Unbroken

I’m ready for the movie adaptation of “Unbroken” — at least I think I am — I just finished the 2010 bestselling book by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s incredibly powerful for sure, and one of the most epic war survival tales I’ve ever read — though I’m sure there are many grueling accounts I haven’t gotten to. Just this year, I read Eric Lomax’s book “The Railway Man,” which is another chilling account of life in a WWII prisoner-of-war camp. And a few years ago, I read David Howarth’s epic true story “We Die Alone” about a Norwegian resistance fighter who somehow survives a Nazi ambush and escapes to an arctic village. Check those out if you’re feeling brave, or if you want to read two other incredible World War II survival stories.

I think I’m nearly the last person on Earth to have read “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.” It sat on my shelf for four years, collecting dust, but I knew I’d get to it. I’d heard all the amazing things about it, and in the end, it lived up to it all. For being nonfiction, “Unbroken” is not a dense or heavy read. It’s a quick page-turner, and I plowed through it with zest, careful not to miss a word. I wanted to get to the bottom of Louis Zamperini’s fascinating life, and Laura Hillenbrand’s flowing narrative and amazing research perfectly led the way. Not only does Hillenbrand’s book lend insight into Louis’s own life, but it also captures what the war was like for so many servicemen in the Pacific, especially in the air battles.

Even without the war part, it’s incredible that Louis Zamperini, who apparently was a total hellion as a kid growing up in the 1920s and ’30s in Torrence, California, became an Olympic miler in the 1936 games, qualifying at only 19. He was expected to be the first ever to break the four-minute mile, but then WWII broke out and he enlisted.

“Unbroken” recounts Louis Zamperini’s service as a bombardier on a B-24 bomber, which eventually was shot down by the Japanese while on a mission over the Pacific. He miraculously survived 47 days lost at sea on a raft with the plane’s pilot before being picked up by the Japanese and transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp. There, he was tortured and endured the wrath of one particularly sadistic guard nicknamed “The Bird.”

Ugh, The Bird is really difficult to handle in this book, and some of the violent and brutal parts inflicted on the prisoners by him are hard to read. The starvation and humiliation, as well, is stuff you can’t fathom. The POWs suffered through so much, it’s harrowing to imagine. I felt very vengeful toward The Bird and hoped he would be brought to justice after the war, but it doesn’t appear that’s what happened.

The book’s ending deals with life after the war for Zamperini and a few other POWs. Louis marries and becomes a devout Christian after hearing the sermons of Billy Graham, which ends up turning Louis’s alcoholic life around. Eventually he returns for a visit to Japan, forgives his captors, and is chosen as one of the carriers of the Olympic torch in Japan for the 1998 Nagano Games.

It’s quite an emotional ending, though the post-war years of the book feel a bit more rushed and seem perhaps not as thorough or as deep as what happens to Louis during the war. I’m sure I probably gave away too much of the synopsis of the book, but even knowing that, it doesn’t do justice to reading the story. You might know that “Unbroken” is about a prisoner-of-war’s experiences during WWII, but until you read the Hillenbrand book, you won’t really get the gist of how remarkable the story really is. I’m sure it is one of my favorite reads of the year. I plan to see the movie, but I know it might not have the same impact as the book, which I seemed to have lived through in my head, rooting for Louis to survive over all the intolerable hardships.

What about you — do you plan to see the movie? And did you read the book first — and what did you think?

Birdman and The Walking Dead

Wow the movie “Birdman” is sure a clever, little black comedy of a film, which seems a shoe-in this award season. It’s about a washed-up superhero movie actor (played by Michael Keaton) who’s trying for a comeback by mounting a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver story. Of course Michael Keaton starred as Batman twice way back when and hasn’t been in much notable of late, but this movie’s not his own true story. It’s just a great back story.

