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A Little ‘Silence’ Please

NLR will be temporarily quiet due to pending assignments. 

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Mitchell Zuckoff Brings ‘Lost in Shangri-La’ to Grosse Pointe War Memorial

Cover ImageSeveral noted military attacks took place as part of World War II combat on May 13, 1945. However, on that very same day there also occurred a more anonymous incident of devastation that has, until now, slipped historians and the world at large.

Author and journalist Mitchell Zuckoff  has plucked a diamond of a story out of the remaining rubble of World War II history with his vivid account of the crash of the Gremlin Special. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II draws on remarkable interviews, journal entries, diaries and photographs to recount the astonishing tale of three plane crash survivors and their unlikely jungle rescue.

Lost in Shangri-La literally takes off in Dutch New Guinea where two dozen officers, soldiers and Women’s Army Corp members (WAC’s) board the Gremlin Special, a C-47 transport plane. The flight isn’t a tactical military mission, but rather a morale-boosting joy ride into the lush, untouched hidden valley known as Shangri-La.

The reader knows what’s coming, but Zuckoff maintains a holding pattern of suspense as he lays out the tropical tangle of mountainous land below. Anticipation builds as the Gremlin’s passengers unwittingly jockey for prime seating and optimal views of the very gorge into which the plane will soon disappear – and disappear it does.

“The distance between the C-47 and the unforgiving terrain closed to zero. To the ear-splitting din of metal twisting, glass shattering, engines groaning, branches snapping, fuel igniting, bodies tumbling, lives ending, the Gremlin Special plunged through the trees and slammed into the jungle-covered mountainside.”

Lost in Shangri-La is a wonderfully readable account of the demise of the Gremlin Special, inner-tribal warfare, and World War II military history. Zuckoff doesn’t cease to fascinate as he touches on topics such as the WAC, Filipino forces, tactical rescue and indigenous peoples. Shangri-La doesn’t bog down with overdone detail, but rather offers the opportunity for insight and tender reflection on prophecy and contemporary contradictions long after you close the cover.

Mitchell Zuckoff will be bringing his fantastic story, Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial this Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 7:30pm. This event is presented by Wayne County Community College District and the Grosse Pointe Public Library. For more information, call 313.343.2075.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

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The Ambiguous Charms of Zuckoff’s ‘Lost in Shangri-La

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The Ambiguous ‘Charms’ of Mitchell Zuckoff’s ‘Lost in Shangri-La’

Cover ImageAs a reader I often find myself wondering about little tangential topics, quirks, or details that cushion a story. As my eyes move over one page my thoughts might still be caught a few paragraphs back, roaming around with questions that itch for a little more info. What was that war all about? Does this tiny country really exist? How did the author manage to survive?

Charms candy was that little itch for me in Lost in Shangri-La. 

It seems that Tootsie Roll Industries would have little to do with Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La. However, Tootsie Roll Industries is the owner of Charms Candy; the very candy that provided the Gremlin Special’s crash survivors with enough sustenance to survive in the jungle.

“Breakfast was water and more Charms, still their only food on the third day after the crash,” writes Zuckoff. “They separated the candies by color, eating the red ones until they tired of them, moving on to yellow, and so on.”*

Due to the hardiness of Charms Candy under a variety of conditions, the candy became a standard part of American soldiers’ military issue around the time of World War II. The individually wrapped candy squares, made from sugar and corn syrup, came in an assortment of fruit flavors and were a staple of soldier rations.

The treat meant to sustain military forces, however, has taken on a more ominous tone in recent years. The Curse of Charms Candy is of unknown origin, but superstition claims that if a soldier eats, or even keeps the candy in their possession it brings bad luck.

In the article US Marines Ditch Their Unlucky Charms, one sergeant says, “Chew on a lemon Charm and you’re heading for a vehicle breakdown. Suck on a lime and it rains. Raspberry – for the highly superstitious – means death.”

Journalist Ashley Gilbertson of the New York Times found the same beliefs among forces in Afghanistan. “Never eat the Charms, the troops say; they’re unlucky. It’s just a superstition, of course – I’ve never met a soldier who could tell me why they were unlucky – but the G.I.’s take it seriously. I sometimes think that if I ever got separated from my unit in the field, I’d just follow a trail of discarded unopened Assorted Charms to find them again.”

