Book Review: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

Sep 26, 2012 by

Book Review: "The Book Thief" by Markus ZusakI feel like I may be just about the last person in the book blogosphere to read The Book Thief.  But just in case you haven’t either…..  No.  I can’t really give you a coherent synopsis.  It is the story of the book thief, as told from an omniscient and omnipresent narrator…  concentrating on the thief’s life as a German girl in Nazi Germany.  She is living with a foster family, and can barely read the alphabet.  It is her foster father who teaches her how to read the words from the first book she stole.  Learning to read gives our young thief the power to survive the war.

This book contains scenarios you’d expect from any book set in Nazi Germany; Germans who love the Fuhrer, Germans who don’t.  Jewish people persecuted, Jewish people hiding.  Bombs.  Death.  Hunger.  It is put together in such a way that is compelling and intense and incredibly emotional.  The narrator makes no secret about what is going to happen, but allows the words to show their strength, their beauty and their weight in the telling.  The complexity of the human condition is shown in all its colors, and it I just found myself getting wrapped up in all of it.  I had trouble putting the book down, even when bawling my eyes out.

I will keep these characters with me for a long time to come.  They are brilliantly crafted, and just became real to me.  I just loved them, loved them all.  As an added little bonus, Mama used some German words quite often and they are now ingrained in my mind.  I have had dreams in which I’m calling someone a saumensch or saukerl.  The words just sound so guttural, so heavy and insulting – perfect for their purpose really – and I don’t even think I’m pronouncing them correctly.  By the end of the book, I was torn.  I didn’t want to stop reading, I didn’t want this experience to end, but I needed to know what happened to these people.  I needed to know how exactly their story played out.  It was beautiful.

Just on the off chance that I wasn’t the last person out there to read this, trust me when I say to go out and start reading this.  Now.  You will thank me later, I promise!

*****
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Knopf, 2005
550 pages
Source:  Gift – and THANK YOU!
*****
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Book Review: “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Jul 26, 2012 by

Reading Mrs. Dalloway involved learning a lesson that I didn’t expect.  I went into it flippantly, even though I had been warned that Virginia Woolf was difficult.  But I have read authors that some consider difficult and made it through…  I thought I knew more than I did.  I mean, it is a small book, and I assumed it would be a quick read no matter what.  I knew some people loved Woolf, and I hoped I would find an enjoyable story in it.  After all, it was a day in the life of a woman planning a party… how difficult could it really be?

Yes.  I thought that.  Can you see me cringing with that admission?  I can’t believe that I tried to debase Woolf, not to mention women in general (and I am a woman!) to that level.  I am not even going to get into all the terrible things that I’m thinking about myself right now, for thinking so simply.  For not realizing the scope of what that initial assumption could mean in a general sense.  Like I said, I am a woman (though I’ll safely assume that this applies to men as well) and I am perfectly aware of how much and how often my mind wanders throughout any given day…. subject to subject, to the past, and curious wonderings about strangers I see on the street….  I guess I never expected that true mind stream of thought could be captured so eloquently on the page.

It takes some getting used to; and I certainly had a hard time with it at first.  Thankfully, I received some great advice which really helped me let loose my usual reading style and ride the stream of consciousness flow of thoughts and ideas.  (Read the post and comments linked HERE if you are interested in the discussion)  The two hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around were that there isn’t much plot and that not every little detail matters.  It also helped to read some passages aloud, so I could grasp where the point of view changed.  While this is a day in the life of Mrs. (Clarissa) Dalloway, we also see into the minds of different people in her life or at least touch her life and day and thoughts in some manner.  I’d say that the first quarter of the book is an exercise in adjusting to this literary writing style.

And this style is extraordinary.  It is innovative.  Simple and complex all at once.  You don’t have to like it or enjoy it to see and appreciate the importance of it.  I’d imagine that re-reading this would be almost necessary to pick up on the subconscious thoughts embedded in the stream of consciousness…  It is going to take me a bit before I will be able to do that though.  This was so far out of my comfort zone that I am going to need to be gentle to my mind for a bit and read something light (and with more plot!).  I am not put off by Woolf though, and I still have Orlando on my Classics Club list.  But I will be better prepared to give her and her writing a proper go from the start next time.  I should also add that an annotated edition might have been helpful in my case!

