Saturday, May 26, 2012


by Laura Hillenbrand

About 10 years ago my SIL recommended Seabiscuit. Even though I couldn't imagine liking a book about a race horse, I not only enjoyed it, I recommended it to others! Now I am recommending another book by the same author, Unbroken, a WWII survival story. The main thing that differentiates this World War II story from so many others is that it recounts the lesser told Pacific encounter.

Once again, Hillenbrand tells the story of a "racehorse", Louis Zamperini, who ran in the Berlin Olympics and even shook hands with the Fuhrer! Louie was on track to be the first person to break the 4-minute mile when he was drafted by the Air Force as a bombardier and assigned to the Green Hornet, a B24. When Louie's plane went down somewhere over the Pacific, he and two of his crewmates spent over 47 days adrift before being captured by the Japanese. Louie then spent the next 2 1/2 years surviving horrific circumstances and torture until his release at the war's end. While the focus of the book is clearly Zamperini, Hillenbrand also gives honor to other war heroes who suffered alongside him. The book details Zamperini's life from childhood through post-war life, and at times I found it a bit long-winded. The author tends toward the dramatic- Hollywood style, but tells a riveting and heart-wrenching tale.

Since I listened to this book on my ipod over several weeks, my review may be a little different than a reader's. I'd recommend this book if you like war stories, history, biography or stories of overcoming. Well done and sure to be coming to a theater near you. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

I believe A Tale of Two Cities was required reading when I was in 8th grade because I remember Mr. Gershwin trying so hard to convince our class that this was a great literary work. I really wanted to believe him, because I thought he was such a fun teacher, but at the time I just didn't like it. I only grasped that it was a story about London and Paris and the French Revolution. A few weeks ago, one of my reading buddies was recounting a debate she and another friend were having about which was the better Dickens work, A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations. I was immediately taken aback because of my negative pre-teen recollections. But because I have such respect for these two women, I decided I needed to give Dickens another shot.

Without a doubt, the introduction is one of the most recognized in literature: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." And that intro is both a foreshadow and a summary of the rest of the book.

Even so, I read with trepidation. I found the first half of the book moving rather slowly and a bit hard to follow. The chapters jumped from character to character and city to city and it was hard for me to determine a path. I felt a bit bogged down, but determined. And now I say with confidence, "Stick with it my friends!" The second half of the book takes hold of you and pulls you to the finish, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

You were right Mr. Gershwin, this is a great literary work! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Defending Jacob

by William Landay

It's been a while since I have ventured into the courtroom thriller of fiction, but years ago I read them pretty regularly. While reading Defending Jacob, I kept remembering Scott Turow's best-seller Presumed Innocent, probably because of the first-person narrative of the trial, the flashbacks relating the details and the extreme lengths undertaken trying to elicit a not guilty verdict from a jury.

Defending Jacob addresses some controversial ideas: bullying, the murder gene, the electronic age distancing of families and family responsibility to society. In this story, the 14-year old son of the town's lead district attorney is accused of murdering one of his classmates, turning the prosecutor into the defender. The father, Andy Barber will now go to any measure to prove his son innocent, even concealing inculpatory evidence. The author does a pretty good job detailing how this trial affects the family in all phases of the ordeal. He also presents some thought provoking concepts related to the idea that some people are born to kill or have an irresistible and uncontrollable propensity toward violence.

The story does tend to drag in some parts and is often repetitive. I had a hard time believing the son was only 14. I didn't think the language of the teens was well representative of that age group and I couldn't buy that the father was so clueless, given circumstances and his profession. Without giving anything away, I was not surprised by the ending... in case that is what the author was looking for.

Even so, it was a page turner and if you like courtroom suspense you'd probably enjoy this book.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margret Atwood

This is the second dystopian novel I have read in the past few months and it is not for me! In The Handmaid's Tale, the future world reflects a similar scenario to that of Iran after their revolution, where a westernized society is overtaken by religious extremists, forcing women into burkas and taking away their freedoms as a pretense of protection. This book has some interesting ideas, but I found it pretty slow and rather uneventful. At times I was reminded of The Stepford Wives (1975 movie- never read the book and didn't see the remake) just the robotic type women and their routine-ness.

