At the Bottom of Everything
, Ben Dolnick’s impressive third novel, tells the story of two friends and the divergent paths their lives take as they grow older. Adam and Thomas become buddies in prep school. Thomas is a quirky brainiac; Adam, meanwhile, possesses the social skills his friend lacks. When Thomas bails on college and goes to India, his mother turns to Adam for help. But Adam is too busy sorting out his own troubles to get involved. Haunted by his ex-girlfriend and dissatisfied with his work as a tutor, he isn’t sure where his life is going. Yet he and Thomas are bound by a dark incident from their schooldays that had terrible repercussions for everyone involved. When Adam finally heads to India to locate Thomas, the two friends come to terms with the past. Dolnick has created a pair of multilayered, complex characters, each with his own idiosyncratic personality. This insightful tale of old friends in search of themselves will resonate with readers of all ages.

Brian Payton’s compelling book, The Wind Is Not a River, is a powerful historical novel about secrets, survival and love. Journalist John Easley is struggling to make sense of World War II, which has claimed the life of his brother. Leaving his wife, Helen, in Seattle, he travels to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, which have been invaded by the Japanese. Although the invasion has been kept under wraps by the U.S. government, John is determined to find out what he can about it. But when he joins a crew of American flyers for a bombing mission and their plane is shot down, he winds up stranded on the island of Attu. Heartbroken over John’s disappearance and resolved to find him, Helen signs on with a U.S.O. troupe headed for Alaska. Payton writes about Helen’s search and John’s fight for survival with compassion, detail and insight. Bringing a little-known chapter in military history to vivid life, he has written a classic wartime narrative that’s deeply personal and masterfully crafted.

More than three years after it was originally published, Laura Hillenbrand’s terrific second book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, is available in paperback. In this acclaimed bestseller, Hillenbrand tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, a track star from California who excels at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and endures incredible hardship during World War II. In May 1943, Zamperini’s bomber takes a plunge into the Pacific Ocean. After the crash, along with two other survivors, he hoists himself onto a life raft and begins a long fight to stay alive. He pulls through, only to be taken prisoner by the Japanese. Hillenbrand recounts Zamperini’s incredible trials with the same narrative aplomb she demonstrated in Seabiscuit. Zamperini is an unforgettable character, and in Hillenbrand’s hands, his story takes on timeless proportions. A movie adaptation of the book is set to hit screens this Christmas.


This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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