Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Memoriam: J.D. Salinger, 91

I just found out, via Twitter (and @neilhimself), that J.D. Salinger has died.

From The Globe and Mail (full article here):

J.D. Salinger, the legendary author, youth hero and fugitive from fame whose The Catcher in the Rye shocked and inspired a world he increasingly shunned, has died. He was 91.
Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, the author's son said in a statement from Salinger's literary representative. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in the small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.

Although he was a self-imposed recluse for much of the last few decades, his writing spoke to many a young person. He did what all good authors do: He reached beyond himself to influence the way people see the world.

I've only read The Catcher in the Rye once, in high school, but I remember being both turned off and drawn to Holden Caulfield as a character. Sure, he was a bit abrasive, but I think I read this book at a crucial time. I was feeling a little lost and misunderstood, just like Holden, and so I was able to identify a little bit with his struggle (Although I never sought out a hooker...). And I'm just one of millions of people who feel this way.

It is a sad, sad day for literature. Godspeed, Salinger. You've left us with a very important piece of yourself in Holden Caulfield.

Booking Through Thursday: January 28, 2010

For more Booking Through Thursdays, or to read other bloggers' responses, click here.

Jackie says, “I love books with complicated plots and unexpected endings. What is your favourite book with a fantastic twist at the end?”

So, today’s question is in two parts.
1. Do YOU like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings?
2. What book with a surprise ending is your favorite? Or your least favorite?
Here's my answer, in two parts:

1. Yes, I do like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings. In fact, I prefer them to books with easy plots and predictable endings!

2. The books that have surprise endings that are my favorites are Kate Morton's two books, The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden. Although they're really not "surprise" endings in the sense that I never saw the ending coming at all, she leads the reader through enough twists and turns that, by the time you get to the ending, you're not sure you've figured it out.
What about you? Do you like surprise endings?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: January by Gabrielle Lord

Conspiracy 365 JanuaryTitle: January

Author: Gabrielle Lord

Pages: 185

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First Sentence: "It was the wild, billowing black cloak, streaming behind the menacing figure, that first caught my eye."

Summary (From back of book):
On New Year's Eve Cal is chased down the street by a staggering, sick man with a deadly warning...
They killed your father. They'll kill you. You must survive the next 365 days!
Hurled into a life on the run, with a price on his head, the 15-year-old fugitive is isolated and alone. Hunted by the law and ruthless criminals, Cal must somehow uncover the truth about his father's mysterious death and a history-changing secret. Who can he turn to, who can he trust, when the whole world seems to want him dead?
The clock is ticking. Any second could be his last.

My Two Cents:
I received a copy of this from a friend of my husband's family who sells the Usborne books. This is the first in a new 12-book series, one each month this year, aimed at upper juvenile readers. My husband's cousin has read this book and raved about it to me over Christmas, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

The story itself is engrossing enough. Cal is playing football (Or soccer, as we say here in America) with a friend on New Year's Eve when a man staggers up to him and warns him of the Ormond Singularity and the danger in which Cal will find himself for the next 365 days. This warning sets off a series of pretty crazy events, including a boat wreck, two kidnappings and two attempted murders. And that's just in the first month.

Cal's father, who died of a mysterious viral brain disease a few months before the book opens, claimed to have found a secret that would change history and make the family a great deal of money. But, he doesn't get the chance to tell anyone before the disease begins to eat away at his brain, causing him to only be able to create a series of cryptic drawings that Cal must now piece together.

I really like this concept, and the story sounds great. Anything that can get a kid hooked on reading and potentially keep them coming back for 11 more tries at this character and story is fine by me. The writing, however, was less than stellar.

Sure, I understand that juvenile fiction is supposed to be written at the level of the kids it's aimed at, but some of the dialogue and description was just a little tedious.

For example:

I looked at Mum as if to say, "Tell me it's not true!"
"She's right," Mum whispered. "There were months' worth of house payments left in the account. There's nothing now."
I couldn't speak. I stood watching Mum comfort Gabbi, holding her close, smoothing her hair, telling her it was going to be all right.

I also didn't really get a feeling for Cal as a character. He just seemed to be this kid who had lost his father and received a dangerous warning, but there was really nothing else to him. Not exactly what I like to see in a main character, especially a main character I'm being asked to follow for 12 books.

For what it's worth, though, I think this would be a great book for kids who may be reluctant readers, or for kids who might want a little bit of history thrown into their reading. There wasn't much history in this volume, but I get the feeling there will be more in the future.

