**spoiler alert** This was a fantastic book! I just finished the Acknowledgements in the back and I was amazed at the amount of research Hillenbrand p...more**spoiler alert** This was a fantastic book! I just finished the Acknowledgements in the back and I was amazed at the amount of research Hillenbrand put into this book, particularly all her Japanese sources. It's almost unbelievable that the story of Louis Zamperini isn't fiction, with all the larger-than-life experiences he had. There were so many things to like about this story:
* the theme of "problem child ends up doing good" * the description of Louie's interface with Hitler at the 1936 Olympics * the subplot of Phil, the pilot * the incredible post-war story of the Bird and all the details of his mother * the fact that the torture was actually toned-down. I don't mean to belittle Zamperini's experience in this area, but if it had been described in a more gory fashion, it definitely would have been tougher to read through * the continued viewpoints of Louie's family during the entire book, from the coaching of his older brother Pete to the refusal of his mother to accept the reports of Louie's death * the fact that, despite all Louie's post-war demons, he was still able to keep his marriage together -- hooray, Louie! * crediting Billy Graham with healing Louie of the PTSD that consumed him after the war. My father also experienced combat in the Army, and to this day he has the highest of respect for Mr. Graham.
What a wonderful, uplifting book! Quite a testament to the power of God's redemption. I look forward, with a bit of hesitation, to the movie -- it's going to be really hard to make a film that is as good as this book.(less)
**spoiler alert** I enjoyed reading this as part of a small study group at church during Lent. Some of the authors' main points:
* the contrast between...more**spoiler alert** I enjoyed reading this as part of a small study group at church during Lent. Some of the authors' main points:
* the contrast between Jesus's humble entry into Jerusalem and Pilate's majestic entry. The authors posit that this was just a part of the nonviolent war on domination systems.
* how the disciples continually failed Jesus
* Good Friday is incomplete without Easter Sunday, and vice versa
* Post-crucifixion appearances by Jesus taken as parables (but just because they might not have literally happened does not make the stories untrue)
The ending was too radical for me in its discussion of the United States' current imperial role. About 20% of Americans on one end of the spectrum are very critical of American imperial policy and about 20% are strong supporters. The authors' claim that the middle 40-60 percent is crucial for the future of the United States and the church in this country. WAY too much political discussion for my taste. However, the book is perfect fodder for lively and enlightening discussion.(less)
I'd really like to rate this book 3.5 stars. It was definitely a page-turner and kept my interest piqued. But the subject matter was just so disturbin...moreI'd really like to rate this book 3.5 stars. It was definitely a page-turner and kept my interest piqued. But the subject matter was just so disturbing: date rape, kids playing sex games, cutting, Dad wavering just this side of violent insanity, trying to put a marriage back together after infidelity. The main character, dad Daniel, is a graphic artist, so the author started each chapter of the book with a few pages of Daniel's current offering. I really am not into comic books, so while I appreciated the connection between the character and the work he was producing, I found the text really hard to read in the fames that contained words, and annoyed at the horror-faces on the characters in the frames that didn't contain words.
What I did like about the book is the connection to Dante's "Inferno." I've never read that, but I enjoy learning about classic literature. I also appreciated the research the author did in the culture of the Alaskan Native Americans.
This was the second Jodi Picoult book I've read. Both books had surprise endings, which is always fun.(less)
"Beautiful Ruins" gets a strong 4.5 stars for me. It's a really fun story about a short encounter between a poor Italian innkeeper, Pasquale, and a le...more"Beautiful Ruins" gets a strong 4.5 stars for me. It's a really fun story about a short encounter between a poor Italian innkeeper, Pasquale, and a less-than-famous American actress, Dee, in 1962, and how fate intervened in their lives since then. Would they ever see each other again? The narrative jumps all over the place in time and location: 1962, World War II and shortly thereafter, and "Recently." Italy, Hollywood, Idaho. Lots of minor characters get involved to weave their part of the tapestry. I found the subplot with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton very entertaining.
I read the afterword by the author at the end of the book. He described how it really did take him 15 years to finish "Beautiful Ruins," which he had previously called "The Hotel Adequate View." (LOVE that name.) He described how Pasquale and Dee refused to let him abandon the book when he lacked inspiration, and patiently waited until he was re-energized to pick up "the Italian novel" again. I don't mean to imply that I got more out of the afterword than I did from the novel itself; it just helps illustrate how life-like and appealing his characters were.
