Archive for August, 2011

Lost in Shangri-La

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

By Mitchell Zuckoff

The Short Take:

Once again, truth is wilder than fiction. This all-true story about some WWII soldiers who crash in uncharted territory surrounded by possible headhunters is amazing. The plans for getting them out are even more so. What an adventure!

Why?

I saw the author on The Daily Show and immediately bought this book. It is an incredible story set in (then) Dutch Papua New Guinea during the final days of WWII.

This book has it all — from a beautiful blonde in danger to the almost unbelievable culture of the isolated people who surround  the crash survivors to the actor/jewel thief/director who shows up to document everything. Indiana Jones has nothing on this adventure! You have to wonder why this story hasn’t been repeated ever since and made into a movie or two instead of simply forgotten.

Thankfully, Zuckoff gives us the full story. He even presents it in thriller style to heighten the tension. In addition, he actually revisited that remote tribe, where some of the natives who met the “strangers from the sky” still live today.

It’s simply an incredible story from start to finish. Hopefully it will not be forgotten again

A Little Plot:

An unknown Stone Age society exists in a hidden valley — totally isolated from the rest of the world. They’re accidently discovered by an Army pilot. Several buzz-by flights subsequently occur to look at these unknown people. One takes along a group of WACs. The plane crashes in that hidden valley but there are survivors, including one gorgeous WAC.

The survivors, suffering from severe burns and wounds, face tribes of warring natives — possibly cannibals and headhunters to boot. Meanwhile, back at their base, strategies to find the survivors and ultimately rescue them are weighed and rejected — the valley is virtually inaccessible.

A brave company of Filipino-American soldiers parachutes into this dangerously-dense jungle to stage a rescue. But still no one knows how to get everyone out. Surrounded by hundreds of miles of mountains, jungles, known headhunters, and Japanese soldiers — hiking out is no option. The solution? Read it and find out.

Zuckoff has a really interesting website with visuals from the book you can visit by clicking here.

Light Boxes

Friday, August 12th, 2011

By Shane Jones

The Short Take:

This dreamlike fable is completely unique. How Jones manages to put so much imagery, emotion, imagination, and story telling into such a slim little book is a tribute to his artistry. At turns frightening, uplifting, discouraging,and amusing this story about a people who are enduring endless winter will hold special meaning for those suffering from seasonal depression, but it also has a lot to say to us all.

Why?

This is a hard book to explain because there’s no ready reference point for comparison. The closest I can get is a cross between a Tim Burton animated movie and an Aesop’s fable but with a lot more metaphysical qualities.

It’s definitely a niche read, and a very narrow niche at that. But it’s hard not to be enchanted (and sometimes horrified) by this moving tale of a community engaged in a collective struggle against the depressing effects of everlasting February.

If you’ve ever felt dreary and depressed when winter lingers on too long, you’ll understand.

A Little Plot:

February  (the month and an actual entity) has come to stay for hundreds of days in a small town. Plus he has banned all things that fly, from birds to balloons. The town should be crippled by depression, but they refuse to accept the situation and begin to mount a Quixotic war against February.

Then their children start to disappear.

I couldn’t find a website for Shane Jones with any content, but to find out more about the interesting way his novel made it into print, click here.

Sisters

Friday, August 5th, 2011

By Rosamund Lupton

The Short Take:

You could call this book a crime mystery (and whether there is a crime is actually in grave doubt) and you could call it a voyage of self-discovery. It’s hard to say which aspect outweighs the other. And there’s a major twist at the end that keeps the tension going to the very last line.

Why?

There’s a lot of guessing in this book. And assumptions. And wild accusations. And those are just on the part of the main character, Bee. Written in first person, the book consists of Bee’s imagined monologue to her dead sister, Tess, explaining just how she figured everything out about Tess’ death.

The story jumps between two timelines that aren’t very far apart from each other. One traces Bee’s investigation, the other is built around her retelling of the investigation to a lawyer. As you can imagine, sometimes it’s a bit confusing which timeline you’re in, but as it all winds up in the same place, there’s really no need to worry about it.

Lupton’s book is also very much a character study of the two sisters — one who embraced all of life (and is now dead) and the other who has sought safety and security  over actual living (that would be Bee). Add to this a thread of possible insanity running throughout (and we could be talking about either or both women here), and you’ve got a really solid modern gothic novel.

You’re really never quite sure where this debut novel is headed, but when it gets there — boy, what a surprise! And, it didn’t feel like a rabbit pulled out of a hat to me. The hints where there but very clever. At least, I sure didn’t suspect a thing until 20-20 hindsight kicked in.

A Little Plot:

English expat Bee races back to London when her mother reports that younger sister Tess is missing. Tess’ body is soon found and all signs point to a suicide — her wrists are slashed and she’d just had a stillborn child. But Bee is convinced that her sister would never end her own life and starts investigating every conceivable angle of Tess’ life to prove her point.

Bee uncovers a lot (the lover, the stalker, the medical procedures, the shrink), and she is glad to share every new discovery and resultant theory with investigators and doubting family members — encouraging doubts about her own mental stability.

It’s a fine mess. And I do mean fine. If you want to know more about Lupton and her book click here.

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