Thursday Book Feature: A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice

By Nevil Shute

Copyright 1950.

 

Jeanne, a young English woman, is taken prisoner by the Japanese in Malaya during World War II. She and other women and children are marched across Malaya from one village to another. One Japanese commander after another refuses to take responsibility for them and sends them on their way. This goes on for over six months. Under-nourished and receiving little medical attention, fraught with illness, half of them die but not Jeanne.

Along the way, the women are befriended by two Australian soldiers, also prisoners. One of them, Joe, steals several chickens from a nearby Japanese officer’s home in order to feed them. When the Japanese find out, they crucify him and force the women and children to watch, then move on.

Months later, in another village, with the Japanese guard escorting the women dead after an illness, they’re left to their own devices. They work in the village’s rice paddies to support themselves for the next three years until the war ends.

Years later, back in England, Jeanne receives a sizable inheritance from a deceased uncle. Armed with sufficient funds, she returns to the village in Malaya where she and the other women worked in the rice paddies. In gratitude to the villagers for supporting her and the other women during the war, she has a well built in the center of town to make life easier for the women of the village since there is no running water.

She then finds out that Joe survived his ordeal at the hands of the Japanese and travels to Australia to find him. Fate brings them together, and she starts a new life in the outback.

This story is told, in part, by the lawyer in England who manages the trust fund Jeanne’s uncle set up for her in the event of his death. The lawyer relates Jeanne’s story, as she tells it to him in person and through her letters.

In a way, this book reminded me of a memoir I read a couple of years ago. Unbroken is the story of Olympic track star Louis Zamperini’s life in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. At one point while Jeanne and the other women are marching across Malaya under Japanese guard, she wonders if life would be better in a camp. If she knew what was happening to Zamperini, probably at about the same time…

At the end of the book, the author includes a note in which he explains that during World War II, the Japanese marched a group of women and children across Sumatra, not Malaya. Why, then, did he set that part of the story in Malaya? He should have explained his reason for re-inventing history. Otherwise, if I were Australian, and you were to ask me if this was a good book, I would say, “Oh my word!”

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: Against All Odds

Against All Odds

by Danielle Steel

Copyright 2017

 

From this best-selling author comes a novel about the worries associated with parenting adult children who take foolish risks. Kate, a widow, runs a successful high-end clothing resale shop in New York City. In the course of two years, her four grown children, each in turn, risk their happiness.

Isabel, a lawyer, falls for a former client with no job, no ambition, and a drug habit. Justin, a homosexual writer, along with his partner, have three babies with the help of a surrogate mother and donor eggs.

His twin sister Julie, a clothing designer, finds a man who appears to be perfect in every way but turns out to be abusive after she marries him. Willie, the youngest, an information technology specialist, falls in love with an older woman who is divorced with two children.

To add irony to the story, Kate, the parent who worries about her children’s immorality, becomes involved with a married Frenchman with whom she’s doing business. What happens as a result of all this? Read the book and find out.

Despite Danielle Steel’s annoying habit of doing too much telling and not enough showing, I enjoyed reading this, as I did many of her other books. Once I picked it up, it was hard to put down. The Recorded Books narrator did an excellent job portraying all the characters. This book makes a great point. As a parent, you sometimes have to let your children make mistakes, then be there to help pick up the pieces.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: MASH

This is a new feature I’m trying. I may not have a book to share every week, but when I do, it’ll go live Thursday. This should give you plenty of time to find a good read to get you through the weekend.

 

MASH: A Novel about Three Army Doctors

By Richard Hooker

Copyright 1996.

 

Before the movie and television series, this novel introduced such characters as Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John, Radar O’Reilly, and Hot Lips Houlihan. In 1951 during the Korean War, Hawkeye and another doctor named Duke are assigned to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Trapper John soon joins them, and the three live together in a tent they call the swamp, drinking and raising hell when they’re not operating on injured soldiers. Their excellent surgical skills improve the quality of care at MASH 4077.

According to the author, many doctors working in such hospitals were well trained but too young for the job. As a result, some broke down. Others, like Hawkeye, Duke, and Trapper, let off steam by drinking, engaging in sexual escapades, and pulling stunts. In the book, they sell photos of Trapper with a long beard and hair, passing him off as Christ, to raise money to send a Korean house boy to college in the U.S. They pretend to have flipped their lids in order to be sent to a nearby hospital for psychiatric evaluation, then spend their time in a brothel instead. They play in a corrupt football game with a team from another hospital.

