landmark District.  The Ryde Hotel, with its own interesting history and style, is located in this area.  Supposedly once owned by Lon Chaney, it was frequented by the movie elite and politicians, (Herbert Hoover stayed there in 1928), underwent some scandal, and even turned into a ‘swingers palace’ in the 1970’s.

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Ryde Hotel           ————————          Walnut Grove, California
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    KXTV / KOVR Television Mast

Another feature in the area, for those into very tall structures, is the KXTV/KOVR television mast, 2049 feet tall which makes it 57 feet taller than the Freedom Tower in New York City!

All of this paves the way for the major side venture of the greater trip—heading to Europe starting July 15!  The Europe trip will include:

  • Meeting a couple and staying 4 days in Berlin.
  • Going with that couple and seeing their son’s wedding in Helsinki, Finland.
  • Visiting a different couple in Milan, Italy.
  • Finally, visiting my brother’s first wife in Greece.

Only Greece have I been to before.  I promise a post each from each Europe locale.

Thanks for reading!

Being There: A Remembrance of Seeing the Doors Live

 Alas, my first guest post. Since it was William Ohanesian who first suggested I start this blog, I asked him to contribute some pieces to it. His first essay is a remembrance of two very different concerts by the Doors that he attended in 1968 and 1970 in Los Angeles.

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by William Ohanesian, Copyright 2016

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It’s an odd time-out-of-mind sensation that keeps recurring.

At local hangouts, conversation with young people occasionally drifts to music. At my age (60+), there’s the inevitable, hopeful curiosity: “What was it like in the 60’s? What bands did you see?”

Their default frame of reference about the period is the standard YouTube stock footage blur of half-naked hippies, blithely Woodstocking, Altamonting or Isle of Wighting their lives away in a marijuana haze.

Formulating an answer can make you feel like a veteran of foreign wars that you may have never served in. Still, given all the misconceptions, you genuinely want to shed some light for those who want to hear from someone who was around then.

“Were you at Woodstock? Did you live in a commune and do drugs? Was that what everybody did in the 60s?”
“Well, not exactly. Actually…”

“–Did you ever see the Doors?”

Of course you know it’s coming. Even back in the proverbial day, no musical outfit personified the drama, passion, sensuality, proclamations and provocations of the late 1960s like these guys in their prime. Or more accurately, by that one guy at the mic: the Navy admiral’s son as American cultural outlaw. It’s as if Richard Nixon begat a son that grew into Abbie Hoffman. Or if John Wayne’s trusted young frontier deputy drilled the Duke between the eyes, stole his hoss and hit the dusty trail as Billy the Kid.

Young people have downloaded the songs, the photos, the old scratchy videos, the corny Hollywood movie, but still… this possessed, leather-swathed pre-digital ghost from the past eludes and entices them. “Did you ever meet Jim? What was he really like?”

I’m dying to tell them how I whupped his ass on the golf course, except for the fact that they might believe me.

“Well, we didn’t exactly hang out together.” The hopeful faces drop. But their eyes bulge when I reassure them that, “But yes, I did see the Doors perform.”

“Was he drunk on stage? Was he crazy? Did he swear at everybody and pull his pants off?”

I know what they want to hear. And here’s where the expectations go south again. “Sorry, but no. No. And no.”

“But I heard… I read…”

“I know. I didn’t see the bad nights, but what I did see was pretty interesting.”

I tell them that during the singer’s tenure, I saw the band twice. The first time was late 1968 at the height of their most notorious badassery. The second time would be during their last tour of duty, in 1970.

Most everyone who asks, knows the front-end story. In ‘68, the Doors were pedal-to-the-metal musical madmen barreling toward the infamous crash-and-burn implosion of Miami. What most listeners can’t connect, is how fourteen short months later, they were practically written off as who-cares has-beens.

In retrospect, thinking about the two public performances at either end of the spectrum offers a fascinating study in contrasts and expectations.

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1968 LA Forum concert poster

As a teenager, I was no different than today’s young people. I was enticed by the lurid magazine profiles. Savored the bold insolent photos.  Overdosed on the music daily. In two years, they had exploded from the LA underground into the big-time pop stratosphere. I was in my 15th innocent year on the planet as we drove to Inglewood’s 1968 LA Forum concert, where they would preview songs from their new album, “The Soft Parade”.

Driving to the show, I relished my expectations of the screaming wildman on stage, the swirling electric organ, slipsliding guitar and hard driving percussion. What I got was a lesson in Doorsville reality.