*****
Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf
Harcourt, 1998.  Originally published 1925
194 pages
Source:  Purchased Used
*****
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Book Review & Giveaway: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce

Jul 26, 2012 by

He didn’t mean to do it.  He certainly didn’t plan it.  I mean, he didn’t even have his mobile phone on him.  He didn’t say good bye to his wife, Maureen.  But Harold did it anyway.  You see, that morning he had received a letter out of the blue from a woman he used to work with.  Queenie Hennessy had written him to say good bye, explaining that she is dying of cancer and living in a hospice.  Harold is moved by his sudden memories of a kindness Queenie provided him twenty years earlier, and writes her a letter in response.  He isn’t really happy with how he has written his letter; he is having trouble saying all the things that he needs to say to her, but he feels as though he must post the letter right away.  The first post box he walks to has already been collected, so he walks to the next one.  And then the next one after that.  By the afternoon, he has resolved to walk the entire length of England to see Queenie…  and he has sent message that she must live until he gets there.  He has faith that his walk will save Queenie.  But she’s not the only one who could use some saving…

I really liked Harold.  He is recently retired, though not really sure what to do with himself all day.  He and his wife have a truly strained relationship…. and there is just so many times a week that you can mow the lawn.  His walk becomes so much more meaningful, and it is a wonderful experience to travel along with him.    He is forced to remember terrible memories of his childhood, of the harder parts of his marriage and fatherhood but also of the happier times throughout his life.  He questions everything, and becomes quite philosophical about the meaning of his life and the legacy he will eventually leave behind.  He encounters some unique individuals along his journey, and even some followers.  There has been much sadness in Harold’s life, and you really feel his despair and depression…. and makes you feel like his biggest cheerleader when the journey becomes harder.

Maureen is also in incredible character.  She is hard, cold, and has certainly endured her share of heartache. But being left behind by Harold, being alone like this is nothing she ever anticipated and I really liked watching her transformation in response to this new situation.  Harold walks to save Queenie in a very literal sense…  but the end result is so much more.  It is meditative, emotional, surprising, humorous and a wonderful experience to read.  Rachel Joyce deserves all the wonderful buzz she’s getting for this impressive debut!

Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for review.  Good News!  They are also providing a copy for one of my US readers as well!!  Please complete this FORM to enter.  Please enter only once; duplicate entries will be deleted.  US mailing address only (no PO Boxes please).   Giveaway ends at midnight EST on July 29th, 2012.

*****
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Random House, 2012
336 pages
Source:  TLC Book Tours
*****
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Book Review: “The Shining” by Stephen King

Jun 26, 2012 by

Winter is coming to the Rocky Mountains.  The Outlook Hotel, a luxurious resort will soon be cut off from the rest of the world by the heavy snowfall.  Jack Torrance has been hired as caretaker of the hotel and will live there through the winter with his wife Wendy and their 5 year old son Danny.  Jack is going through a rough patch – he was fired from his teaching job, has given up drinking, and is trying to salvage his marriage after it was nearly destroyed due to his alcoholism.  Wendy is trying to make things work with Jack, trying to support his new sobriety but is constantly suspicious of her husband’s activities.  She is also very concerned about Danny, who goes into trances and just seems to know things… like what she is thinking or when his father is in trouble.

At first, moving into the hotel seems to have been the right move for the Torrance family.  They are spending quality time together and Jack is writing again.  But Danny’s nightmares worsen.  He is seeing horrible things within the hotel.  Jack starts to see them too, but refuses to admit it.  Then they all start to hear voices…. and the ghosts.  Danny’s nightmares are starting to come to life…..

movie versionI had seen the 1980 film by Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson a few times, but I’ll admit that while it was scary…  I didn’t really like it.  I mostly remember it as being really long, but I thought I would have given me a basic outline of what to expect when reading the book.  Sure, I guess it did on some level, but not really even a little bit.  This is so SO much better!  The creepy scary levels are off the charts in this book.  I literally had to pause between chapters toward the end, just to catch my breath.  My heart felt squeezed with terror.

