It all starts with an author’s note.  “Yes, it’s true” is the message Andy Andrews shares with his readers before they even get to the first page.  Otherwise you’d think you were reading a work of fiction – a story that could only come from the deep imaginings of Hollywood’s best.  Instead, The Heart Mender: A Story of Second Chances brings forth an extraordinary true story about World War II, German U-Boats, Nazis, mystery and intrigue – and the whole thing takes place on the Gulf Coast of America.

Most Americans have no idea that German submarines were out there sinking US ships right off our very own coastlines, but it’s true. Just the tip of the iceberg in this true tale, The Heart Mender tells about a woman who’s living the heartbroken life of a young WWII widow. She was cold, unforgiving, and angry. So when she finds an injured German soldier washed up on the Florida shoreline, the last thing on her mind is helping him.

The Heart Mender is full of real mystery and intruge it’s true, but it’s also a story of romance, forgiveness, and the often unexpected good heartedness of humankind.  Remember the whole Bridges of Madison County thing where we all bawled our eyes out because we thought it was true?  Then no one could turn up any National Geographic issues with bridge photos, we found out the author made the whole thing up, and readers everywhere threw up their hands in despair at the trick.  But The Heart Mender is the real deal, and it’s every bit as necessary to keep the Kleenex at hand at the end. (Okay, at the beginning and middle too.)  So if you need a bit of enccouragement – indeed if you need your own heart mended – and if crying your eyes out over emotional, jaw-dropping endings is your thing, here’s your next read.

06. January 2009 · Comments Off on Churchill’s Hour – A Novel of Defiance – by Michael Dobbs · Categories: historical nonfiction · Tags: , ,

One of the great perks of reading is having the ability to leap across the boundaries of time and space.  How else could one ever have the opportunity to follow Winston Churchill, peak into his private life, and perhaps see how the famous old bear really lived?  Michael Dobbs presents his readers with just such an opportunity, one that will help lend a whole new appreciation to the force of nature that was one of the heroes of World War II.

Written as a novel, Churchill’s Hour: A Novel of Defiance drops you right into the turmoil that was Winston Churchill’s daily life as he attempted to convince America to join in the war before Hitler swallowed England whole.  Most people know the U.S. took convincing and that we hung back until the last possible moment, but I doubt many of us have ever seen the struggle from quite this angle before.  It’s a fascinating look at Churchill’s tenacity and love of country.  

Equally fascinating is the opportunity to peer into Churchill’s personal life and get to know a little about those closest to him including members of his family, none of whom were near being perfect.  His son fought with living in the shadow of one of the most controversial characters of the era.  His daughter-in-law, with whom he was very close, began getting too comfortable with someone who wasn’t her husband – someone Churchill knew and trusted.  And Churchill himself had a bit too much of a relationship with the bottle at times.  But despite his shortcomings and the painful distractions from his personal life, Winston Churchill changed the course of history.  Churchill’s Hour: A Novel of Defiance is a provocotive look into the man, one that gives us as readers the opportunity to traverse through time and stand face to face with a historical giant.

Not the usual carp(e) libris reviews-type title?  Maybe not, but I couldn’t resist.  I suppose it was the photo of those golden eyes on the cover that drew me in, and who says you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Certainly I have found oftentimes you can.  Because the story of Dewey is every bit as heartwarming as the darling tabby cat on the book jacket.  

Written by librarian Vicki Myron of Spencer, Iowa, the book Dewey tells the true story of an abandoned kitten dropped through the book return slot on a cold January morning.  He landed not only in a stack of books but in the heart of a whole town and how he affected the lives of many simply by being the right cat in the right place and time makes for a wonderful tale.  As Dewey’s notoriety spread, he became known all over the world.  This New York Time’s Bestseller is certainly a warm fuzzy that gives a prime example of how animals affect the lives of their humans.  

I told myself not to cry at the end.  I said, “Don’t be silly, now, you’re not the squishy dribbly type to use up a box of tissue over a cat you never met.” Yeah, right.  Dewey undid me, plain and simple.  I’d recommend this touching true story as a gift for cat lovers, book and library lovers, animal lovers in general.  It fits the bill for a perfect bit of heartwarming when the dreariness of the newspaper just won’t do.

Check Out Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Library Cat” is set to hit the silver screen, starring Meryl Streep.

See Dewey in action in this old PBS bit:

When I was in high school, I discovered opera. I saw my first one (Faust) and was so moved by it that when the opportunity came to actually be in one as a supernumerary, I did it. That opera was Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) by Richard Wagner. So when I picked up Cahier 3 of The Cahier Series, published by Sylph Editions, I was delighted to note the subject matter. Circles of Silence discusses the opera Wagner Dream by Jonathan Harvey in collaboration with Jean-Claude Carrière, writer of the libretto.