“Birdman” takes place almost all within the building of a New York City playhouse where Keaton’s character Riggan is trying to get his play up and running, but everything seems to be going wrong. He’s got family problems with his ex-wife and daughter (played by Emma Stone); staging problems with an egotistical, pretentious actor (played by Edward Norton); financial problems trying to fund it; problems with his possibly pregnant girlfriend who’s an actress in the play; and problems with a theater critic who says she’ll pan the production. The man’s in crisis. On top of all this, he keeps hearing the voice of his alter-ego, the Birdman, the superhero he once played, who keeps trying to lure him back to star in the action franchise again despite his advanced age.

The performances are all excellent, especially Edward Norton who seems to steal the movie at times as the jerk-of-a-guy actor. Emma Stone is terrific, too, as the depressed rehabbed daughter, and Naomi Watts who’s the ingenue in the play is top-notch as usual. And then there’s Keaton himself who brings a realness to the role that makes you almost believe it’s his own true story. Manhattan, too, is featured prominently and the film exudes a whole New York vibe, which people who like films set there will truly like.

I found the film darkly funny and clever. (It’s not for kiddies though there’s lots of bad language and inside jokes that they might not relate to.) Among other things, the movie spoofs fun at fame, acting, social media, and critics in dialogue you won’t want to miss. Much, too, has been talked about how the film appears to be done in one long take, the scenes flowing into each other as if there’s no edits. Apparently the filmmakers pulled this off digitally, but also the actors had to keep their scenes rolling for long periods. Visually it’s cool and adds to the realness of the play’s backstage shenanigans.

Whether the play will take off on opening night, you won’t know till the film’s end, which turns out to be quite a doozy. As for Keaton’s character, it’s left to one’s own interpretation what happens to him. Although I didn’t know what to expect going into see “Birdman,” I’ve liked it quite a bit more afterwards, with time and thought.

What about you— have you seen this movie or do you plan to? And what did you think?

In other news this week, I’ve continued reading Laura Hillenbrand’s nonfiction book “Unbroken” and watched the midseason finale of Season Five of “The Walking Dead,” which ends with quite a showdown at the hospital in downtown Atlanta where Beth was being held. Of course, I knew one of the main characters would likely die, but I was rather bummed with who ended up getting killed off. It definitely will take a toll on the group as they move forward. But what is next for them? And where will they go in the second half of Season Five? And who will be the main focus? I guess we won’t know for sure till February when the TV series starts up again.

Have you been following the show? What do you think so far of Season Five?

December Preview and Life Drawing

Yikes winter hit hard here on Black Friday, with -6F temps and a wind chill of -27F. By the evening it was a full-on blizzard with a heavy dumping of snow. Now the storm seems to have passed, but it’s still bitter out there and best to stay inside, gazing out the window next to the fire place sipping hot cocoa. Yesterday between wearing a neck gaiter, two hats and goggles, I was able to cover my face while walking the dog in the park, which worked quite well. Only the times I had to take my gloves off for moments, did I freeze. After this, I feel like with the right equipment I could be ready for Mars.

But it’s too late now to moan, December is upon us. And pretty soon everyone will be putting their Best of Book Lists out for 2014. Already Amazon’s editors’ book picks for 2014 seem quite interesting. For the best book of the year, the editors there picked Celeste Ng’s debut novel “Everything I Never Told You,” which is about a Chinese-American family living in Ohio whose oldest daughter is found to have drowned in a nearby lake, thereby unraveling the once close-knit family in unexpected ways, according to Booklist. The novel came out this past June, and I definitely plan to pick it up in the near future. Have you read it?

Also I failed to mention last week a congrats to Phil Klay for winning this year’s National Book Award for fiction for his collection “Redeployment,” which includes twelve stories about the Iraq War and its aftermath. War novels about Iraq and Afghanistan surely have gained considerable attention the past few years with the publication of Ben Fountain’s book “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and Kevin Powers’s “The Yellow Birds.” However after all the talk about “The Yellow Birds” in 2012, I can’t say I liked that book much, which disappointed me. And while I’m not a big reader of war writing, I’ll likely pick up “Redeployment” by Phil Klay, who served as a Marine in Iraq from 2007-2008.

