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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: Run, Brother, Run

Book Type: true crime meets family memoir

Stereotype Alert: Nada 

Cover Art: Hey Ma!  We're in a window!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: N/A

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: David Berg writes a memoir that is half family history, half detailed account of his older brother's murder.

X-Factor: A rose by any other name...

Stereotype Alert: Nope.  This is a very interesting tale of family and murder but there isn't really anything stereotypical about it.

Cover Art: It's a memoir, y'all.  I'm pretty sure they are obligated to use an old family photo on the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: I've decided that I only want to do Bed/Bride/Bludgeon in the realm of fictional characters.  Since all the people in this story exist, I'm going to let them be.

Character Score: David Berg may be a lawyer and not an official writer, but he has a wonderful voice.  The way he tells his family's story is quirky and funny despite the murder that you know is coming.

What's the Story?:  
Run, Brother, Run is a true tale of murder and how it affects a family.  The book is written by David Berg, whose older brother was murdered under mysterious circumstances by hit man Charles Harrelson (father of actor Woody Harrelson).  While a good portion of the book deals with the crime, police investigation and the aftermath of the court case surrounding Alan Berg’s murder, much of the story is about the Berg family.  It is a story about memory and how tragic events can alter the way you see the past and the future.

Berg begins with memories from his childhood using wit and honesty to portray life in a very stressful home.  Here is one example:

“That was 1946, the year our father met Dorothy Heinrich in a Kalamazoo diner.  She would one day become his wife, but for now, she was his waitress.  “Dot” was five ten, with the sultriness of Rita Hayworth.  Mom was four ten, with the temperament of Henry VIII- so there you have it.  It wasn’t the first time Mom had caught Dad cheating, but it was the last.  Our parents would scream at each other for what felt like hours.  Alan would cry in bed beside me, and then, to my astonishment, get up and go down the hall to intervene.  Mom would shriek, Get out of here, Mr. Buttinski, this is not your business!  Get back in that bed! “(4).

Berg talks a lot about growing up in the Berg household.  A big part of that time was David and Alan’s father wanting his sons to go to medical school.  Alan took quite a few detours before getting there (including leaving the Navy due to holding a floating crap game) but Alan finally made it into the medical program at the University of Texas.  After a fight with his father, Alan took off instead of registering for classes.  The hopes of having a physician in the Berg family had died yet another death.

David becomes a lawyer much to his father’s dismay.  When Alan disappears in May of 1968, David admits to being busy starting his new career.  But it is clear that certain things don’t add up.  Alan had been involved in gambling, but he was also very in love with his wife who was then pregnant with their third child.  The police refused to start an investigation, insisting that Alan must have just taken off.  But David and his father knew different.  They began hunting for leads which took them down a whirlwind of different paths, most of which involved paying a fee of some kind.  When Alan’s body was finally found six months later, questions surrounding Charles Harrelson and a business associate of Alan and David’s father swirled in earnest. 

There isn’t a happy ending to this tale.  There is not justice for the dead, and none for the surviving family.  David Berg tries his best to use his knowledge of law to lay out the facts surrounding his brother’s murder and subsequent trial.  It is a stark tale of true crime in America in the 1960s.

X-Factor: A rose by any other name...

Full disclosure: the only reason I picked up this book was because I'd heard that the brother was murdered by Woody Harrelson's dad.  Then I read the inside cover, and was like "Woody Harrelson's father was a notorious hit man???? I must read this!"  To be honest, I'd like to know more about Charles Harrelson and how he fell into the life that he lived.  But knowing that Harrelson was never convicted of murdering Alan Berg made him into even more of a low-life than I'd originally thought.  Again, the star power isn't the factor I thought it would be, but it was still an honest, even funny memoir.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reference Question of the Day: Puberty & Stuff

So this reference question got asked a month or so back, but the exchange was so adorable I had to share.

A female tween/preteen who had been asking me to help her find various books all morning came back to the desk for another round.  Normally, this is a very outgoing, engaging young person so when she sort of crept up to the desk and whispered her question I was a little concerned.

"This is really embarrassing."  She began and buried her face in her hands.

"No worries."  I told her.  "How can I help?"