Wagner Dream is indeed a dream realized. Harvey had always desired writing an opera with a Buddhist theme. Apparently, this was also Wagner’s desire, but for him, it never happened. Wagner Dream shows the last days of the famous German composer’s life as he has visions and dreams, talking with Buddha and finally “seeing” his opera come to pass.

The most fascinating portion of the cahier is the interview of Harvey and Carrière by Margery Arent Safir, which allows us an explanation in some detail of this translation between Buddhism and music. The cahier then wraps up with a section by Jonathan Harvey, which will give the true music lover much to ponder, as he shares his parallels between music and Buddhism. After reading Circles of Silence, I will most definitely be looking into hearing Wagner Dream.

If you’re looking to escape the daily grind and relax on an exotic getaway, then you may not want to travel with Tamara Sheward. Her travelogue Bad Karma (Confessions of a Reckless Traveller in Southeast Asia) recounts her adventures with her best friend El. These two cocky anti-Birkenstockers manage to plant themselves into a variety of bizarre situations in every village and city they enter. Little to no traveling plans, shoddy tour guide books, and edgy attitudes may not provide for a relaxing vacation, but it sure makes for one heck of a fun read.

As Tamara and El ramble through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, readers will cringe as they foresee problems the travelers didn’t. Customs are accidentally stepped on (never leave your chopsticks standing straight up in your rice bowl) throughout the book. Tamara and El are well-seasoned backpackers, and while they’ve left their homeland of Australia on journeys many times before, they’ve never been to the foreign lands of Southeast Asia, and they find it’s a whole different world than what they’ve ever experienced before.

I love to travel, but I’m a serious researcher. I’ll read up on every little thing I can get my hands on (surprised?) before setting foot outside my country. That’s probably what made reading Bad Karma such an entertaining toe-curler. If I ever get the chance to travel to Southeast Asia, I’ll take this book along as a guide on how to avoid botched travel plans. It can double as an entertaining read when my Fodor’s just won’t do.

So if you’re ready to hop on a rickshaw and careen through the streets of Cambodia with Tamara and her friend El, I have an extra copy of Bad Karma to give away. You have until midnight May 12, 2008. Happy Trails!

3 Ways to Enter:

1.) Leave a comment telling me what interests you about the book. (Something more than “sounds good” is kindly suggested.) Or tell me YOUR travel horror story!

2.) Subscribers are automatically entered into this and all future giveaways. Just enter your email address in the little white box on the upper part of the right hand column. (Please make sure to verify your Feedburner subscription by responding to the email they send you. If you don’t receive it, check your junk mail.)

3.) Blog about this giveaway on your blog with a link back.

Do all three, and you’ve got three entries to win!

All us booky types talk and blog about traveling by book all the time. We’d like to read around the world, see faraway islands, climb Mount Everest, dive to the bottom of the sea and fight giant squids. But I’ve never once said, “Gee, I wonder what it would be like to live on the freeway for a month?” Not until I heard about Autonauts of the Cosmoroute. When I learned that once upon a 1982, a favorite writer of mine, Cortazar, and his wife, Dulop, set sail for the Paris Marseilles freeway, I had to read it.

Let me tell you a little about me and Cortazar. Although Julio passed away in 1984, I didn’t meet him until the late ’90s. My husband brought me the novel Hopscotch, Cortazar’s first book back when he was a young Argentinian with a strange sense of humor. (The strange sense of humor stuck around, by the way.) I wasn’t sure I was up to reading this book. You start out on page one okay, but then you’re bouncing all over. Page 82, page 12, back to 83. But I loved it. And I got hooked onYerba Mate tea, the drink of Argentinians everywhere. I still can’t get up in the morning without one.

Cut to present. Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is an unusual and playful experiment by Cortazar and Dunlop, whereas they hop into their red VW van named Fafner and drive from rest area to rest area along the stretch of expressway between Paris and Marseilles. Two stops a day, staying overnight in the second, about 10 – 20 minutes of driving daily. Turns out they had a lot to discover about the freeway and themselves, in the process making their readers laugh a whole lot. Loaded with snapshots of their travels and their beloved Fafner the VW , the book is wonderfully entertaining. Much of the book is written as if they are embarking on a great adventure to find a new world, even listing their meals and which direction Fafner faces. And speaking of Fafner, he is a major character of the book. I loved that van so much I considered naming my own red car Fafner, but I think it would upset him. He’s been Fenry Honda for too many years now.

So if you’re looking for a unique and humorous book to read that flies faster than a Fafner, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is well worth the time. You may just start getting the urge to hit the open freeway yourself; visit a few rest areas, eat goat cheese and pommes frites, and sit under a tree in a gaudy French lawn chair watching the traffic go by.

It’s published by Archipelago Books who is responsible for bringing it to us in English.