As for new December releases, there’s not a lot of literary fiction coming out this month. Of those that are, perhaps “The Boston Girl” by Anita Diamant might entice me most. According to Amazon, it’s about the ties of family, friendship and feminism through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early 20th century. I quite liked Diamant’s 1997 bestselling first novel “The Red Tent” so I think this one could be interesting as well.

As for movies out this month, I plan to see “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon, which is the movie adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 book “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” I read and reviewed that book that year, and while I liked it, I also had a good share of reservations about it, too. Still I’m curious to see what Reese will do with the role.

I also plan to see “Unbroken” towards the end of the month about Louis Zamperini’s prisoner-of-war experiences during WWII. Angelina Jolie directs this epic, which I hope will live up to some of the popularity of Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestselling book. But first I plan to read it before seeing the movie on the big screen.

In music this month, I’m sure I’ll be listening to a lot of Christmas songs as the month goes on. But for new releases, I’ll pick the covers album “Classics” by the duo She & Him to check out.

In other news, I finished Robin Black’s 2014 novel “Life Drawing” this week, which is about a middle-aged married couple (a painter and a writer) who move to the country to do their work and to heal after the wife’s infidelity. Yet ultimately their lives are disrupted in various ways by a British divorcee and her daughter who move in next door. At first the couple really takes to them but then things become entangled and confidences breached, causing a fall out for all.

The plot is quite interesting in its exploration of the couple’s marriage, which is weighted down by the past infidelity, and the secrets they keep and the confidences they share with others, as well as their many layers. I just wish the novel hadn’t saved much of its action till the final few pages. It seems to very subtly build and build and build and I began to wonder if anything was ever going to happen in the book, though I did keep reading to find out. But much of the book seems quite serious and grim, a chronicle of the artistic couple’s working lives together, which seems rather joyless. I couldn’t bond much with the wife who tells the story. Yet the setting of the country house and barn, the neighbor next door, and the married couple’s tension-filled lives came off quite vividly to me.

So I guess I feel half and half about “Life Drawing.” I’d say it’s a quiet book with a big ending. It explores some interesting themes. I liked it but maybe not effusively so.

What about you have you read this one and what did you think? If not, what releases are you looking forward to in December?

Holidays and Beauty Schools

Wow it’s almost Thanksgiving and the start of the busy holiday season, my, how time flies! I wish everyone in the States a very happy turkey day with family and friends. In Canada I hope to re-celebrate the holiday with a smaller feast with my husband and dog since it’s a regular work week here, blah. Where’s the fun in that?

We are supposed to see some new snowflakes this week so I might have to splurge and get a hot cocoa like this decadent one I consumed recently. It was oh so good but gave me a headache from the intense sugar rush. How cold has it been where you are? Hopefully not as bad as the snowbelt of Buffalo. Those poor people are having to tunnel out of their houses!

My two-year-old Lab, Stella, sure knows how to spend these wintry afternoons. She likes to run at the park in the early mornings and evenings but in the afternoons she dozes off into dreamland, preferably near the floor heater. I think she’s dreaming sometimes about chasing bunnies and squirrels because her paws wiggle and she makes funny sounds.

This week I finished the 2007 nonfiction memoir “Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil” by Deborah Rodriguez & Kristin Ohlson, which was a book club read that our group discussed on Thursday. It’s about a woman from Michigan, Deborah, who travels with an aid organization to Afghanistan in 2002 shortly after the Taliban has been driven out. There, she gets the idea to help set up a beauty school for Afghan women to train to become hairdressers and salon owners. The memoir chronicles Deborah’s efforts to help set up the school during the four to five years she’s there and the women she meets along the way, many of whom become her students. The book gives a glimpse into Kabul and Afghan society that many in the West don’t know too much about.

I appreciated her efforts to try to help the Afghan women and the insights she provides into life there. I thought she was bold — and a bit foolish perhaps — to go to Kabul when the country was still so torn from war and when she still had two boys at home. Like others in my book group, I liked parts of the memoir, which is filled with stories of women’s lives there, but also thought the book has some drawbacks. It’s not written particularly well, and the woman, Deborah, makes some cultural blunders along the way that at times puts her Afghan women friends and students in awkward or dangerous situations. Also why she marries an Afghan man who she’s barely just met there after going through two bad marriages in the States seems beyond perplexing. She’s definitely got an impulsive, crazy, and emotional streak about her that a few in our group found pretty annoying.

