The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell

I like to read a variety of genres and, like many readers, I have a list of my favourite authors whom I trust to give me an awesome read in their usual genre. But I also love it when an author breaks out of his or her genre to try something different.

Case in point – Robert Dugoni. He is one of my go-to authors for suspense (if you haven’t read his Tracy Crosswhite series you really must — start with My Sister’s Grave). With The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, he branches out to write a stand-alone, heart-felt coming-of-age story about a boy named Sam Hill who faces adversity throughout his life because he was born with a genetic abnormality – ocular albinism which gives him red eyes.

Sam Hill (nicknamed “Sam Hell”) is a main character readers will easily get behind. The story is told using short chapters alternating between Sam’s childhood and adulthood, where readers witness Sam’s struggles with discrimination, a ruthless bully and being a social outcast. Through it all he has the unwavering support of his two best friends and his parents but it’s his relationship with this mother, his staunchest champion, that brought a few tears to this reader’s eyes (which is no easy feat, I’m telling you).

This is an engaging and touching story that hits all the emotional buttons and will be most appreciated by those who have ever felt like an underdog. Sam’s story is about faith, loyalty, persistence and unconditional love. You’re simply going to love Sam Hill.

Note: I highly recommend you read the author’s acknowledgements at the end of the book. I loved learning about his personal connection to the story and how the idea of Sam Hill came to him.

— Laurie P.

Hillary : Everest & Beyond

Recently, the Waterloo Public Library added the DVD Hillary: Everest and Beyond to its feature film collection. It’s a fictionalized version of the life of New Zealand adventurer and philanthropist Sir Edmund Percival Hillary. I wanted to try something different (I usually prefer mysteries or action packed thrillers) so I took this one home. To my surprise it was quite good.

In Hillary it was very interesting to learn that as early as 1885 there were suggestions that climbing Everest would be possible. People were eager to scale the mountain. Some of the earlier attempts are briefly dealt with in the film and feature the northern approach which was discovered in 1921 by Brits George Mallory and Guy Bullock even though they were not equipped for such an attempt. In 1922, Mallory and Bullock returned with George Finch. They climbed using oxygen which allowed the team to travel at a pace of more than 951 feet per hour but still they did not reach the summit.

In 1924, Mallory and Geoffrey Bruce’s attempt was cancelled due to poor weather conditions but Norton and Somervell, who climbed without oxygen and had good weather, managed to reach 28,050 feet. They attempted to finish the climb using oxygen but did not succeed. On June 8, 1924 Mallory (this time with Andrew Irvine) tried again via the North Col-North Ridge-Northeast Ridge route but never returned. On May 1, 1999 Mallory’s body was found by the Mallory-Irvine Expedition. Irvine’s was never recovered.

screen-shot-2017-04-02-at-09.28.28There were several other early yet unsuccessful expeditions in the 1920s also mentioned in the film, as well as attempts in 1933 and 1936 via the North Face. Also in 1933 (and not mentioned in the movie) British Millionaire Lady Huston financed the Houston-Mount Everest Flight Expedition, in which aircraft flew over the summit of Everest for the first time.

In 1950 access to the north-to-west route was closed after China took control of Tibet. Bill Tilman and a small party made an attempt using the route which has become the standard approach to Everest (or what the Tibetans call “Chomolungma,” or “Holy Mother”) from the South. A Swiss expedition in 1952 led by Edouard Wyss-Dunant was granted permission, taking the Khumbu Icefall and ascending to an elevation of 26,201 feet. Raymond Lambert and Nepali-Indian born Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached 28,199 feet on the southeast ridge setting a new climbing altitude record. As a result of Norgay’s experience he was hired to be part of the British expedition in 1953.

After all the build-up from the other expeditions and Hillary’s sheer determination (which is depicted marvelously in the film) at 11:30am local time on May 29, 1953 the then unknown man, Hillary from South Auckland, New Zealand, along with trusty Sherpa Norgay, successfully made it to the summit of Mount Everest. News of the expedition reached London on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Several days later Hillary, along with Col. John Hunt (who led the expedition), received knighthoods.

