May 25, 2011

Book Report, Vol. 4.

With Memorial Day weekend upon us, and thus the official start of the summer season, I thought y'all might want some summer reading recommendations.  

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - Keep one thing in mind if (when) you read this book: it's NONfiction.  It's hard to remember that at times because the story is so remarkable.  Louis Zamperini was a record-setting Olympic athlete who was training for the the 1944 Olympics when the United States got involved in WWII.  He was as a B-24 bomber navigator flying missions in the Pacific.  When his plane was shot down, he survived 47 days on a raft at sea only to be captured and held as a POW by the Japanese.  I read this book in about 2 days while we were down at Pawley's.  The writing is some of the best I've ever read, and the story is beyond compelling.  If you only read one book this summer, I would say make it this one.  (And to top it all off, Zamperini is still alive and kicking at 94 - he just threw out the first pitch at the Sox/Cubs game a few days ago.)

2.  Little Bee by Chris Cleave - Oh man, this book.  It's hard to talk about it without giving away too much, but it's essentially the story of two women, a 16-year old Nigerian orphan and an upper-middle class British journalist, and it's narrated by alternating between their points of view.  The whole crux of the story is how their lives collide and what happens in the aftermath.  It is a heartbreaking, brutal story but don't let that deter you - it's incredibly well written and so, so good.  And if you do read it (or already have), come back and tell me what you think happened on the beach.  

3. The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch - This book tells the story of Jakob Kuisl and his daughter Magdalena.  Set in the 1600s in a small Bavarian town, Kuisl is the town's executioner, but with a twist - he has a conscience. (In another interesting twist, the author is actually a descendant of the Kuisl clan).  When a boy turns up murdered with a mysterious tattoo, a townswoman is arrested and held as a witch.  Kuisl believes she is innocent and sets out to solve the mystery before he has to torture her and put her to death.  There are tons of action scenes and plot twists to keep you guessing, and the author does a good job providing historical details and context without making it boring.  I found the ending to be slightly far fetched and at times the writing is a little clunky (it's from a German translation), but overall, it was a really fun read.  

4. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - Keep one thing in mind when you read this book: it's fiction (but it is based in fact and extensively researched).  The Paris Wife is the story of Hadley Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's first wife, and the early days of Ernest's career when the couple was living in Paris and rubbing elbows with the likes of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and the Fitzgeralds.  Even though the marriage fails, in a totally gut-wrenching way that will have you screaming, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" at Hadley, it is essentially a love story.  After all, the author got the idea to write it from Hemingway's own memoir, A Moveable Feast, in which he wrote about Hadley, "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her."  Gah.  How sad is that?

5. Ape House by Sara Gruen - This one is the "beach read" of the bunch; I flew through it because the action is quick and the background is really interesting.  The story starts with the bombing of a university research lab which is studying language and communication in Bonobo apes.  The bombing injures the head scientist, Isabel Duncan, and traumatizes the apes.  In a panic, the university sells the apes and they eventually surface on a smash-hit reality TV show.  Isabel ends up working with John Thigpen, a journalist who had visited the lab and interviewed her the day before the bombing, to help get the apes back.  This one ends a little too neatly, and overall it isn't as good as Water For Elephants, but if you want a fast-paced, easy-to-read book for the pool or beach, this is a solid choice.  (Way better than, say, Something Borrowed, which I so strongly disliked I can't even bother to review it.)

What are y'all reading lately?  I always need recommendations, so leave me a comment!

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