Still I’m glad I read it for opening my eyes a bit more to life in Afghanistan, which I’ve also read about in Khaled Hosseini’s novels. Anything that can help women to work or make money there, I’m definitely for. “Kabul Beauty School” certainly paints a bleak picture of women’s lives in Kabul, but it also captures women’s eagerness for change and gaining rights to make their own living and lives. You definitely root for them in this book, which counts as my nonfiction November read, which is a meme co-hosted by Kim over at the blog Sophicated Dorkiness. Check out all the nonfiction this month people are reading!

Meanwhile I picked up two novels from the library: “Life Drawing” by Robin Black and “The Girls of Corona del Mar” by Rufi Thorpe. I hope to race through both before consuming the nonfiction epic “Unbroken: World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand, which is coming out as a movie at Christmas. Hmm … so much reading, so little time.

What about you — have you read any of these and what did you think? And what does your reading look like over the holidays?

Mockingjay

I finished Suzanne Collins’s last book in her trilogy “Mockingjay” in time for the upcoming movie adaptation. I’m geared and ready, but think it was a mistake for them to cut the final book into two movies. How greedy is that? Time magazine says this movie is little more than a “placeholder” for the finale “Mockingjay Part 2,” which is expected to hit theaters on Nov. 25, 2015. It’s too bad they didn’t keep it as one movie because I think it would’ve given the movie better pacing and action — these are my thoughts even before seeing it.

As for the book, it’s quite good like the others. You might recall from the end of the last Hunger Games, Katniss is taken by the resistance to District 13, an underground place whose people are unifying the districts of Panem to overthrow the tyrannical Capitol. There, she’s reunited with her mother and sister Prim, and goaded into becoming the symbol for the rebellion, the Mockingjay. But the Capitol is running lethal bombing raids and has kidnapped Katniss’s boy wonder Peeta, turning him into a weapon to hurt her and the rebellion. It’s a dicey situation and one that eventually leads to all out war.

“Mockingjay” doesn’t include a Hunger Games competition like the other two books, but its war games make the latter half of the novel pretty tense and compelling. Ultimately Katniss is left in a precarious situation, leading a rebel group, which includes her love interests Gale and Peeta, on an invasion of the Capitol — her mission being to assassinate President Snow. It’s an action-packed, mostly underground journey full of mines, wild creatures, and Capitol troops at their heels. The odds aren’t exactly in their favor one might say. You have to wonder if Katniss and the rebel group will get to Snow and overthrow the Capitol, and if they survive, if she will pick Gale or Peeta to be her man.

The ending has a few fatalities and surprises that skew what you might be expecting. It’s clear in this trilogy that no one really gets out unscathed. It’s a sci-fi post apocalyptic world that’s super violent and where loyalty and trust are hard to come by. The trilogy’s message seems to be one of warning and anti-war. I liked the young-adult series and think Collins on the whole did a good job putting it together. It’s a daunting militaristic world — we could face in the future — with little resources and full of damaged and hardened characters.

What about you — have you read “Mockingjay” and what did you think about it? Do you plan to see the movie?

Interstellar

Yes, my husband and I saw Christopher Nolan’s space epic “Interstellar” this past weekend. I was a bit leery beforehand since Nolan’s prior movies “Inception” and “Memento” produced headaches over their fragmentation of time in the storylines, and I knew time would also be an element in “Interstellar” as well. But this film is much more inviting and engaging than either of those.

It’s about a group of space explorers sent by NASA who travel through a worm hole in outer space to expedite their passage to other planets that might be habitable. You see, life on Earth has become a living hell with food shortages and blights, so NASA has been working to find another home for the human race. Matthew McConaughey stars as Cooper the head pilot who will lead a crew of three other astronauts on their way to find a home for thousands of human embryos. But unfortunately, Cooper, a single dad, will have to leave his two kids behind on Earth, and his journey might take years if ever he’s to return.