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The Doors’ calling card fused mystery, unpredictability, and confrontation. Therefore, it’s no wonder something seemed indefinably out-of-whack that night. The opening acts floundered through. An elderly Japanese solo instrumentalist was oblivious, a country pop band came and went through a few songs, the pissed-off early rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis was booed off the stage.

Then with a blare, on came the hometown heroes to barrel into their new songs. Heroes? Barely a couple of songs in, people began heckling the band to ditch the new stuff in favor of their big radio hits.

I didn’t get it. You come to a concert and rudely demand what you want to hear? Isn’t that what you do at home around the record player?

This clearly wasn’t going down well with the guys on stage. They played their set with conviction, but somehow weren’t delivering the spectacle that people expected from this group. What was missing? What else was supposed to happen? It was a rock concert, not a magic show. Or was it? After all, hadn’t we been sold that he / they were the baddest of the bad, the smartest, the sexiest, shamanistic drunken demonboy sorcerers of the 60s?

Just play songs? No way!! DO something! Get it on! Burn down the night!

The antsy Forum cauldron was bubbling toward the boiling point. Who was calling the shots here – the paying audience or the pop heroes?

Suddenly out of nowhere, the big guy stops the music cold and starts talking.
“Cut that shit out”
Some gasps, some cheers, then silence.
”What did you come here for, anyway?”
Nobody seemed to know.
“We can play music all night, but that’s not what you want, is it?”

Personally, I wanted “Moonlight Drive” and was quickly coming to realize that probably wouldn’t happen.

Some meek catcalls were followed by more taunts and unanswerable questions. What did we want? Showtime? Reassurance? Power? Deliverance?

Then, “Well, fuck you. We came to play music.”

There was a nervous applause of relief. As if, Ok, he had his little hissy fit, now on with the show!

But what followed wasn’t exactly another three-minute crowd pleaser. Instead, the band launched into an unheard 20 min. poetic, discordant, multi-movement, avant-garde magnum opus that went through, if not over the heads of most of the audience. The musicians gave it their all. When it was over, the lights came on, applause was minimal, the band left the stage and we quietly filed out into the Los Angeles night.

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In performance, 1968 LA Forum

So, “What was it like?” Think of it this way: can you imagine that today from any major arena-level pop group? Impossible! But in 1968, the singer wasn’t just there to dish out musical fast food and score a big payday. He strove to liberate us from our preconceptions, dared us to look inward and ask ourselves, not just what, but why?

In 1969, it all went south for the band, figuratively and literally – as in Miami south. Hammered by legal indictments, alcohol abuse and assorted personal dramas, the band’s 1970 concert trail was a far different landscape than the ‘68 one. Expectations were low. The band was no longer a cultural phenomenon, but simply, four musicians trying to resurrect a career threatened both from outside and within. Not known at the time was that both the drummer and singer were ready to jump ship at the drop of a hat.

Considering their prior devotional- fan reverence, the fall from grace was the equivalent of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from a rocknroll Garden of Eden.

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1970 Long Beach Arena Concert

Warming up the Long Beach Arena stage in Feb. of 1970 were the newly formed Gram Parsons’ Burrito Brothers and blues guitarist Albert King. The Burritos turned in a lively, winning set, but it was Albert who laid down the law. He set the stage on fire like I’d never seen a barely-known supporting act do. Called back for a rousing encore, he threatened to overwhelm the headliners.

Given the fact that Morrison and the band had been written off by the hipoisie for being dated, out of control, rich sellouts, self-indulgent alcoholics, etcetc., there was more than a little dread at what would happen onstage. Were they just a nostalgia act, only going through the motions for the money? Yesterday’s psychedelic news nobody wanted to read anymore? Did anybody besides stuck-in-the-past groupies and late-to-the-party teenyboppers even care what the Doors did anymore?

They took the stage, yet again riskily opening with new songs few people had barely heard yet. Uh oh. Except this time, the outpouring from the faithful was overwhelming.

They played their full set to rapturous response, with Morrison visibly grateful for the reception. He told jokes, improvised lyrics and even nailed the (still?) hecklers with some choice verbal uppercuts that got everyone on his side. No longer presenting himself as Mr. Bad-ass, he was relaxed, funny, even a little hoarse.

The standard encore ended with a defining memory: they finished with “Soul Kitchen”, and it was that song’s closing verse that drove the audience through the roof:

“The clock says it’s time to close now…” triggered a spontaneous arena-wide chorus of “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”s
“…But I really want to stay here / all night” ignited the loudest foot-pounding “YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHH”s I’d ever heard for a rock band.

And with a wave, they were gone.