"Well, my mom told me to ask for... god, this is embarrassing... a DVD about like, puberty and stuff." *buries head in hands a second time*

I just smiled and told her that wasn't embarrassing at all- that I'd had people ask me practically everything under the sun and that her question didn't even come close to being weird or embarrassing and that she shouldn't ever be shy about asking. And sure enough, I found her a "birds and the bees etc." DVD and she was happy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Songs of Willow Frost

Book Type: plucky orphan story meets hardship of a Chinese American daughter

Stereotype Alert: meh.

Cover Art: It seems a bit foggy in here...

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Colin/Willow/Uncle Leo

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Chinese American orphan William Eng knows his mother is out there somewhere... could she really be the glamorous movie star he's seen on the silver screen?

X-Factor: Movie history

Stereotype Alert: Yeah, I don't know.  Some of William's obstacles seem a little easily overcome, but the main meat of the story is what happened to Willow to make her put William in the orphanage.

Cover Art: Foggy Chinatown instead of London?  Whatever.  I was going to read this book regardless of the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Um, it is quite obvious that Colin is pretty hot.  And knows a lot about the world of cinema.  Poor Willow.  I'd like to think that her being married would have eliminated a lot of her strife, but we all know that marriage can sometimes be more harm than good and with Willows luck, it might have just ended up being more of the bad.  And Uncle Leo.  Uncle Leo, there is a special ring of hell with your name on it, buddy.  May your ancestors forever torment you in the afterlife.

Character Score: Above average.  I liked the voices of William and Willow.  And maybe Charlotte most of all.

What's the Story?:

Jamie Ford, author of Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, returns to his Seattle roots in his second novel Songs of Willow Frost.  First we meet William Eng, a lovable Chinese American orphan who lives at the Sacred Heart Orphanage.  All of the boy orphans are given the same birthday when they arrive at Sacred Heart- September 28th: coronation date of the honorable Pope Leo XII.  On this day, all of the boys are shepherded downtown to see a motion picture as a special birthday treat.  This year (1934) the boys are taken to a showing of Cimarron.  William hunkers down in his seat to share his popcorn and Orange Crush with his best friend when something unthinkable happens.  During the Follies reel, the audience meets a new actress with a sweet, sad voice: Willow Frost.  William is stunned.  Though he can’t explain how, he knows that the woman on the screen is in fact his mother whom he hasn’t seen in five years.  Shaken, William tries to ply information out of the sisters at Sacred Heart but to no avail.  He know his Ah-ma wouldn’t have abandoned him and believes that if he can just get out of the orphanage long enough to see her in person at an upcoming show, she’d take him home again.

Life in the orphanage is not easy.  But William knows that he has it a lot better than many orphans- some roam the streets begging, others are sent off to labor farms or to work in factories.  And while he feels the strong pull to run away from the orphanage in order to find his mother, he knows that if he is caught, he probably won’t be sent anywhere as nice as Sacred Heart.  Bolstered by his best friend, the adorable but blind Charlotte, the two hatch a plan to escape from the orphanage and trek to the 5th Avenue Theatre to see Willow. 

Charlotte and William manage to sneak out of Sacred Heart and even see Willow’s show.  Afterwards, they wait with a line of other admirers outside the Stage Door.  William gets Willows autograph and calls her Ah-ma and when the actress begins to cry William knows that he’s finally found his mother.  But she is whisked off in a taxi and William is left sitting in the alley for hours.  One of the performers takes pity on William and Charlotte and gives them backstage tickets for the next performance.  There, William gets a chance to speak with Willow before her next performance.  Unfortunately, Sister Briganti arrives to take the two orphans back to Sacred Heart before William can get all of the answers about his past.

Will William find Willow again?  Will he ever find out how he wound up at Sacred Heart?  But most importantly, does Willow still want her little boy?  Songs of Willow Frost is an interesting tale about the bond of parent and child, duty to society and the history of early motion pictures.  I was seriously afraid that Songs would be a Sophomore Slump type book.  Not so.  Granted, Songs doesn't combine the same number of interesting issues with the same amount of finesse as Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but this is a separate book set in a separate time.  I wasn't disappointed.  

X-Factor: I'm a sucker for the background on things I love.  Learning about the early days of film in Seattle (as opposed to Hollywood) was really cool.  I almost wish there'd been more back story for Colin just so I could find out more but, alas.  A nice historical touch.

Songs of Willow Frost is available wherever you can manage to buy a print book.