The first hour of the movie starts off a bit slowly as the plot and characters are being set up, and during this time Cooper ends up miraculously finding a secret bunker that happens to house the NASA center. Of course, given he’s an ex-test pilot, it turns out the bigwigs at NASA want him to lead their expedition, which he ultimately can not resist.

Once the spaceship takes off the film picks up and gets interesting. It’s best not to know too much beforehand about the astronauts’ journey, which includes going through worm holes, dark holes, and other dimensions. But soon the astronauts learn their journey’s going to take much longer than they expected and meanwhile Cooper’s kids are growing up with the hardships on Earth. It’s a race against time really and a time-travel story too because time on Earth and in deep space aren’t exactly linear. Scenes aboard the space craft are interspersed with scenes of what’s going on back at Earth, and you begin to wonder:

Will Cooper and the astronauts find a suitable planet? Will his kids connect with him again? The film offers surprises along the way and likely will test one’s sense of perception and timetables. For all its special effects, the film apparently sticks pretty close to established science and the speculation of what’s possible, says Kip Thorne, the physicist whose work inspired the film.

I enjoyed “Interstellar,” especially since it generates discussion long after it’s over. My husband and I talked about the film all the way home and more. I wanted to understand the ins and outs of it, which I did in general especially with the help of talking about it. I know there are various websites pointing out the film’s plot holes and incongruities, which in a science/time-travel story such as this there are bound to be. But overall the film is an intriguing exploration and a well-worthy journey. It’s thought-provoking, adventurous, and includes a few hokey parts about the transporting nature of love as well. This film scored for me whereas some of Nolan’s other films have not. My husband even thought the ending suggested a possible sequel. Could one be in the works?

How about you — have you seen this movie or do you plan to — and what did you think?

November Releases

Well, here it is November now and most bloggers are trying to get through their reading lists before the end of the year. I’m sure it’ll be a mad scramble for some like me. I’ll be keeping mainly to books I’ve already lined up, which makes it good that there’s not a huge amount of literary fiction that comes out in November or December. Though there are a few notable books out this month to mention.

First off, Denis Johnson’s dark novel “The Laughing Monsters” has caught my eye. I’ve not read him before and I’m thinking I should. His latest is about a rogue intelligence agent who is drawn back to reunite with an old friend in Sierre Leone, where they once made a lot of money during the country’s civil war. Now the two hope to make more on a journey to the Uganda-Congo borderlands. The novel sounds quite harrowing and fast moving, which I’d be game for, though I’m wondering when I’ll make time for it. Have you read this author before?

I’m also a bit curious about reading Canadian author Miriam Toews whose latest novel “All My Puny Sorrows” is coming out in the U.S. later this month. I heard her do a reading of it at our city’s book festival in October and it sounded like a tough, very sad book, drawn from Toews’s own life. It’s about two sisters, raised in a Mennonite household, one who becomes an international concert pianist who has a desire to end her own life and the other who’s an author trying to keep her sister alive. Suicide doesn’t exactly make for a happy subject matter, but apparently Toews puts a lot of life and humor into the book and is a great writer to boot. If I don’t read this one, I’ll definitely read another of hers soon.

Lastly in books this month, I’d like to dive into the nonfiction book “Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble” by Marilyn Johnson. I took a lot of anthropology and archaeology classes in college so this one I think is right up my alley. Amazon describes the book as an “entertaining look at the lives of contemporary archaeologists as they sweat under the sun for clues to the puzzle of our past.” It delves into what drives archaeologists while the author follows them around to digs in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and Machu Picchu. It sounds interesting, so count me in.

Next up, movie releases are heating up this month. I hope to see Christopher Nolan’s new film “Interstellar” this weekend. It’s about a group of space explorers and that’s about as much as I know because the movie has been shrouded in secrecy till its opening day. But apparently it’s 2 hours and 49 minutes long, so take that into account if you’re going to see it. Nolan is known for three of the Batman films and “Inception,” which I didn’t care for too much. But I’m curious about “Interstellar,” which stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain.