“MOOOORE!!!!” Sorry folks. Show’s over. House lights on. Roadies started unplugging cables. People kept yelling for more. An announcement was made that the musicians were homeward bound. The arena slowly emptied, leaving a few stragglers (yes, including yours truly) still yelling in what-the-hell futility. Ten minutes passed… fifteen…

Then.

Morrison himself trots back on to the fully lit stage, past the surprised stagehands, grabs the mic and off-handedly asks “Hey – does anybody have to go home early tonight?”

What the hell?

The stragglers were not shy. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Well, let’s have some fun, then!”

People ran back in. Chaos! Roadies scrambled to get amps plugged back in, etc., etc.  The band proceeded to play for another hour, taking requests, joking, jamming, doing cover songs, even aborting the hypnotic “Crystal Ship” half-way through (JM: “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s an out-of-tune ‘Crystal Ship’”). Generally just kicking back and cutting loose. They had us as much as we had them.

In retrospect, it was a night of genuine connection between audience and performer, a mutual gratitude almost never seen since on a rock concert stage. Their special gesture for the faithful who stuck it out created an intimacy that made the cavernous Long Beach Sports Arena feel like your living room.

In a final pronouncement that was more prescient than anyone could have possibly foreseen, Morrison announced that, “Unfortunately, all good things must eventually come to an end”, his introduction to the last song he would ever sing in front of the hometown audience.

“It hurts to set you free… “

So while I was “there”, I’m not even sure if “What was it like?” is even answerable without knowing what “it” was. Reflecting on these two experiences decades later, “it” may ultimately be the unknowable journey from the idealism of our hearts to the sentience of our minds.

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Morrison, Long Beach Arena, 1970

 

 

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William Ohanesian is a Los Angeles-based video documentarian, Writer and Videographer, He is currently editing a documentary on Turnbull Canyon, a place of notorious local legend.
He may be reached at WOProvideo@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

THE Concert

Long ago, in late October of 1967, a group of us needed a break from Southern California and college, so we decided to take a road trip.  We talked our friend DJ, a quirky but good- natured high school drop-out and the drug connection back in the day, into driving.  We set out for the mecca of the counterculture, San Francisco.

We arrived at a house in Oakland, where three of our group had stayed the previous summer.  This house was led by the patriarch, a hippie engineer and Allen Ginsberg look-alike.  He and his wife raised their seven children in the counterculture lifestyle.  After staying one night, we were puttering around the next afternoon when somebody saw an ad for a concert in San Francisco.  With nothing better to do and not wanting to impose too much on our hosts, we opted for it.

Driving across the Bay Bridge and with no particular expectations, we arrived at the Winterland Ballroom, a skating and concert venue.  Interestingly, three years prior in 1964, my Aunt Millie had taken my brother and me there to see the Ice Capades.  (This was also the site of The Band’s last concert, chronicled in the 1976 movie “The Last Waltz”.)

This night, however, would be no Ice Capades, far from it.  For tonight, we would see three of the premier psychedelic bands of the time:  the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin), and the Quicksilver Messenger Service.  1967, as many know, was the year of “The Summer of Love”, when Haight-Ashbury was a focal point for hippies nationwide.  You probably remember the song “When You’re Going to San Francisco” ….’be sure to wear a flower in your hair’ by Scott McKenzie.

DJ let the rest of us off and I remember vague plans to hook up after the show.  We were just about to step into a Bill Graham production, a phenomenon that involved all the senses.  Interestingly, a policeman standing next to the box office sold us our tickets for $2 each.  We entered the venue and it felt as if we had passed into some sort of magic land.  Hippies of all shapes and sizes, guys with either long hair to their waists or frizzed out like Noel Redding in Jimi Hendrix and the Experience’s first album—and everything around and in-between.  Women with colorful, sometimes Victorian clothing, and both genders with headbands, hats, beads, you name it.

The experience was not just visual, it was also olfactory.  A mixture of an incense and marijuana scent permeated the atmosphere.  The combined effect seemed to somehow heighten one’s senses.  You may not have felt stoned right away (at least not yet), but you did feel altered.

To the music!  We came in during the middle of the Grateful Dead’s set.  In fact, they were playing “Beat in on Down the Line”, side 1, cut 2 of their first album.  They were spearheaded by co-founder, lead guitarist, songwriter, and iconic figure Jerry Garcia, affectionately known as “Captain Trips”.  Although missing part of a finger due to a childhood accident, he was ranked 13th in a Rolling Stone magazine “100 Greatest Guitarists” poll.  Dark and swarthy, this was the Jerry Garcia before a gray hair, facial hair, wire-framed glasses, and a paunchy stomach changed his physical appearance in later years.