My sister recommended this book to me, and I further recommended it to my daughter, who just finished a study abroad semester in Italy. Much of the story takes place at the southern end of Cinque Terre. I can't wait to explore there myself now!(less)
A rather improbable story of a newborn baby left on the doorstep of the richest house in town, only to be found and claimed by the ex-con groundskeepe...moreA rather improbable story of a newborn baby left on the doorstep of the richest house in town, only to be found and claimed by the ex-con groundskeeper. I was looking for an inoffensive, "comfort food" kind of book and this one fit the bill nicely. There were a couple of surprises uncovered, the first one clarifying the title. It wasn't a description of good fortune, but rather the name of the family that had lived in the house for generations. The author used many flashbacks to flesh out the points of view of not only the groundskeeper, but also the old widow who lived in the house. They helped illustrate how people can be kinder, more charitable, and indeed more loving, than they appear on the surface.
The story was all about family -- those we're born into, for better or for worse, and those we are led to by fate. I was a little disappointed in the end -- I was looking for it to end up happier, but I guess that was probably impossible, given the integrity of the main characters.
In my opinion, this book rates a solid 3.5 stars.(less)
I agree with reviews that call this a Romeo and Juliet story. It does follow the relationship of two young people from ethnic groups that don't get al...moreI agree with reviews that call this a Romeo and Juliet story. It does follow the relationship of two young people from ethnic groups that don't get along. But what made this story especially interesting to me was the plot element of a family's experience with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. I thought the author described the plight of the Okabes candidly and without political grandstanding.
There were lots of other fun elements to chew on also, such as how a boy lives in a household where his father has disowned him. The author just hinted at what must have been a significant emotional strain on Henry's mother caught in between. I loved the secondary characters of Sheldon the jazz saxophone player and Mrs. Beatty the lunch room worker at the elementary school, and boo'ed the bully character of Chaz every time he entered the story.
This wasn't a very long book, nor one that is so gripping that you can't put it down, but when you're looking for something quiet, simple and pleasant (in spite of the injustice described toward Japanese-Americans), "The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" fits the bill nicely.(less)
It was a delight to share a year with Bishop Chilstrom and his wife Corinne. This book contains a short devotion and scripture verse for each day of t...moreIt was a delight to share a year with Bishop Chilstrom and his wife Corinne. This book contains a short devotion and scripture verse for each day of the year. My parents also have a copy -- they started their mornings with the daily message from the Chilstroms. I ended each of my days in 2013 with the same. In their messages, one or the other of the Chilstroms shared their faith walk, and some of the wisdom they've gained in their 80-plus years of service to our Lord. A very worthwhile way to do a daily sanity check, to help keep my life in focus on what really matters. In the past, I've only really done daily devotions during Lent or Advent. Having read this book makes me want to keep the practice going.(less)
My daughter gave me this lovely coffee table book for Christmas. The forward to the book does a good job of explaining what it is about older dogs tha...moreMy daughter gave me this lovely coffee table book for Christmas. The forward to the book does a good job of explaining what it is about older dogs that make them so dear, even in the loss of their sight, hearing, and/or youthful exuberance. It's not all about loss, it's about the wisdom and understanding that's gained.
I was tickled to see that a Bichon Frise is about the 2nd dog profiled -- my Bichon, Roxy, is 11 years old and the best friend/nursemaid one could want. If you've ever been lucky enough to share the life of a dog, and keep him/her in your life as his/her life ticks down, you'll enjoy this book. The first section, "Remembering Harry" is 6-8 pages, and when I was reading it I thought it was a little long. I wanted to get to the MEAT of the book and read the profiles of the many other dogs. But I respect that the author was writing a tribute to his friend, and having lost a couple of canine friends of my own over the years, I understand his need to wax a little. The other tributes were charming, especially Katie, who had no redeeming qualities, and Dodger, who bit the phorographer several times. (The picture of Dodger perfectly captures the "Mess with me at your own risk" attitude.)(less)
**spoiler alert** An interesting story about the relationships between hostage-takers and hostages over a period of months during which they lived tog...more**spoiler alert** An interesting story about the relationships between hostage-takers and hostages over a period of months during which they lived together in one house. The story is loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage incident that took place in Peru in late 1996, though in this book the location is only identified as "the host country." (Another nameless component -- the only person who died during captivity was "the accompanist." I was curious why he didn't merit a name!) The author really hammers home the theory "are bad guys really bad". That said, while I enjoyed the fiction, I really thought it was implausible that every one of the people involved in the situation eventually become fast friends with their opponents.
