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Thursday, March 13,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

A Theme-less Week

by Neil Rajala

Thursday, Mar. 13 — Despite the little weather setback this week, the fact that I can once again see that my driveway is made of cement and not ice, and that the grass on the edge of the roads is still there, despite being the color of rust and mud, gives me hope - and more than a little spring fever. Here's what we're reading:



SHOTGUN LOVESONGS
Nikolas Butler

Being from a very small upper Midwest town, there's something comforting about reading a novel about life in a small upper Midwest town. Mr. Butler's fictional farming community of Little Wing, Wisconsin always feels just right as he spins out the drama and humor surrounding four high school friends and their relationships to each other and especially to their close-knit town.

One of the four stayed behind to farm his family's land. The other three left, or at least tried to leave, Little Wing and became successful - a world famous singer/songwriter, a rodeo star and a Chicago commodities trader. The author tells the story by alternating the voices of each of the friends, as well as Beth, the wife of the farmer and an unexpectedly pivotal figure in the lives of the four men. The struggle between wanting more of the world vs.the magnetic pull of the hometown where your roots run deep isn't a new theme, but Mr. Butler handles it with exceptional skill and pitch-perfect emotion. A page-turner that leaves you with a glow at the finish. kobo eBook



FIVE CAME BACK
Mark Harris

My favorite reading experiences are often the surprises. I picked up Mr. Harris' new book because it looked like an interesting and unique small slice of WWII history. What I found was a truly remarkable story, every bit as exciting as any other from that era.

The five men at the center of the story - John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens, John Huston and Frank Capra - were at the pinnacle of success as multi-Oscar winning Hollywood directors in the 1930s and early 40s. Each of them volunteered to join the Armed Forces after Pearl Harbor and became part of a massive governmental effort to educate and inspire both the fighting troops and the folks back on the homefront. Between them, they saw action in the Pacific, North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. They all braved great danger, some were wounded, and made films of lasting power - all while hearing tales of their positions in Hollywood being usurped by the next generation of directors. Like every other soldier, each of them was fundamentally changed by the experience. Capra, arguably the most powerful film director in America before the war, made It's a Wonderful Life right after, then all but retired. Stevens (who filmed the liberation of three concentration camps) left the light-hearted comedies of his early career behind and won Oscars for more serious films like Giant and A Place in the Sun. Wyler returned to the top with The Best Years of Our Lives, despite having lost most of his hearing filming bombing missions over Germany. A powerful book and a fresh look at history. 



THE SNACKING DEAD
D.B. Walker

When things catch on among booksellers, they really catch on. As a group, we tend to be as obsessive about films and television shows as we are about books. For me, hot TV means House of Cards; for a large number of Schulerites, it's The Walking Dead. There's no cookbook associated with HoC - yet - but there's a dandy (read semi-gruesome) one for the zombie crowd.

So what do you whip up when the gang's gathering at your house for the latest episode? How about some Nachos of the Living Dead or Very-Last-Call Bar Nuts to start, followed by a few Survivalist Heroes or Gory Red Grinders (Squirrel Poppers, anyone?). And for dessert, who could say no to Cold-Blooded Ice Cream Bread Sandwiches or a Gratuitous Violence Jell-O Mold? Wash it all down with cocktails like Bloody Walker or Corpse Reviver and you've got a real undead party going. kobo eBook

So what's everybody looking forward to the most, once this winter finally steps aside? Do you have a favorite outdoor reading spot - a deck, a park bench, a shady piece of ground under a tree? Do you read different kinds of books depending on whether you're indoors or out? Pretty easy to tell what's on my mind this week, isn't it?

Until next week,


Neil

NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.

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