Two of the band mates backing Garcia up were rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.  The Weir of 1967, with his cherubic, almost beautiful face, and long silky hair and sleek style, was counterpoint to Garcia and Pigpen.  Pigpen, who died in 1973 from years of alcohol abuse, was a short, rough Hells Angel-looking character, who wore a variety of hats.  He played keyboards and harmonica, and could really belt out the blues.

As we listened to the Dead complete their set, we were surrounded by a Bill Graham light show.  Unlike standard stage lighting, which was generally static and non-interactive, it utilized liquid dyes, overhead projectors, color wheels, slide projection and 16mm film to produce not just a light show, but a live multi-sensory musical experience. I got to hear my favorite song by them, “Cold Rain and Snow”, also from their first album. They were great, and their set came to an end.

Then came a break, and we continued to take it all in.  The lights dimmed and the next group came on stage, Big Brother and the Holding Company, who I knew little about.  There was a woman fronting them—who would turn out to be Janis Joplin.  And when they started, we were blown away!  Raging guitars, a pounding beat, and then Janis!  I worked my way to the front for this act.  Although not attractive in a conventional sense, with her raw, powerful, uninhibited singing style and stage presence, she was sexy as hell!

 

But it wasn’t just Janis Joplin that made them memorable.  I always thought the rest of the band got short-changed in the media.  They were great, commanding, driving guitarists.  Two of them, James Gurley and Sam Andrews, seemed to trade off leads and rhythm riffs seamlessly.  I remember hearing “Light is Faster than Sound” and “Down on Me” from their first album, and “Piece of my Heart” from their second and more well-known album Cheap Thrills.  Hearing and watching them was like witnessing a runaway freight train!  My brother and I agree that although we have seen bands that were better, Big Brother had the single most electrifying live act, and that includes the Rolling Stones and the Doors.

Finally, their set ended, and then came the Quicksilver Messenger Service.  Not as flashy as Big Brother and the Holding Company, they were nonetheless an excellent psychedelic rock band.  They were anchored by a distinguished, smooth-sounding lead guitarist, John Cipollina.  Their most well-known song, “Pride of Man”, would appear the following year.

Big Brother and Quicksilver did repeat sets—the Dead didn’t return that night.  And when we exited the concert hall, DJ was nowhere to be seen!  So, breaking up into groups, we had to hitchhike home—which thinking about it, was poetic justice.  It turns out the hitchhiking back had its own escapades but I’ll save that for another post.  I probably missed one or two days of college, but it was so worth it.  To this day, almost 49 years later, the group who went still refer to it reverentially as THE Concert!

Taking a Stand for Mental Health

For those of you who lived through the 1970s, 1960’s, 1950s, and before, you probably remember that if you suffered from mental health issues in those times, you were regarded as having something fundamentally wrong with you, or worse, you were thought of as just plain “crazy”.

 

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“The Scream” by Edvard Munch

Fortunately, progress was attained in awareness, treatment, and legislation regarding mental illness through the decades.  However, we still as a society have a long way to go.  The stigma for those struggling with mental health issues remains and that stigma can create real limitations (social, employment) for these persons.

 

National Alliance on Mental Illness Statistics

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the country’s biggest grassroots organization whose purpose is to create better lives for those suffering from mental illness.   They have cited these statistics:

  • 5 % of adults or 43.8 million experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • 4 % of youth ages 13–18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children ages 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • Of the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5% or 10.2 million adults, had a co-occurring mental illness.

S 2680 and HR 2646

NAMI has been working with different groups nationwide to push Congress to pass two bills: 1) the “Mental Health Reform Act of 2016” (S.2680) and  2) the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015” (HR 2646).

S 2680 and HR 2646 will:

  • Improve program coordination among federal agencies that assist those persons with mental illness.
  • Improve integration within the Medicaid system for physical and mental healthcare.
  • Emphasize early involvement in the treatment of psychosis.
  • Strengthen enforcement of the Mental Health Parity Act. 

Additional Ramifications

In an article from Mental Health America entitled “The Top 10 Facts about the Mental Health Reform Legislation in the 114th Congress”, it states “The mental health system is deeply broken and underfunded.  While these bills lay a foundation for reform, they are still only a beginning.”  Other important aspects and ramifications of these bills include:

  • Because the correlation between gun violence and mental health is moderate, mental health care by itself is not a “solution” to gun violence.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will take on a larger role in helping the government assist those with mental health conditions.
  • HR 2646 designates the government to come up with a proposal to limit the incarceration of nonviolent offenders with mental illness to ten years.
  • Although there will be more sharing of substance use information in more integrated health care systems, this will not allow police or employers to view it and use it against you.