You can link over to BookBrowse.com where you will my full review of Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La as well as thousands of reviews and intriguing sidebars.

* Taken from Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredibly Rescue Mission of World War II

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Post by Megan Shaffer


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The Lure of “Post 9/11 Literature”

Cover ImageFor obvious reasons, there’s much ado regarding 9/11 bouncing about these September days. Be it pictures, odes or song, a variety of artistic mediums are sought out and used in an attempt to lance the overwhelming emotions caught up in the dark day – that for almost a decade now – blots our calendar each year.

As an avid reader I naturally look to the language and prose of others in my attempt to sort through the chaos of history’s events. Acting as philosophical aides if you will, the angles and perspectives of differing authors ultimately give me a better grasp on how I choose to interpret something as horrific as 9/11. Simply? I turn to books.

The term “post-9/11 literature” is often tossed about and seems loosely tagged to titles. Though it seems straightforward, I personally find the term confusing so decided to turn to those in the know for some solid answers and title suggestions pertaining to the genre.

“‘Post-9/11 literature’ is a slippery fish,” shared writer/reviewer Mark Athitakis in a recent email. “While it ought to mean fiction that directly addresses the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there actually aren’t many books that would qualify under that definition.”  Athitakis points to Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” Claire Messud’s “The Emperor’s Children,” and Ken Kalfus’ “A Disorder Peculiar to the Country” as titles that “attempt to depict the effect of the day’s events on individuals.”

Athitakis believes the meaning of “9/11 literature” has expanded “almost by necessity” due to its broad arch, and now bends to include “books about Muslim terrorists but not necessarily the 9/11 hijackers (Updike’s “Terrorist,” Andre Dubus III’s “The Garden of Last Days”), the effect of 9/11 on domestic life years after (Sue Miller’s “The Lake Shore Limited,” Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”), debates about media and democracy after 9/11 (Amy Waldman’s “The Submission”), American intelligence’s response (Ward Just’s “Forgetfulness”), and so on.”

Whether a book Is/Is Not 9/11, there is still a vast array of titles out there that yearn to capture the energy and angst surrounding the terrorist attacks. Earlier this week NPR wondered if Amy Waldman’s ‘Submission’ Could Be America’s Sept. 11 Novel? Guardian has compiled a list of the 20 best 9/11 books, while the New York Times notes the ongoing publishing push in the article, 9/11 Books Released Into a Sea of Others.

Regardless of one’s interest in “post 9/11 literature,” it is fascinating to bear witness to the birth of a genre – to have experienced the attacks and appreciate the attempts of others to make sense through the device of story. “I think years from now we’ll look back at this first decade’s worth of novels as a great venting of anxiety and confusion,” wraps Athitakis, “—there is no “9/11 novel,” but there clearly is a desperate effort to get one’s hands around it, to see if fiction can address its emotional and political effects.”

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

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Ellen Airgood’s ‘South of Superior’ Seduces With Rustic Charm

Cover ImageEllen Airgood is an unlikely author. Clocking outrageous hours as a waitress and baker at the small diner she owns with her husband in Grand Marais, Michigan, it’s a wonder she has a second to write up anything other than a customer’s tab.

Airgood, however, is clearly as resourceful as the colorful characters who appear in her lyrical new novel South of Superior (Riverhead).  Released just last week, South of Superior is shaping up to be that perfect summer read. While its charms hold particular appeal for those who reside in Michigan, Airgood’s debut will easily translate to any reader looking for a wise, warm tale of love, life and friendship.

“Celebrating community and a hardscrabble way of life, South of Superior brilliantly captures what it’s like to live in a place that’s remote and lonely, yet enlivening and vital…” states Riverhead. “Filled with people who take great joy in the simple things and who recognize the deep reward in caring for others, it’s the kind of place – and story – that grabs hold of the soul and doesn’t let go.”

Airgood resides in Grand Marais, which sits on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and provides the setting for South of Superior. Known as the “Yoop” from those south of the Mackinac Bridge, the UP is nothing short of majestic and remains somewhat of a mystery for those who reside outside of its breathtaking borders. In South of Superior, Airgood grants a glimpse into the rustic lives of those who have called the peninsula home for generations and captivates with its rugged beauty.