Who knows if I’ll go to “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” movie. I’m sort of tiring of the HG franchise (after the two prior books and movies), even though I’m reading Suzanne Collins’s third book in the trilogy right now. My husband rolls his eyes at the TV ads for the movie, thinking it all very teenage-y and dumb-looking. He might have a point, but can I really miss it at this point after seeing the other two? I’m not sure why they cut “Mockingjay” into two movies other than for money. I’m hoping it won’t cause them to drag as I know I’ll probably wind up there.

What I really want to see is “The Imitation Game” at the end of the month. The story seems fascinating about the British mathematician who helped break the Nazis’ Enigma code during WWII. Everyone has been talking about this film for awhile, and with Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead character I think it’ll be really good. Maybe it’ll be Oscar material. I plan to catch it on its opening weekend.

As for albums coming out this month I plan to check out Wilco’s “What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014,” which marks the band’s 20th anniversary. I also plan to listen to “My Favourite Faded Fantasy” by Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice.

What about you — which books, movies, or albums are you most looking forward to this month?

Before I Go to Sleep

If you like anxiety-inducing psychological thrillers, S.J. Watson’s debut bestseller “Before I Go to Sleep” hits the big screen this Friday, right in time for Halloween. It’s a spooky premise for sure, about a woman who suffers from amnesia from a traumatic accident in her past. Working with a doctor, she begins to write down what little she recalls of her life and what happened to her, but soon realizes she doesn’t know who to trust or what to believe.

The book reminded me a bit of “Shutter Island” mixed with “Fatal Attraction.” It’s a mind trip into what’s real in the woman’s life, but there’s also a dangerous person who’s leading her astray. I flew through “Before I Go to Sleep” as it’s a suspenseful page-turner, figuring out who the bad guy is and whether the woman will piece together her memories in time to save her life. A few of the characters leave or betray her in ways that keep you guessing.

I enjoyed the book, especially once I suspended my disbelief a bit about the premise and a few parts of the plot. It’s better if you just go with it. At times it gets a bit repetitive because the woman, Christine, forgets the memories of her life each night when she goes to sleep. So every morning she wakes up a confused mess not knowing who she is till her doctor calls reminding her to read the journal she’s been keeping.

It’s sad really, thinking that people exist in such states in mental facilities, where Christine in the book spends a great deal of her adult life before getting released. (Apparently the story was inspired by a real amnesiac case.) Upon release, Christine is quite the emotional wreck, as one might expect to be if you awake each day with little to no memory, so you have to work through a lot of her angst throughout the novel.

No wonder Nicole Kidman took on the role for the movie. She seems to be good in troubled, emotionally-wrought parts — a good cryer, which is necessary for the role of “Christine.” Colin Firth plays opposite Nicole in the movie, which is interesting since they recently starred together in “The Railway Man” movie. For sure, they make for a dynamic onscreen combo.

I can’t say too much more about the book’s plot in order not to give anything away, but I’m sure it’ll make for a high-octane movie. I hope to see it soon. It’ll be interesting to see if the movie stays true to the book or if it’ll change any plot lines or the ending, hmm … I’ll have to check it out to see.

If you like such thrillers, British author S.J. Watson has finished his next book “Second Life,” which will be out in the U.K. in February 2015 and will follow later in other countries. I’m sure like this one it’ll be quite an anxiety-induced ride.

How about you — have you read this book or do you plan to see the movie?

Awards, Festivals, and Henrietta Lacks

It’s been a busy past week in book-related news. First off, congratulations to Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan for winning the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” Like Eric Lomax’s memoir “The Railway Man,” which I read and reviewed earlier this year, Flanagan’s book is about a prisoner-of-war working on the Thailand-Burma “Death” railway in WWII. The main character is an Australian surgeon whose life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command. The novel’s inspired by Flanagan’s father’s experiences as a Japanese prisoner-of-war at a camp where 14,000 died. I know I’ll want to read “The Narrow Road,” but I still have another scary P.O.W. book to read first … “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. Need I say more? The film opens at Christmas.