This book was an Audible daily deal, and having once been a MASH fan in college, I snatched it up. I saw the movie years ago but don’t remember it as much as the TV series. I noticed many differences between that and the book.

For example, Frank Burns, a captain in the book, is a major in the TV series. In the book, Hawkeye is married, but Trapper is not. On TV, it’s the opposite. In the book, Col. Blake is a completely different character, and Col. Potter, B.J. Honeycut, Major Winchester, and Corporal Clinger don’t exist. The book portrays the 4077th MASH as having more doctors than the four in the television series.

Despite these differences, I enjoyed reading the book, laughing at all the doctors’ antics like I did when I saw them on television. It would have been really cool if it were read by Alan Alda, the actor who portrayed Hawkeye in the TV series, but the Audible narrator did a pretty good job of portraying each character. I like the way this book shows us the horrors of war but emphasizes the idea that in order to get through tough times, you have to have a sense of humor.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Reading Life

Thanks to StephJ for inspiring this. Since I love to read as much as I love to write, here are my answers to some questions about how I read.

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Do you have a specific place for reading?

Because of my visual impairment, I prefer listening to books, either in recorded or digital print formats. For this reason, I can read while eating, doing dishes, putting away laundry, etc. Most of the time, I prefer to read in the recliner that once belonged to my late husband Bill or in the back yard where he also enjoyed sitting. I like reading in these places because it makes me feel closer to him.

Do you use bookmarks or random pieces of paper?

The devices I use are capable of keeping my place when I leave a book and return to it later. They have bookmark features, but I rarely use them.

Can you just stop anywhere or must it be at the end of the chapter?

I try to stop at the end of a chapter, but some authors end chapters with cliffhangers, so that can be more easily said than done. Also, some chapters are lengthy, and if I start nodding off, forget it.

Do you eat or drink while reading?

Whether I’m reading or writing, I’m always drinking water. In mid-afternoon, I drink Dr. Pepper. Occasionally, I’ll listen to a book at the kitchen table while eating.

Do you listen to music or watch TV while reading?

Since I listen to books instead of reading them, this can be tricky, so I usually don’t.

Do you read one book at a time or several?

I read one book at a time. I finish it, or not, then move on.

Do you prefer to read at home or elsewhere?

With my portable devices, I can read anywhere, but I prefer to read at home.

Do you read out loud or silently?

Most of the time, books are read to me, either by a human voice on a recording or by my device’s text to speech engine. Sometimes though, especially when reading poetry, I read material aloud to myself with my device’s Braille display.

Do you read ahead or skip pages?

It depends on the book. With a novel, I don’t dare skip anything because I don’t want to miss an important plot twist. With a book of essays, short stories, or poems, I skip material that doesn’t appeal to me.

Do you break the spine or keep it like new?

Most of the time, I’m not dealing with spines. Occasionally though, if I really want to read a book and can’t find it in an accessible digital format, I’ll buy a hard copy and scan it. When I do this, I try to keep the book intact.

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Now it’s your turn. You can answer any or all the questions above, either in the comments field or on your own blog. If you do this on your blog, please put a link to your post in the comments field here. In any case, I look forward to reading about your reading life.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Novel Emphasizes Value of Friendship Over Love

That Part was True

by Deborah McKinlay

Copyright 2014

 

Jack and Eve have two things in common. They’re both divorced from spouses who left them for other partners, and they both love to cook and eat. Jack is a writer in the U.S. Eve lives in England.

After Eve writes Jack a fan letter, they begin corresponding and develop a friendship. By telling the story mostly from alternating viewpoints of Jack and Eve, the author gives us a glimpse of their lives: Eve’s struggle with her daughter’s wedding, Jack’s difficulty with writers’ block and relationships.

Jack and Eve support each other through hard times, and during their correspondence, they talk about meeting in Paris, but life gets in the way, and that never happens. As close as they get to each other through their letters, you’d expect the friendship to blossom into love, but it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the book has a satisfying ending. It includes recipes Jack and Eve share with each other in their letters.