Stephen King is just the master of suspense and horror.  I’ve read him before, and loved it all, but I was still somehow caught off guard with how precisely he builds and creates his frightful tales.  The way he showcases Jack’s loosening grip on reality really keeps the reader on edge.  The violence is gruesome.  Within the dreams, he uses such vulgar and repulsive images and language to keep the feeling of disgust always present.  He just doesn’t miss a trick.

I can’t tell you how glad I am to have read this book.  Yes, I will be reliving key parts for weeks to come in my dreams, but I will gladly endure it.  This book was written in 1977, and superfluous details may feel dated to the reader, but the sheer horror and creepiness of the tale is timeless.

******
The Shining
by Stephen King
Signet, 1978.  First Published 1977.
464 pages
Source:  Purchased Used
*****
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Book Review: “The Red House” by Mark Haddon

Jun 26, 2012 by

Book Review: "The Red House" by Mark HaddonNot long after their mother’s funeral, Richard invites his sister Angela and her family to vacation with him and his family in the English countryside.   This doesn’t seem terribly interesting at first, but you must take into consideration that Richard and Angela have barely spoken nor seen each other in fifteen years.  Angela’s children don’t know their Uncle Richard, his second wife Louisa or his step-daughter.  This may make for an awkward holiday in and of itself… but the close quarters in the wide open space of the countryside exposes the insecurities and personal demons that each person is battling.

My first experience with Mark Haddon was with his well-known novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.  I instantly loved that book and its main character, and expected the same here.  That didn’t quite happen.  It took me much longer to get into this one, and now that I’m finished – I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it.  Haddon adopts a very unusual voice, a very simple narration that disguises the complex themes he is discussing here.  It takes some getting used to; one character may hold the focus for a paragraph or two, and then the focus shifts without warning.  There were times that I wasn’t sure who was speaking (or thinking) for an entire page, and then I’d have to go back and read it again once I’d figured it out.  Then there would be passages from a book a character was reading or lyrics from a song one was listening to… just to keep you on your toes.   It took me far longer than I’d like to admit before I could clearly distinguish between characters within a few sentences.  It doesn’t help that there are eight characters either.

Once I was able to get past that though, this is really one very thorough examination of a dysfunctional family.  Each person is dealing with their own problems, unable to fully communicate with their family members.  We are then more accurately looking at a family of individuals.  The weeks’ vacation then is much more for each of them, and becomes more of a week of either self-discovery or of discovering each other as the case may be.  The reader really gets to know the character as the character is realizing him or herself.  The manner in which this happens, and the issues at hand, would make this book a hit with book clubs and discussion groups.  I’m not saying that this is a book that everyone will love, but that it has plenty to talk about (you know, when you’re not worried about divulging spoilers!).

*****

The Red House

by Mark Haddon

Knopf Doubleday, 2012

272 pages

Source: Publisher for honest review

*****

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“The Awakening” by Kate Chopin

Dec 26, 2011 by

The Awakening indeed!  Twenty-eight year old Edna Pontellier finds herself stuck leading a life of illusion.  There is very little that she would consider “real”, and has therefore lost her passion for living.  She slowly realizes that her marriage is not exactly perfect, nor filled with love.  Her husband is selfish and is basically only concerned with appearances.  This realization blossoms into a fierce desire to be independent and a craving for passion in her life.  She questions everything, and begins searching within herself and starts to paint again… and then she starts searching within the arms of men who are not her husband.

In this fashion, she proceeds to dismantle her life.  Upon seeing that she is unable to truly have what she really wants, she makes the final decision which honestly surprised me.  Seriously.  I didn’t realize that was the end of the story.  Once I regained my composure, I sat back; happy.

This book was quite scandalous in its time.  To think, a woman choosing against a well-established husband and family?  Following her own desires, and not the habits set forth by acceptable society?  Yes, this was sure to wreak havoc on the impressionable female readers.

I really enjoyed how Edna started to question the “norms” of her life, and how she started to assert her individuality.  The scene in which she attempts to stay up later than her husband made me laugh with his ridiculous stubbornness.  Then, for her to progressively challenge her husband’s “authority” as the book continues just becomes easier as she gains self-confidence.  This is a great read, and one that I wish I had read a long time ago.

*****
The Awakening
by Kate Chopin
Bantam Classic Reissue 2003; first published 1899
157 pages
Source:  Traded for a Used Copy
*****
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