MHR Petition

Citing the facts that 1) half of Americans living with mental illness received no health care in the past year and  2) the current suicide rate is the highest it has been in 30 years, Mental Health Reform is circulating a petition urging people to tell their Senators to pass S. 2680.

Suicide and the AFSP

Founded in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), alarmed by the considerable rise in youth suicide since the 1970’s, has battled this challenge by:

  • Connecting masses of people who have lost a loved one to suicide.
  • Receiving the participation of those in the clinical and scientific communities who conduct research on suicide prevention.
  • Creating a lobbying and public policy arm to press for legislation at all levels of government to further the goal of suicide prevention.
  • Organize Out of Darkness Walks, now in 360 cities across the country, to help raise funds for AFSP’s mission.

 

In an editorial for The Huffington Post, Michelle Obama stated, “Sadly, too often, the stigma around mental health prevents people who need help from seeking it.”  Whether we like it or not, a mental health crisis is upon us.  Along with the other statistics, the alarming suicide rate and more recently the incidences of mass shootings have pushed the mental health debate into the forefront.  The awareness of the problem brings with it a responsibility to meet its challenges.  We cannot afford not to act.

A Winter War Romance

I am a member of the Goodreads reading/writing site.  We will often write reviews of each other’s Indie books, of which there are many excellent ones.   I really enjoyed one in particular entitled Lost Ground by Ulla Jordan.  My review of it follows.

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I just completed a wonderful novel by Ulla Jordan entitled Lost Ground, a work of historical fiction.  This book really worked for me on different levels.  I have always been a huge fan of this genre having read extensively James Michener, James Clavell,  and Gore Vidal among others.  It is a drama/tragedy/love story/celebration of life with all its complexities set in Finland during the often overlooked 1939/1940 Russo/Finnish War.

Right off the bat the subject intrigued me because although I have a pretty fair knowledge of World War II, I really knew nothing about this particular war which is connected to the larger war.  In that sense, it was a great education for me.

However it was the poignancy of the love story, really a love triangle that is interwoven with the calamitous and often horrendous events on the ground that drove this gripping drama.  The story begins at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, scene of Jesse Owen’s triumphs and Adolf Hitler’s chagrin.  Thomas Henderson, an American reporter is in town to cover the event and by chance runs into the Finns Dr. Eric Bjornstrom and his daughter Tina at a hotel.  She is there rooting for her fiancé Paul (although he never officially proposed) who is entered in the men’s five thousand meter event.

Tom is a tall, charismatic, hard-bitten soul who covers his disappointments in life with a cultivated air of indifference and an enjoyment of good scotch.  As he explains later in the novel “life is a game of catch-up. Trying to get back to where you were before your last mistake.”  He reminded me a bit of Humphrey Bogart’s “Rick” in Casablanca.  Tina is an understated pretty blue-eyed woman without any Hollywood pretension.  She is shocked by a man’s use of the term “ass”, a term never spoken in her social circles.  The attraction between them when he helps her pick up the contents of her spilled purse is immediate.  Paul is a reluctant, passive, emotionally shut down man who is always aware of coming from a lower social position than Tina.  Hence, he does not propose to her.  When he takes a spill in the event and is eliminated, he feels his big chance in life is over.  By coincidence, Tom was also a runner in his youth but an injury brought that phase of his life to an end.

Fast forward three years to Helsinki.  Tom and his friend British journalist Philip Taylor are in town to cover the gathering storm in Finland as Stalin’s Russia threatens.  Taylor calls his old friend Bjornstrom and he and Tom are invited over for dinner.  Paul is also there and that very night, he gets his summons to report to the front.  The story unfolds from there.

We learn that the three principal characters all have some hard luck in their backgrounds—early deaths of parents, an early jail experience, an unwanted pregnancy, and in the case of Tom and Paul, premature endings to their running careers.  Tom, who feels anything other than sex with a woman brings on problems, begins to find his own heart as his relationship with Tina blossoms.  However, Paul is at the front and he still loves Tina.

I won’t reveal how it all comes out but suffice to say that this reader’s emotions were completely engaged—such anticipation, joy, and sadness.  The author’s phraseology is excellent with skillful use of metaphors, especially to describe the depth and ironies of life. The description of the war itself is very graphic and feels so real.

Finally, the story is concluded with a powerful and surprising ending.  The author could have wrapped up the story in another more predictable way but I am so glad she chose the ending she did.  I recommend this book to everyone!