Although there were parts of Hillary’s life that the film didn’t depict it is a worthwhile watch and made me want to find out more about this fascinating man. If you want to learn more about his exploits and philanthropy check out the following titles from WPL’s collection. They will fill in the gaps left by the film and help readers better understand the tall, shy, sensitive man who loved to read and also to push life’s limits.

High Adventure: true story of the first ascent of Everest” – in this autobiography, Sir Edmund Hillary recounts his life, his ascent of Everest and the history of mountaineering expeditions in China and Nepal.

To the Top! Climbing the World’s Highest Mountain” – in this eBook for kids, author S.A. Kramer describes how Hillary and his Sherpa reached Everest.

View from the Summit” – another autobiography where Sir Edmund Hillary recounts more about his life including jet boating up the Ganges and initiating a building program which included schools, clinics, airstrips and bridges in Nepal.

Sir Edmund Hillary & the People of Everest” – this coffee table book illustrates the social life and customs of the Nepalese people, as well as the life of Hillary and mountaineering. It’s filled with beautiful photos and celebrates 50 years and the golden anniversary of the conquest of Everest.

— Teresa N-P

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The Next Great Teen Read

As a Library Assistant, there is nothing I find more encouraging than having a teenager approach my desk looking for something to read. With Tumblr, Snapchat, WhatsApp and whatever other social media outlets out there that I’m far too old to understand it’s awesome to know that there are still so many teenagers who enjoy reading a good old fashioned book.

The best reader’s advisory questions I get are from high school students looking for their next great read. I always make sure I have a running list of the latest teen fiction to suit which ever genre appeals to them. This can be tricky, however, when faced with those keen readers that have already finished all of the popular teen titles in our collection. For this reason I was thrilled when The Echo Room by Parker Peeveyhouse crossed my desk.

In The Echo Room, Rett wakes up in an abandoned building. There is no food and no water. He has no memory of how he got there. There is blood on his clothes. There is blood on his hands. The only clue is the phrase “Scatter 3” written on the wall.

Stumbling through empty rooms, he comes across a girl named Bryn. She also claims to have no memory. As they explore, danger arrives. Their memories erase and the day repeats. And it repeats again. And again. Every time the day repeats, the reader learns a little more about Rett and Bryn’s situation.

The outside world is failing. Crops are making people sick. Parents are forced to work off their medical bills at government run facilities. Their children are being left to be raised in orphanages. As Rett and Bryn make their way through the abandoned building, they discover that surrounding area has turned into a wasteland- nothing but rocks and ruined structures. As the days keep repeating, Rett and Bryn begin to recall tiny parts of their former lives and they must put all the pieces together if they want to survive.

I am so excited to have another excellent title to recommend to those enthusiastic teen readers who come to my desk. The Echo Room will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner series, yet it offers a whole new take, combining all of the elements of a thriller, survival and science fiction book into one. Teen readers this IS your next great read.

— Lesley L.

Happy 30th Die Hard

It’s so hard to believe that Die Hard is 30 years old this year. Bruce Willis has been saving his estranged wife and her coworkers from Hans Gruber and his ruthless henchmen for decades now and it’s still one of the most enjoyable action movies of all time. It was nominated for a few Academy Awards in 1998, the ones you would expect, like Best Sound Effects and Best Visual Effects, but that doesn’t take into consideration that the writing was top-notch and Bruce Willis takes you on an emotional journey unlike any other in that genre. All two hours and twelve minutes of that film are filled with action and set the standard for movies in that genre that come to follow.

