Tag Archives: Laura Hillenbrand

Friday Five: Books That Keep Me Up All Night

2 Mar

There’s been a lot of sleepless nights lately at casa de BiRL. For once it’s not just because of insomnia, I’ve been reading some really excellent books lately. Unfortunately they all seem to get good right before bed. So here they are, the top five titles that have kept me up lately, from most to least recent:

The Paris Wife

Since I just reviewed this awesome book, I’ll spare you, except to say read it! But not before bed. I saw the sun rise thanks to this little gem.

Unbroken

Again, recently reviewed. This one comes with a serious Do Not Start Before Bed warning. Or, if you do, stop once Loius gets to Hawaii. After that there’s no turning back until the war’s over.

The Night Circus

Oh! I so called it! I picked up this book shortly after it came out (that was pre-Bigger in Real Life, and I’ve been meaning to write the review for a while) and as soon as I was done I said to A, “I bet they’re going to make this into a movie. It would make a really good one.” And I was right! (I’d put money on Unbroken being made into a movie too, by the way.) I totally see this visually taking on a Baz Luhrmann à la Moulin Rouge feel. Here’s hoping! Check out Cinema Blend for the full story. Anyhow, self-congratulations aside, this book is lovely. Luminous yet dark with pulsating, palpable descriptions, The Night Circus is a haunting novel that feeds into my love of gothic-esque fiction. It’s a longer read, so didn’t read all of it in one night, but I definitely stayed up way past the point of comfort because I couldn’t ever fathom what would come next.

Another Piece of My Heart

Jane Green’s been a favorite of mine for years. Yes, she writes what would be classified as “chick lit,” but I like to think that it’s the thinking girl’s chick lit. I snagged this book as a pre-publication promo, and it’s another book I’ve been meaning to review. Jane Green still needs to get an American to proof-read her books for accuracy sake, but I think this is her most raw, moving book to date. She takes an already hard situation–making a blended family work when the mom is an alcoholic, the dad is raising his two girls, the oldest of which becomes unmanageable when he marries another woman, around whom most of the story is based–and ups the ante by throwing in infertility issues and a prodigal daughter. All this has the potential to stray across the line of believability in the hands of a less talented writer, but Jane Green always writes incredibly believable characters that have you feeling every hurt and triumph right along with them. Though a longer novel for a girly-book, it’s still a fast, yet satisfying read. I read this in one night mostly because I thought I could. And I did.

Garden Spells

I own every book Sarah Addison Allen has written, thanks to how utterly and completely I fell in love with Garden Spells. Her other books are wonderful, but nothing compares to this first one. I picked it up before a long weekend in a mountain cabin, not knowing what to expect. After reading for a half-hour next to an increasingly sleep-deprived A, I got up and padded into the living room because I knew I was in it for the long haul. I fell head-over heels into the world of Claire and Sydney Waverly, their lives, their loves, their tenuous trip towards accepting each other as sisters and making a life together. One part Practical Magic, one part Like Water for Chocolate, this book made me hungry for new experiences and for home-grown, handcrafted food. I’ve read it at least four times since its publication, and it never disappoints. It’s one of my best books on my shelf.

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Unbroken

22 Feb

Just wanted to say a quick hello to any APW readers who have made their way over. Welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

Rarely do I read a book that leaves me speechless. I just finished Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, the epic novel about WWII POW’s, centered around the life of Louis Zamperini. I’m not much for historical novels, much less biographies, but since I was home sick over a three-day weekend, I started it thinking it would be a great way to pass the time and enjoyed the chapters on Louis’ childhood and olympic dreams in between catching up on shows with my Hubbs. Then I made the mistake of starting the section where their plane went down just before bed. At 3:36 am I put the book down with the war over and Louis not yet having met his love. I literally couldn’t stop reading until the POW’s were home safe.

There really are no words to describe this book. I could go on about the struggle, the triumph of the human spirit, humanity’s capacity for great acts of cruelty and even greater acts of forgiveness, but it all sounds hollow to my ears. Instead I’ll relay the recommendation that prompted me to pick up the book in the first place. Last month my therapist came to speak at an event at our church about confidence. During her talk she remembered hearing Loius Zamperini speak and being captivated by the man’s wit, humility, and deep, abiding faith. When talking about Unbroken, the woman who has recommended more books to me than I can name and always had a new book on her desk when I saw her said it may be the best book she’s ever read. And I agree.

We’re living in a time where we don’t go to war, but take ‘military action.’ We’re coming up on a time when the last survivors of major wars will no longer be with us.

Robert Penn Warren once said: “history cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”

In junior high, my school had a long-standing arrangement with a local married couple, the Rosenburgs, who came in once a year to talk to the seventh and eighth graders about surviving the Holocaust. Both were Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Mrs. Rosenburg spoke to the seventh graders, having spent only a little while in one of the ‘softer’ camps, while Mr. Rosenburg spoke to the eighth grade students about his almost two years in the camps and being convinced that he would die there, like the rest of his family before him. At the end of his imprisonment he was told that he would be executed in two days time. That was the day the Nazis surrendered. They came to talk to us so that we might understand the importance of remembering the past so that we can choose a better future. Even us self-centered kids knew that we were experiencing something important, and I remember thinking that my children would never have the experience of hearing these stories firsthand. It’s for this reason I am deeply grateful to Laura Hillenbrand for immortalizing a story that should not be forgotten.

As different areas of Japan were named in the book, I thought about how different the country looks now from the way it was described in WWII. Just sixty-seven years later. A lifetime to us, but a tiny drop in the bucket that makes up humanity’s history. As I read about the atrocities visited on Allied POW’s in Japan, I felt a strong burden to remember that the horror went both ways. I’ve visited ground zero at Hiroshima twice. Once in 2001, and again in 2008 with A. If it were only me in Japan that second time, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to visit the memorial or walk through the museum again. But I firmly believe that it’s something that every American lucky enough to visit that beautiful country should experience, so I took A. He was as overwhelmed, as overcome as I had been at seventeen. I remember the first time I walked through the museum at the Peace Plaza; I was pretty ignorant about the war. I knew we hadn’t started it, but that we had been the ones to end it. Seeing how we ended it was startling, shocking, appalling. I was afraid that every Japanese person around me was looking at us touring Americans and blaming us for what happened. But as I walked through, reading accounts of the war and the bomb that ended it all, I was struck by the common theme that was expressed over and over again on those walls – one of contrition, forgiveness, and a desire for abiding peace.

hiroshima peace memorial park in 2008. you can see the a-bomb dome in the distance through the memorial cenotaph.

War is ugly, no matter what side you are on. It’s so cheesy now, but a lyric from the musical Rent has stuck with me since the first time I heard it:

“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”

The Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, where a bombed-out building still stands at ground zero, is a testament to the destructive nature of war. Unbroken tells the stories of lives that were destroyed, families ripped apart, and futures stolen by war.  We truly live in a broken world, one I believe will not be redeemed until Christ comes to bring as all home, but I pray that war may be avoided and that stories like Louis Zamperini’s and the Rosenburgs are among the last of their kind.

As Machiavelli said, “whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.”

And so we read, we listen, we remember. And we move forward.

Read the book. You won’t regret it.

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