Meanwhile our city’s annual book festival, Wordfest, has been going on this week, and as usual it’s been great hearing authors do readings and interviews about their latest books. I’ve been attending an event each evening and so far have heard Emma Donoghue (“Frog Music”), Damon Galgut (“Arctic Summer”), Tahereh Mafi (“Shatter Me” series), Veronica Roth (“Divergent” series), Padma Viswanathan (“The Ever After of Ashwin Rao”), Alison Pick (“Between Gods”), and Miriam Toews (“All My Puny Sorrows”). Some of these authors’ works I’ve known and others I have not, but hearing from them made me interested in their works nonetheless.

Apparently 600 people were in attendance when authors Tahereh Mafi and Veronica Roth interviewed each other at the Knox Church downtown. They held a good discussion and are quite poised and mature for their young age and huge success (both are only 26!). Call me a YA ignoramus, but I didn’t know about Mafi’s “Shatter Me” series beforehand, but she spoke very eloquently about her life as a writer and what it takes. Roth was cool as well. I read and reviewed her book “Divergent” in March before the movie came out. She came off looking a bit punk with very short, dyed blond hair and black boots. She’s tall to begin with, around 6 feet, whereas Mafi says she is 5’ 2.” Roth says she started fiction writing everyday when she was 11 (holy smokes), whereas Mafi took it up after college. I’m not sure what is next for either of them, but they still have long writing careers ahead.

It’s been an inspiring book festival this year, but it’s not over just yet. I still have two author talks left to go to: Canadian author Kathleen Winter tonight and Australian author Tim Winton on Sunday. You might recall Winter’s 2010 novel “Annabel,” which I read and reviewed earlier this year. She’ll be talking about her new nonfiction book “Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage” about a journey she took from Greenland to Baffin Island and all along the storied Northwest Passage. I can’t wait to hear about it and will likely get the book as she is such a terrific writer. Tim Winton, too, will be talking about his latest novel “Eyrie,” which I reviewed earlier this year. He’s been a finalist for the Booker Prize twice and is an amazing talent. I especially liked his novels “Breath” and “Dirt Music” and hopefully will have him sign my copy of them.

Lastly in book news this week, I finished Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 nonfiction bestseller “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which was a book club read that we plan to discuss on Tuesday. I had this book sitting on my shelf for four years so I’m glad to have finally polished it off. It’s about a woman who died from cancer in 1951 and the cancer cells that were taken from her without her knowledge, which became the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, launching a medical revolution in developing vaccines and uncovering secrets about viruses and cancer.

It’s a book about science — about what her cells did and contributed to — and bioethics — about whether consent or compensation is due when cell or tissue samples are taken — but it’s also a story about finding out who Henrietta Lacks was and tracking down her family. It turns out she was a poor black Southern tobacco farmer from Clover, Virginia, and her family didn’t know about her cells or her contribution to science till 20 years after her death. Moreover, they never received any compensation for her cells even though they’ve been sold worldwide to doctors and research labs ever since.

It’s quite a story that obviously you’ll see from the book’s writing consumed the author’s life in piecing it together for more than a decade. I can’t believe Rebecca Skloot’s patience in writing this book! She seems to hold it together, even when the Lacks family wasn’t easy to deal with a lot of the time nor the medical establishments. Towards the middle, I found the book bogged down a bit in its repetition of information about the cells. Luckily it picks up again later. In the end, the book gives an eye-opening glimpse into the early days of medical research when doctors experimented on patients without various legal guidelines.

I definitely felt what happened to Henrietta and the family’s story were unfortunate and sad in the book. They were taken advantage of at various points and had little means to hire a lawyer to make their claims and grievances known. It’s a book that raises various questions about what happened to Henrietta, her heirs, and who owns our bodies. It also illuminates the wonder known as the HeLa cell, which has helped people from all over to conquer diseases. I would recommend the book to those interested in science or even nonfiction narrative stories because this one will catch you up in it, rolling along in its grip until its conclusion. It’s just as much a human interest story as it is a science one.