When the movie first came out I saw it with high school friends and we joined the rest of the audience in cheering each time John McClane made it through another terrifying moment against the despicable criminals – they were so calculated in their lawbreaking. As time has passed and I’ve seen the movie again and again (and with the help of my two daughters’ critical eyes) I can see that they carefully set everything up to make the whole film an endless barrage of moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. McClane removes his shirt (and shoes and socks, after his seatmate in the airplane suggests that it will help him to relax after his stressful airplane flight) to clean up after his flight to see his wife Holly and without this ‘armour’ he is even more vulnerable when the first shots are heard. The very fact that he has flown to Los Angeles from New York to try and mend some of the damage in their marriage makes the audience care for him even more. And when he just doesn’t stop, despite grueling injuries and the terrifying thought that his wife could be in danger, well, we are there with him every step of the way. We are watching through our fingers as he continues to battle, despite everything horrible that comes his way, we are on McClane’s side until the last bullet and flash of a bomb.

Of course, throughout all of those horrible moments comes what Bruce Willis was known for at the time, his perfect comic delivery. He made “Die Hard” while he was filming the TV show “Moonlighting” and the dialogue seems as if it were written specifically for him, even though in the years since the film was released we have learned that he wasn’t the first actor they considered for this role. I’ve read that Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone were possible leads. Even Frank Sinatra was considered. I can’t imagine anyone else saying some of the things McClane said as he crawled through those air ducts or as he wrapped his battered feet on the floor of the barren office tower.

Some of those things are filled with language that isn’t appropriate for this post but he was under such strain at the time so we need to forgive him. When he called for help from the top of Nakatomi Plaza, they didn’t believe him and told him that the phone line was for emergency calls only. Just imagine… that 911 operator had it coming to her when he said he wasn’t calling to order a pizza (or something very like that, I’m leaving out a few words). Each time it seemed like things were going his way the cup is dashed from his lips. It’s maddening and exciting at the same time and so, so watchable.

Attention must also be paid to the dialogue that they wrote for McClane’s worthy adversary, Hans Gruber, because he was equally enjoyable to watch. Alan Rickman was so incredible in this part that you feel as if the writers were giving one snappy line to McClane and then one to Gruber like they were shelling out for Hallowe’en. His character is never at a loss, always a step ahead, and terrifying. When he and McClane cross paths he is able to quickly switch to an American accent and convince McClane that he is a victim – as if he were one of his own hostages! I almost always feel like shouting at the screen when this happens. He is ruthless, cool under the extreme pressure of their heist and is oh, so clever. When he is trying to convince Mr. Takagi to give him the code he says “I could talk about industrialization and men’s fashion all day but I’m afraid work must intrude.” in a voice that makes you believe that perhaps he might be willing to talk but he also might be willing to kill at any moment. It’s eerie.

The impact of McClane and Gruber’s fight to the finish might not have resulted in multiple Oscars but it does cause people to discuss whether or not this film should be considered a “Christmas Movie” every few years. I am firmly on the side of watching it during the holiday season – McClane is going home for the holidays, Holly and her co-workers are taken hostage during their Christmas party and the soundtrack includes classics like “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it snow” and Run-D.M.C.‘s “Christmas in Hollis”. It’s an absolutely fun watch and it has a happy ending – that all says Christmas movie to me. The movie has been listed in many ‘Best Of’ lists, it spawned a franchise for Bruce Willis, and his sweaty undershirt and police badge are now in the Smithsonian. (see image below)

If you search the Internet you will find t-shirts, Christmas sweaters and gifts with all of the best Die Hard quotes printed in various fonts. You can purchase a box set of the DVDs in a Nakatomi Plaza-shaped commemorative box (I’ve seriously considered it) and we recently added a graphic novel to the collection called A Million Ways to Die Hard by a group of authors and illustrators who have worked for Marvel and D.C. You can read it and find out what these artists imagine McClane’s life is like now that he is in retirement, or could have been like if he wasn’t dragged back into the world of policing to face a psychotic serial killer.

Die Hard and John McClane will be with us for years to come and I am thrilled. This movie goes out regularly throughout the year at all library locations and every holiday season we have requests for it to go home with someone for a special festive viewing. I know that I’m looking forward to watching it again, probably not exactly for the 30th time but I’ll take a minute to contemplate how much I’ve enjoyed it through the years and perhaps I’ll walk barefoot on the carpet for a while, just making fists with my toes, like someone I know.

— Penny M.

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