Airgood will be appearing at several northern Michigan bookstores for signings of South of Superior over the summer. You can link to Airgood’s appearances here but as always, call venues before heading out the door.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Rosamund Lupton’s Eerie ‘Sister’ Makes Her Way to the States

Cover ImageIf pacing is the literary equivalent of peeking through fingers at the movies, get ready to make serious tracks with Rosamund Lupton’s hypnotic thriller, Sister. Even if you don’t consider yourself a reader of the mystery genre, Lupton’s edgy novel is an absolute stunner with hooks on all fronts for any literary appetite.

It’s not surprising that author Lupton, who studied English Literature at Cambridge University, was a script-writer for film and television as well. Sister confidently holds elements of Lupton’s former experience, and steadily unspools in eerie sequences of shadow-flecked shots and fractured plays of light. While Lupton’s slick yet elegant prose kicks up the backbeat of anticipation, it also deftly feeds the very humanistic plot that thrums at the heart of Sister.

“With ‘Sister,’ Lupton… enters the highly charged ring where the best psychological detective writers spar, her hands raised in a victory clench,” Liesl Schillinger raves in her NYT review (spoilers). “She encircles her story with electrified ropes: new developments continually jolt her readers, which doesn’t stop them from eagerly – and a little sadistically – awaiting the impact of the next blow… . Lupton builds suspense not only around the causes and details of her story’s brutal denouement, but also around the personalities and motivations of those who lunge and duck.”

Piatkus published Lupton’s Sister (as a paperback) to high acclaim in the UK last September and Crown Publishing Group subsequently snagged the rights to the first US edition. Crown rightfully expects Lupton’s novel Sister to be a hot seller and will release it in hardcover this Tuesday, June 7th.

Publicity is ramping up on other fronts as well. Rosamund Lupton was recently interviewed on NPR’s  The Diane Rehm Show, where she discussed her novel and it’s recent release in the United States. In addition, Sister was chosen as an Indie Next pick for June and selected by The Oprah Magazine as a July ‘Reading Room’ selection.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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– Rosamund Lupton’s second book Afterwards will be released in the UK by Piatkus on  June 9th, 2011.

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‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ is Oh So Delicious!

Cover ImageAlan Bradley is back at it and his readers couldn’t be more pleased. Flavia de Luce is saucier than ever in A Red Herring Without Mustard, Bradley’s third and latest installment of the Flavia de Luce mystery series.

Bradley’s de Luce books are a bit like a literary Christmas; they come once a year, are full of mystery, and guarantee a wink and a smile when they’re over. If you haven’t yet caught Flavia or Bradley’s clever style in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie or The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (the first and second books in the series), I strongly suggest backing up to the beginning for maximum enjoyment.

Flavia is a wonder to behold. Not only does she fearlessly make her way through the creepiest of spine-tingling situations, but she also knows how to fire it up in her chemical laboratory. It’s in Flavia’s beloved lab that sass turns to spark as she calmly sifts through the bizarre clues she’s collected along the way to solving the latest mystery in England’s Bishop’s Lacey.

A Red Herring Without Mustard is no exception to Bradley’s shrewd yet perky series, and easily falls in with Flavia’s past footsteps of messy murder and mischief. Once again, the cheeky eleven-year-old super sleuth has found herself a fresh body (dead, of course) on the old Buckshaw estate and aims to get to the bottom of things.

“I have no fear of the dead,” quips Flavia. “Indeed, in my own limited experience I have found them to produce in me a feeling that is quite the opposite of fear. A dead body is much more fascinating than a live one, and I have learned that most corpses tell better stories.”

And a good story it is. Though from a comparative standpoint Herring fizzled a touch for me at the end, its ramped-up eerie factor brought about a fine balance making A Red Herring Without Mustard a delicious read.

For those of you who are already hooked on the series, Bradley’s next Flavia de Luce novel is titled I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, and will be released in the United States on November 1, 2011. Yes, just in time for Christmas.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

NLR’s review of The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

– Review of Red Herring from National Post

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