In a recording of this book from Hachette Audio, Jack’s part of the story is read by an American male, and Eve’s by a British female. The narrators do an excellent job portraying these characters. I also like the way the author develops characters through dialog instead of narrative, in other words, by showing, not telling. In a sea of romantic stories, with their ups and downs and broken hearts, this book is an island where friendship is beautiful and not complicated by love.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Novel Explores Serious Questions

The Shortest Way Home

by Juliette Fay

Copyright 2013

 

Set in a suburb of Boston, this story centers around a family with Huntington’s Disease, a degenerative disorder that becomes prevalent during adulthood. Shawn, a nurse who has worked in developing countries for years, thinks he has dodged the bullet but refuses to be tested.

Feeling burned out, he comes home, hoping to re-group and then return to his work. Years earlier, after Shawn’s mother died of Huntington’s Disease, his father left Shawn and his brother and sister with their aunt and never returned.

Now, Shawn discovers that his aunt is suffering from some sort of dementia not related to Huntington’s, and his eleven-year-old nephew, Kevin, has sensory processing disorder which effects his behavior. Kevin is the son of Shawn’s brother, who died of pneumonia after Shawn went overseas.

Because his sister, a want-to-be actress, is too busy with her job as a waitress at a diner and play rehearsals, Shawn reluctantly cares for his aunt and nephew until someone else can be hired. He finds employment in a bakery run by an old friend and falls in love with Rebecca, a girl he knew in high school, who now works as a massage therapist. Then, his sister announces she’s soon heading for New York, leaving Shawn in the permanent role of caregiver. By this time, he’s conflicted between his love for Rebecca, Kevin, and his aunt and wanting to flee to Haiti, where a doctor, with whom he once worked, has opened a clinic following an earthquake.

Then, his father shows up unexpected, and after meeting his grandson, proposes a trip to Ireland with him and Shawn, to which Shawn reluctantly agrees, despite anger at his father for leaving the family years earlier. The book ends soon after they return.

I like the way this book explores the question of “to know or not to know” if you’ll be afflicted with a serious condition such as Huntington’s Disease later in life. It also focuses on the conflict between family love and loyalty and wanting to pursue one’s own dreams, especially if one’s life may be cut short by a serious illness. I can appreciate how the relationship between Shawn, raised an Irish Catholic, and God changes. There are some serious life lessons to be learned here, so I definitely recommend this book to everyone.

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 Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Novel Depicts Survival at Sea

Abbie-1

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

Copyright 2001

 

Pi is a boy growing up in India, the son of a zookeeper. In the 1970’s, when he’s sixteen years old, he and his family, in an attempt to start a new life, set sail for Canada on a cargo ship containing several animals from their zoo. The ship sinks. Pi’s father, mother, and older brother parish. He ends up on a life boat with a zebra, hyena, monkey, and tiger. The hyena kills the zebra and the monkey, and the tiger kills the hyena. Then, it’s just Pi and the tiger, who both survive the ordeal.

This book provides a lot of detail in the beginning about Pi’s life growing up in India including how he gets his name. Therefore, I would like to have known more about his life after he survives being shipwrecked.

All we know is that after a little over seven months at sea, during which time they spend a few weeks on a deserted island, Pi and the tiger end up in Mexico. The tiger wanders into a nearby forest and is never seen again. Pi is found and taken to a hospital where Japanese officials from the shipping company question him about why the ship sank. He eventually moves to Canada and attends a university, but what career path does he take?

He later tells his story to an insignificant other, who undertakes some of the narration. Who is this person?

Before the accident, Pi, as a teenager, dabbles in the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religions. How has his harrowing adventure at sea affected his faith? Which religion does he practice once settled in Canada, or does he do all three like he did in India, or has he become disillusioned with God?

Before Pi is shipwrecked, he’s a vegetarian. Once stranded on that life boat in the middle of the ocean, he realizes that in order to survive, he must eat meat: fish, turtles, and even the meerkats he finds on the deserted island. After his return to civilization, does he go back to eating strictly vegetables, or does he realize that meat isn’t so bad, especially since it kept him alive for over seven months?

Perhaps these questions can be discussed by reading groups. In any case, Life of Pi is a remarkable story of courage in the face of adversity with a theme of survival of the fittest.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.