Archive for September, 2011

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 1/2 stars.

Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit) tells the spellbinding story of the life of Louis Zamperini, from his days as a feral, street-wise youth, to his success as an Olympic runner, to his harrowing experiences in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and finally to his coping in the aftermath of returning home.

I typically read fiction for pleasure, and much nonfiction feels stilted and unmoving to me. But there were times in this incredible story when I was on the edge of my seat. Hillenbrand did a commendable job of conveying the epic adventure of Zamperini’s life along with an amazing array of facts, statistics, and little-know tidbits about the period.

The reason I did not give the book a full five stars is a small complaint that I’ve read from other reviewers: Some of the amazing revelations are glossed over a bit. A few nearly unbelievable facts are not really explained or expounded on to the level they seem to deserve. Some might say that this is due to the author not wanting to intercede in offering merely what happened, and not why or what it’s significance was. But this isn’t the case; she explains many things throughout the book for readers’ greater understanding, but then leaves others hanging in midair.

Despite this one nagging little issue, the book is overwhelmingly worth reading. In fact, everyone should read it (or another book like it); it brings home to the heart what some have had to suffer, makes one think hard and long about what we take for granted and how we treat others, and provides a shining example of mind-over-matter attitude — in the end, Zamperini and others around him survived their ordeals due to their deep senses of self-worth, optimism, and dignity. And, Louis would add, the grace of God. It’s a true-life lesson for EVERYONE!

The Cavalier of the Apocalypse
The Cavalier of the Apocalypse by Susanne Alleyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another wonderful installment in the Aristide Ravel canon!

(Actually, if you are about to begin the series, start with this book, which introduces Ravel and his relationship with the police that figures prominently in the rest of the series.)

CAVALIER offers an intriguing mystery with a satisfying ending, all set against the historic backdrop of unsettled times in pre-revolution France. I was so engrossed that it was quite an unhappy day when I finished this volume.

In this book, which spans several weeks in the life of our brooding, cursed, but talented hero, we meet Ravel and learn about his past and why he is currently a penniless (er, centime-less) scribbler living in the odorous abattoir district of Paris. We also meet his soon-to-be colleague, Inspector Brasseur, and learn what makes him tick as well (which would have been nice to know as I read the other two books I’ve finished so far in the series, thanks to what the author says was her publisher’s insistence that they be published in the wrong order … go figure).

Soon we find the unlikely pair investigating — and Ravel getting tangled in — a series of strange occurrences that seem to be tied to the Masonic order.  A murder, plus the disappearance of both the cadaver and a connected gentlemen, make for a mystery more mysterious and harder to unravel than most.  An especially juicy addition is a visit with an actual historical figure who advanced medical science in a strange and macabre fashion.  There’s even a subplot more personal to Ravel that shows the haunting nature of the predicament in which his family history has left him. Overall, highly satisfying.

One more Ravel book to go — I almost do not want to start it because I don’t want it to end too soon — and then dear Ms. Alleyn will need to write some more!

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