Review: Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas


Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas
Abby Sunderland with Lynne Vincent

Product Description (from
The stirring narrative of Unsinkable tells sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland’s remarkable true story of attempting to become the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world.

More people have flown into outer space than have sailed solo around the globe. It is a challenge so immense that many have died trying, and all have been pushed beyond every physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual limit. In Unsinkable, readers follow Abby Sunderland into those depths. This biography delivers a gripping and evocative firsthand account that starts prior to her departure, travels through her daring (and sometimes near-death) encounters on the open sea, to her dramatic rescue in the remotest corner of the Indian Ocean, and the media explosion that happened upon her safe return to dry land.

Along the way, readers discover what it means to boldly face any challenge, to strive after something great, and to plumb the depths of faith, fear, and desperation only to emerge changed, renewed, and emboldened. In this day and age, when the most productive thing a teenager may do is play videogames, Abby’s ambition and tenacity is a real-life parable of what can happen when we choose to exceed our own limits, embrace faith, and strive after what all the naysayers say is impossible.

My Thoughts:
Having recently re-read one of my favorite books ever, Tania Aebi’s Maiden Voyage, I was in the mood for more stories of circumnavigation. I find the idea of circling the world alone in a sailboat both romantic and insane, as all the best adventures tend to be. I download samples of two books: Abby Sunderland’s story about her attempt to to a solo, non-stop, unassisted campaign was the first I read, and I finished it this morning over coffee, yogurt, and a croissant with Seville marmalade, the grey weather outside my window meshing nicely with Abby’s final days on her boat, Wild Eyes.

As I’m not a parent, I can’t speak to whether or not it was the responsible thing to allow Abby to make the attempt to sail around the world. As I’m no longer sixteen (and haven’t been for more years than I care to count), I can’t speak to whether or not that age is “too young” to do things. I don’t know Abby, but I do know that her story comes across as honest, interesting, and ultimately inspiring. How many of us, after all, have Bucket Lists of things we will never do, let alone attempt?

As a left-wing, liberal, non-evangelical Christian, I was concerned that the religious aspect of Abby’s story – and of her life – would be off-putting, but instead, I found her faith to be representative of what the best religion should be: supporting, uplifting, and helpful, rather than divisive. Her faith seemed to ground her, and her ability to poke a bit of fun at herself endeared her to me.

So, for most of the weekend (when I wasn’t busy shopping, doing laundry, recovering from strep, cuddling dogs, and cooking), I was with Abby on her voyage. At first, the convention of having symbols to mark the changes in point of view bothered me (an anchor for the ‘narrator,’ a sailboat for Abby, and a cross for the rescue team that eventually plucked her from the middle of the Indian Ocean after her boat had rolled over and become dis-masted – and that’s not a spoiler because it was in the news), but the symbols quickly became invisible, and the switches in voice enhanced the over-all story, allowing us to experience the care and concern of the land-based “Team Abby” – which included her family, friends, and a cadre of experts – and even the perspective of the rescue team.

My ultimate impression? Abby is a very lucky young woman, not just because she survived a horrible accident at sea, but because she had the courage and the support to go on her adventure in the first place. Does it matter that she ultimately didn’t succeed in her circumnavigation? Not one iota. Her story is satisfying, and even after all of it, her life is just beginning.

I can’t wait to find out what further adventures she undertakes.

Goes well with: Hot coffee and warm croissants, especially on a cold rainy day.

Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas
Abby Sunderland with Lynne Vincent
Thomas Nelson Press, April, 2011
240 Pages
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Review: I Want it Now! A Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, by Julie Dawn Cole

I Want it Now

I Want it Now! A Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Julie Dawn Cole, with Michael Essinger