Yes, I got it; we need to be on guard not to let our world slip into the hands of wacko's.  But so many freedoms are taken away "for our protection" and people don't see it until it's too late (Patriot Act). It's easy to warn or scoff from a  distance or after-the-fact, but as the New Orleans Saints have shown, people rarely stand for right if they are in the minority or if the leader makes the actions sound right.

If you like the 1984 type stuff this may be for you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Dovekeepers

by Alice Hoffman

It isn't hard to get sucked into the fast paced action at the beginning of The Dovekeepers. The story begins with the second Roman invasion of Jerusalem in 70 AD, focusing on one family's struggle to escape the massacre, their journey through the desert to a refuge at Masada and the ensuing siege of that stronghold. Prior to this novel, I'd not read much about this incident, but this book inspired me to do some research on Masada and the zealots who defended that fortress to their death. In regard to historical accuracy,  Ms. Hoffman did her research and tried to stick to the facts of the actual events as recounted by Josephus. I found these sections of the novel very intriguing and wish the story had centered on them rather than making them merely a backdrop. I guess Ms. Hoffman didn't feel the history in and of itself contained enough interest so she tried to jazz it up with characters whose stories were overly fantastical.

Hoffman has an engaging writing style that keeps the plot moving and keeps the reader interested. She has a great imagination and is very detailed and descriptive. Although this is not a quick read, I think it is worth the time.

My biggest problem with the book was that the lifestyles of the leading female characters didn't seem representative of women you'd expect to find in Masada, they seemed more indicative of heretics in the early Inquisition period. They spent their time making potions, offering sacrifices to Ashtoreth, constructing charms and amulets for protection and chanting to scare away demons. This does not seem like the behavior of women who were part of a religious sect whose vow to bow down to no one but God led them to mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. Regardless, if you like historical fiction, I'd recommend it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

NIght Stalks the Mansion

by Harold Cameron and Constance Westbie

Night Stalks the Mansion tells the paranormal encounters one family faced while living in an 1837's Pennsylvania mansion. The Cameron family rented this home during the 1960's where they shared the residence with at least two ghosts. Harold Cameron recounts the many strange incidents that led the family to make a pact with the spirits. Every family member, numerous guests and most of the hired help heard both heavy and light footsteps throughout the house and on the mansion grounds, smelled terrible odors directed in specific locations and experienced objects that were moved or went missing. These happenings turned Harold and his two older sons into amateur sleuths on a mission to discover the reasons these beings were tied to earth.

The book was published about the same time as Amityville Horror, which has a similar story of ghostly events, however unlike the Lutz family who lived in the Amityville home, the Cameron's never felt directly threatened by the spirits on Plum Lane. The "agreement" struck between the Cameron's and the ghosts allowed the family a manageable, although uneasy provision to live out their two-year lease.

I won't comment on whether or not this really happened; the family believes it to be true. I know many people who have had other-worldly encounters and have personally experienced a few situations that have caused me to wonder about the spirit realm myself. I think if you are looking for that, you can probably find it. The book won't win any literary awards, but if you like an interesting ghost story, this is a quick read. I downloaded this ebook free from Pixel of Ink.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise

by Julia Stuart

I have happened upon another novel laced with British tongue-and-cheek humor, quirky characters and almost (but not quite) unbelievable dilemmas. In many ways I was reminded of The Sisters Brothers in the eccentric characters and their crazy and funny situations. Some of the more laughable in this book are: a bird with the "trots", a Beefeater choking on the monopoly boot, a preacher who writes erotic novels under a female alias, the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh and a lost bearded pig, oh and don't forget the 200-year-old pet tortoise. The story develops out of two main backdrops: the Tower of London, which is home to most of these characters and the London Underground Lost Properties Office, the workplace of Hebe Jones, wife of Balthazar, Yeoman Warder in charge of the Royal Menagerie. The author weaves many unusual historical facts and folklore into the story without distracting from the plot.

However The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise is not all amusement. There is a surprising aspect of sadness and loneliness throughout that catch you off guard inside the silliness. Each character is struggling to make a connection, to feel wanted and needed or to figure out how to cope with rejection.

I think this book would go perfect with a spot of tea and a biscuit. Enjoy.