Information, Answers & Reviews

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

UnbrokenUnbroken tells the amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, a rascally little boy who grows up in Southern California to Italian immigrant parents. As a child, Louie is constantly in trouble and has a restless energy. His saving grace is being introduced to long distance running by his older brother. Louie ends up running in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and is focused on the 4 minute mile and another chance at the 1940 Olympics.

Back home, he enrolls in USC and continues running when the War interrupts. Louie joins as a gunner in the Army Air Forces. He is eventually sent to the Pacific theater and after a few successful missions, his plane crashes in the Pacific during a search mission. Three members of the aircraft team make it to two small liferafts and his unbelieveable story continues. Louie's 40+ day survival on a life raft seems impossible. Then he is shot at and captured by the Japanese and unofficially is held in horrible war camps. Here too, his survival is seemingly impossible.

Louise does survive, his spirit is damaged, but also hopeful. Louie's story will stay with you. I kept thinking of him and his story well after I finished the book. Read more »

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?

ISBN: 
9781455522606

Rhoda Janzen has a gift for describing an ordinary life in ways that make it seem extraordinary. Humor is key as in this chapter opener, "How do you tell your PhD friends, far-flung across the world at their various academic postings, that you are attending church on purpose?" And it's not just any church that this feisty ex-Mennonite has joined, but a Pentecostal one.

In Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? Janzen has interwoven two other threads: how she met and married a man very different from herself, and how she dealt with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Read more »

Sound of Noise

ISBN: 
876964004671
Sound of Noise is an odd, quirky Swedish comedy about 'musical terrorists' (with ideas taken from this Futurist manifesto). I remember missing it at the Ryder film series awhile back, so it caught my eye when I found it on a cart here. The film revolves around a collective of misfit musicians who decide to stage forced public performances for each of the four movements of their 'genius work' entitled "Music for Six Drummers and One City". The plot involves a tone-deaf policeman (from a family of musicians) trying to catch them. This involves a lot of hard-to-believe situations with a lot of amusingly not-quite-laugh-out-loud moments, but the interesting part comes from the choreographed performance pieces. These are all made with found objects as instruments (an oxygen tank, a paper shredder, a bulldozer, etc.). The musician characters have the same names as the actors playing them, presumably because they really performed the music. If you enjoy the clip below, you might like the movie. The DVD extras include several other short performances made outside of the film.

Buddha in the Attic and Narrative Mode

BuddhaAttic"On the boat we were mostly virgins" begins Julie Otsuka's gem of a book, The Buddha in the Attic.  One of the noticeable things from that first sentence is the unique narrative mode.  The whole book is written in the first person plural style.  This type of narration can be awkward -- most fiction is written in either first person or third person.  Convention can be comforting, we know immediately how to read the story and relate to those characters.  In first person plural, the story is told from the group's perspective, and with no main character, the rules are different.

Otsuka said in an interview that she wanted to tell the story of Japanese picture brides -- not just one bride, but that as a group.  And in this case, the narrative mode makes perfect sense.  Between 1908 and the 1920s, thousands of young Japanese women came over to the United States after an arranged marriage agreement.  Instead of focusing on one story, this book introduces the reader to many stories, some devastatingly sad, some happier, but all of them are sympathetic.  And by not focusing on just one story, we read the book with a fuller picture and are moved by their collective experiences and struggles.  The stories begin on the boat, and follow them through marriage, manual labor, child raising and the heart wrenching internment following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.  I can imagine that this book might appeal to a wide range of fiction readers -- fans of historical fiction, women's fiction, immigrant stories, Asian-American experiences, World War II home front, and readers of fiction set in California and the West. Read more »

Crossroads

ISBN: 
9781404954687

There is a legend about blues guitarist Robert Johnson- that he sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play blues guitar like no other. Is it true? Perhaps, perhaps not; it's a legend that surrounds other bluesmen and many a struggling musician has gone in search of "the crossroads" to see if they can also have the skills and influence of Robert Johnson. Crossroads is not about that search, Read more »

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

ArtofFieldingHenry Skrimshander is a slight shortstop with a love and strong appreciation for baseball.  Henry isn't a great player, and not very strong at bat but he does have potential.  When his sister writes the message "Call Mike Shorts!" by the phone, Henry's life changes forever.

Mike Schwartz is the captain of the baseball team at Westish College in Wisconsin.  Mike is addicted to painkillers (also the captain of the football team, he has bad knees), hardworking and spends a lot of his time helping his teammates become the best players they can be.  He is hard on them, pushing them through more squats, more lifts, and more runs than seemingly possible. 

Just as Henry is about to break the NCAA record for most error free games, an errant ball slips out of his hands and flies into the face of his roommate Owen Dunne who is sitting in the dugout reading a book.  This seemingly innocuous error sets into motion a series of events that become life changing not only for Henry, Mike, and Owen but also the President of Westish, Guert Affenlight, and his daughter Pella who has just returned to Wisconsin after some personal problems of her own.    Read more »

The Best American Science Writing, 2012

ISBN: 
9780062117915

Science has always appealed to me, but it's hard to carve out enough time to keep abreast of all the new science books; that's one reason I really enjoy the Best American Science Writing series. It's always fun to discover trends and reconnect with intriguing topics in the field. One good aspect of contemporary science writing is that the authors really write well and can summarize complex subjects in easily understandable language. So what's on science writing's 2012 burner? Medicine, for one. The first four essays explore medical themes, among them: new heart vessels for babies born with weak hearts, and immune systems trained to kill cancer cells.  As Denise Grady's article about the latter reveals, after an experimental treatment one man suffering from leukemia lost over two pounds of cancer cells. And a year later is cancer was in total remission.

My favorite essay in this collection is Evan Ratliff's "Taming the Wild." It's about a Russian research team that has been breeding foxes for over fifty years. Their foxes are now so tame that not only are they adopted for pets, but they share many puppylike traits such spotted coats, wagging tails, floppy ears and curly tails. A contrasting group of foxes has been bred for aggression and, believe me, you'd want to stay clear of their cages. Read more »

The Orphan Master's Son

ISBN: 
0812992792

Every so often a novel comes along that takes your breath away. The Orphan Master's Son remained unopened on my nightstand for a couple of weeks. But as soon as I dove into this literary thriller that also includes a love story I was hooked. It's set in North Korea, and amazingly, it's written by an American.

Pak Jun Do grew up in an orphanage, yet he was no true orphan (as he repeats many times in these pages) since his father raised him, or more accurately, Jun raised himself near his father. Years earlier, his mother, a singer, had been whisked off to Pyongyang, the capital, where all the beautiful women of the provinces were sent, so he never got to know her. Jun Do's job was renaming each orphan upon his arrival--he named each boy after the 114 North Korean martyrs. Jun Do also assigned jobs, taking the worst for himself. But since even children in North Korea work Read more »

There's Monsters and Then There's Monsters

ImageHorror fiction: There're a lot of arguments about what it is and isn't -- it's bloody; it doesn't have to be bloody. It's supernatural, like werewolves and ghosts; it can have just people -- they're scary enough. It's got sparkly vampires who can inexplicably run around all day; vampires don't fall in love, they fall with their fangs into your neck. Whatever version of horror you subscribe to, with Halloween coming up quickly, it's what's for dinner. Read more »

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