Description (from In 1970, Julie Dawn Cole was cast as the unforgettable Veruca Salt in the classic motion picture Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder. Since its release in 1971, this epic musical has endured as a favorite of children from around the world with a fan base that encompasses generations of movie goers. With its unforgettable characters, chocolaty landscapes and everlasting music, this charming fairy-tale mixes these ingredients into what has been become a cinematic classic from literary legend Roald Dahl. Praised by critics worldwide and often featured in broadcasts with other masterpiece musicals, it remains a timeless treasure. Acclaimed film critic Robert Ebert wrote: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is probably the best film of its sort since The Wizard of Oz. It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren’t: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination.” Julie Dawn Cole has written an enchanting and richly illustrated memoir that offers a rare look behind the stage curtain to this ageless film. Splendidly illustrated with personal letters, never-seen-before photographs and documents; her mesmerizing story chronicles the entire production experience and tells of the remarkable journey of how she became known worldwide as a really bad egg. Filled with countless funny and touching memories, her story takes readers behind-the-scenes of Willy Wonka and the resulting coming of age journey that brought the cast together again after nearly a quarter century. I Want it Now takes readers beyond the world of pure imagination and behind the scenes to this universally cherished motion picture. A true-to-life Charlie Bucket tale, Julie’s story is unforgettable…

Review: I was born in the same year that Willy Wonky and the Chocolate Factory was being filmed, so I’ve never known life without Gene Wilder and the cast of kids singing and dancing their way through the chocolate factory. Like many little girls, demanding, impetuous Veruca Salt was my favorite character. She may have wanted it now, but I wanted to be her.

When Julie Dawn Cole’s memoir of life on the set showed up as a Kindle book for under $3, I had to have it. I mean, I enjoy memoirs in general, but this book spoke to the child in me as well as the adult. I enjoyed her memories of the set, the filming, the other kids. Her real life wasn’t so great when she was young, and while none of the kids made a fortune on the film, her income helped keep her mother and sister safe and healthy.

This memoir isn’t terribly profound, or incredibly important (except, maybe, to Ms. Cole herself), but it’s an interesting, candid account of a marvelous adventure with enough of “what happened after” to make it feel complete. Ms. Cole is still a working actor, while the other kids who were part of the film left the business (the boy who played Charlie grew up to become a veterinarian – how cool is that?), so technically, I guess that’s a happy ending.

Great read, especially if you’re a fan of the film.

I Want it Now! A Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Julie Dawn Cole, with Michael Essinger
BearManor Media, February 2011
252 pages
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Review: We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, A Broken-Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed their Lives Forever, by Benjamin Mee

We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever
Benjamin Mee

Description (from Publishers Weekly):
Between his wife Katherine’s diagnosis of glioblastoma and her quiet death less than three years later, Mee (The Call of DIY), his siblings and his mother bought a bedraggled zoo, complete with decaying buildings, a ragtag group of animals, an eclectic staff and a reputation that had been quickly going to the wolves. In this occasionally charming (to his children: Quiet. Daddy’s trying to buy a zoo) but overly wordy book, Mee writes about caring for his dying wife and their two young children, dealing with Code Red emergencies (when a dangerous animal escapes its confines), hiring staff, learning about his new two- and four-footed charges and setting his sights on refurbishing his zoo into a sanctuary for breeding and raising endangered animals. Mee tends to meander with too-long explanations for one-sentence points, and the awe he feels about each individual animal is repetitive. Coupled with Britishisms that are never explained and a curious lack of varied wild animal stories, this book that was obviously meant to make animal lovers roar with pleasure will only make them whine with frustration.

I have to confess that this isn’t a book that ever would have crossed my path if I hadn’t seen the movie with my husband and parents over the December holidays. We chose this film because I wanted something that was non-violent and uplifting, and while the movie re-set the events in America, and sanitized the more brutal aspects of Benjamin Mee’s memoir, it was true to the source material in spirit, and quite enjoyable, overall.

The book, on the other hand, was naked, honest, sad (at times), happy (at other times) and ultimately left me with a better understanding of what it takes to commit to something to life-changing as to buy and renovate a wild animal park. I mean, I’m involved with dog rescue, and this makes my efforts seem so puny by comparison.

Still, it was a satisfying read. I wish Mee’s wife had lived, at least long enough to see the zoo turn a profit. I wish some of it had been easier for him and his family.

Memoirs are tough to read, because you sometimes find that you dislike the author. Mee’s memoir left nothing to dislike, and made me long to fly to England and visit his zoo.

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever
Benjamin Mee
Weinstein Books, September 2008
272 Pages
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30-Day Book Meme #6: Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie

There aren’t a lot of books that really make me sad, though there are many books with individual moments that cause me to get a little weepy. One book that does make me sad, however, is Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. I actually only read it for the first time last month, but it made me sad, and it made me angry – we don’t treat our older citizens very well – and it made me miss my grandparents.