What about you have you read this bestseller and what did you think?

October Releases

Well, the “Gone Girl” movie last weekend was quite good. It’s dark and follows the novel closely; the ending doesn’t stray. I was impressed by the whole Gillian Flynn / David Fincher adaptation of it. It’s done well. What did I expect — from a director with such a resume — a muck of it? But I won’t talk about the movie too much because it would spoil it for others. Suffice it to say Rosamund Pike won me over as “Amy,” and Ben Affleck was believable as the dubious “Nick.” Neil Patrick Harris seemed a different choice for me as crazy Desi — haven’t seen him in a role like that before, but Tyler Perry is excellent as attorney Tanner Bolt. Even Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister does a good job. Check out “Gone Girl” if you haven’t already seen it and let me know what you think. Does it live up to your expectations and the novel of it?

So far “Gone Girl’s” my movie pick for October, but there are some other interesting ones coming out (see list at left). Robert Downey Jr. is in the new drama “The Judge” with Robert Duvall, and Brad Pitt is in the WWII film “The Fury” about an Allied army sergeant who commands a tank crew to go behind enemy lines. I’m sure I’ll likely see those sometime. But I’m also a bit curious about seeing the movie adaptation of S.J. Watson’s 2011 bestseller “Before I Go to Sleep,” which stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman (once again together). The movie of it comes out on Halloween, which gives me time to read the novel first. I’m not sure how I missed it when it came out, but it sounds like a good thriller worth racing through.

Meanwhile in novel releases this month (see list at right), there’s a few I have my eye on. First off, Marilynne Robinson, who has “Lila” coming out, is a giant of a writer and I have read only one of hers, “Housekeeping” from 1980. I have not read her more famous novels “Gilead” from 2004 or “Home” from 2008, which are about an elderly pastor and his family in a small town in Iowa, but I know I should rectify the situation ASAP. Her new novel “Lila” revisits the characters and setting of “Gilead” and “Home,” so I think I should start with those first. What about you have you read her novels? Many say “Gilead” is one of their favorite books of all time. Hmm, I must get on it.

I’m also a bit curious about Jane Smiley’s new novel “Some Luck,” which is the first book in a trilogy about the life and times of a family on a farm in Iowa. (What is it about Iowa?!) “Some Luck” starts in 1920 and takes the family through the 1950s. You might recall Smiley’s other novel set on a farm in Iowa — “A Thousand Acres” from 1991. Oh my, was that book potent, it almost killed me. But will this new trilogy be as dark or as good? Hmm we will see.

I’d also love to gobble up British author David Nicholl’s new novel “Us, ” which Amazon says is “the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves, and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger.” I didn’t read his previous novel “One Day” but I saw part of the 2011 movie adaptation of it on TV once, with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. As for “Us,” it’s supposed to be both funny and moving and authors Jojo Moyes and S.J. Watson both say they loved it. So count me in.

As for honourable mentions, Marlon James’s sprawling new novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings” looks like a humdinger of a wild ride. Weighing in at 704 pages, the novel explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976 with a wide array of characters that are assassins, journalists and drug dealers. It’s about Jamaica and the drug wars from a tumultuous period. I’m not a big reader of really thick novels, but the more I hear about this one, the more I’m thinking I should take the dive. Author Marlon James sounds like a hugely talented, ambitious and creative writer; one that shouldn’t be missed.

Lastly in albums out this month (see list at bottom right), there’s quite a few big names with new releases coming out. There’s Stevie Nicks, Taylor Swift, Jackson Browne, and Cat Stevens among others. Right now, I’m taking a different tact and enjoying Frazey Ford’s new solo album called “Indian Ocean.” You might recall Ford from her days singing with the Be Good Tanyas. I didn’t know others played this Canadian folk group until I heard their music at my yoga studio one day while in the States.

What about you — which books, movies, or albums out this month are you most looking forward to?