As a musician, the title, and the fact that an internationally famous opera star was a main character, were the attractions which caused me to choose this book. You could debate for quite a while how much "Bel Canto," which means "beautiful singing," played into the plot of the book, which wasn't about music at all. Maybe "beautiful singing" describes the eventual harmony with which the terrorists and hostages co-existed.
I think my favorite character was Joachim Messner, the Swiss mediator. He was by far the character most grounded in reality -- he could tell from the very beginning that it was impossible for both sides to end up getting what they wanted.
The epilogue was a wonderful twist: the couple that ended up together at the end of the book were one each of the two romantic couples followed during the main part of the story. Again, I'm not sure that was really believable -- I guess it could happen, given the matching tragedies bride and groom had suffered -- but even so it was an entertaining way to conclude the story.(less)
I read "Home Front" at the recommendation of my parents. Dad was a career Army officer who experienced combat; he credits my mom's solo efforts at kee...moreI read "Home Front" at the recommendation of my parents. Dad was a career Army officer who experienced combat; he credits my mom's solo efforts at keeping the family going back home as his inspiration for getting through the bad times. My parents thought this book's concentration on the effects of war on those left at home were well-said and thought-provoking.
While I think a story about a female helicopter pilot who leaves hearth and home to serve in a war half a world away sounds like a very interesting story, I have to say that the author descended a little too much into playing with the reader's emotions. (I like a previous reviewer's comparison to Nicholas Sparks.) The protagonist's, Jo's, marriage is in trouble when she's deployed -- the reader thinks "will her husband stop being a jerk and realize what's important?" Then Jo is involved in a tragic incident and she slides into severe doldrums. Hubby Michael has bounced back -- he's Mr. Mom now and all of a sudden the roles are reversed. Jo, understandably traumatized by her experience, nonetheless plays the jerk in response to the supreme efforts Michael makes to help her.
Although the author admitted not knowing much about the military before she began this book, she used an actual female helicopter pilot as her inspiration and did her homework pretty well, in my opinion. I have to say however, that I enjoyed the interview with this real person in the appendix perhaps a little more than the book itself. I found nothing maudlin there!(less)
I had high expectations of this book when I started reading it. I'd read that it's the best book written on the experience of soldiers in Vietnam duri...moreI had high expectations of this book when I started reading it. I'd read that it's the best book written on the experience of soldiers in Vietnam during the war. What I didn't expect was how small it was, in terms of its length and also its scope -- there are no studies of tactics or strategy, no political commentary, no famous characters. It is merely a series of essays, not even in chronological order, of one soldier, what happened to him and his unit while he was serving, and how that affected his life after the war ended. The book is fiction, but it sure doesn't seem like it. The essays are written in the first person, who refers to himself by the author's name. The dedication is to members of the (fictional?) unit whose experience he describes. The writing style is soft and lyrical, which is extraordinary in that it describes some pretty horrible events.
One of my "favorite" parts was when, due to injury, he was ordered to leave his unit for a support position back off the front line. His unit came there later as a group. The author described a feeling of not fitting in, of being "expelled from the club," and he actually wanted to get back to the fighting to reclaim his status in the "band of brothers." He described only feeling "alive" when he was up where the action was. This seems so incongruous.
"The Things They Carried" is a fantastic book in that it never makes a statement either in favor or against the war, but only looks at the character of individual soldiers, and how serving in war changes them. I'd give it 4.5 stars.(less)
Hosseini has set a mighty high bar for himself, with "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" arguably two of the best books of this century....moreHosseini has set a mighty high bar for himself, with "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" arguably two of the best books of this century. So I couldn't wait to get my hands on his third novel. While I'd rate it somewhere between "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns," this book did not disappoint at all. I found that all three books dealt with horrible things happening to children in Afghanistan. Not the happiest of subjects, but Hosseini's real gift lies in describing the circumstances and healing process that take place years and years after the bad event. In this case, it's a brother and sister ripped apart when Dad decides to sell his daughter. Hosseini's gift lies in the way he describes the way the two eventually reunite, and the many characters involved for this to occur. (Although why he needed to go into such detail of Dr. Markos's history is a mystery to me.)
As happened in the other 2 books, it's a "happy ending" with a real bittersweet twist. I can't say enough about Hosseini's story-telling gift. As long as he keeps writing novels, I'll keep reading them!(less)