My rating: 5/10

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: January 26, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Sorry it's taken me so long to get to this, but I got hit with a (non-stomach) flu late yesterday afternoon and couldn't even sit up at my computer to schedule this post! I'm feeling much better now, thankfully.
Here are mine:
The Bonfire of the Vanities: A NovelThis one stared at Sherman as he came down the stairs, but the other one, the smaller one, didn't. He was wearing a sport jacket and the sort of brown pants a wife might choose to go with it. - The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, page 327
Wolf Hall: A Novel (Man Booker Prize)
Who says two bishops should hold up her hem? It's all written down in a great book, so old that one hardly dare touch it, breathe on it; Lisle seems to know it by heart. - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, page 381

Conspiracy 365 January

I'd had the nightmare yet again. The same terrifying images and feelings had disturbed my sleep: being lost and helpless, shivering with fear and cold. - January by Gabrielle Lord, page 39

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: January 25, 2010

Hosted by J.Kaye, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her reading selections for the past week.

This week, I finished reading:
The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin

This week, I reviewed:
The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin

This week, I'm reading:
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Yes, STILL!!)
January by Gabrielle Lord

This week, I hope to begin reading:
Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
The English American by Alison Larkin

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: Kristy's Big Idea (BSC #1) by Ann M. Martin

Title: Kristy's Big Idea (Baby-Sitters Club #1)

Author: Ann M. Martin

Pages: 153

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge


When Kristy Thomas watches her mother call all over town trying to find a babysitter for her younger brother, she comes up with a great idea: Start a baby-sitting club so parents can reach several babysitters at once. She invites her two best friends, and one new arrival to town, to join the fun.

My Two Cents:
I had not read this book since I was probably 7 or 8 years old. It has been sitting back on the library shelves, taunting me, ever since I moved the entire BSC series from the library I closed back in August. I was such a horrible BSC addict when I was a kid -- I had nearly every book (Although I think most of them have since been sold), and I watched the short-lived television series at every opportunity -- but I wanted to re-experience the first book as an adult.

It's easy to understand why the BSC became such a successful series with pre-teen girls in the early 1990s. The characters are so real and relatable that it would be difficult for any girl reading the books not to find someone with whom they can identify. This even becomes easier as the series progresses and new members of the BSC are added. I always identified with Mary Anne, and even more than 15 years later, I still do!

Although the dialogue is a bit tedious at times (There's a lot of, "Okay, great!" and "Yeah" responses in conversation), Martin actually pretty closely mimics the flow of a real conversation. The story flows well, the characters unfold pretty easily and Martin sets the basis for one of the most-beloved juvenile series for girls of all time. I'm so glad that Scholastic has agreed to re-release the books so that a new generation can experience the fun of the BSC.

My rating: 9/10

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

ShiverTitle: Shiver 

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Pages: 390

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First sentence: "I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves."

For six years, Grace has watched her yellow-eyed wolf, the wolf who saved her from death, from a distance. He disappears every summer and returns in the fall, watching. When a local teen appears to have been killed by the wolves who live in Grace's woods, the lives of the human inhabitants of Mercy Falls, Minn., and the wolves will collide.

Sam has loved Grace ever since he first saw her, on a cold night six years ago. He leads two lives -- when it's warm, he's human, but when it's cold, he's something else entirely. Once Grace and Sam admit to their feelings for one another, it's a race against time -- and the weather -- for the teens.

My Two Cents:
I have kept my Twilight-related rants off here thus far, mainly because I haven't read anything in the young adult paranormal romance genre recently. However, I couldn't pass this one by, so, I apologize for the potential length of this review in advance.

The key to any good young adult paranormal romance (or any young adult romance, for that matter) is an object of human affection who is just out of reach for some reason. In Twilight, Edward's a vampire, so that makes him slightly unattainable to Bella. In Shiver, Sam is a werewolf (I admit I giggled at the fact that the werewolf was named Sam, like one of the wolves in Twilight), so that also makes him unattainable to Grace. That sense of longing is what creates a lot of the tension, and throwing in the challenges of a human/mythological creature relationship just intensifies that tension. It's this tension that makes the stories so compelling and so utterly irresistible to already-hormonal teenagers (and adults, as it would seem).

The comparisons to Twilight stop there, however. While Twilight is a fairly compelling story (In that you want to know what happens next, which keeps you reading), it's actually a really poorly written quartet of books.

Shiver, on the other hand, is beautifully written. Stiefvater seamlessly transitions between Grace and Sam as narrators. Where Grace is pragmatic and practical, which shows in her narration, Sam is poetic. I would quote some specific passages here, but I just gave the library's copy to the mother of a teen who I think would enjoy the book. I found myself completely unable to put this book down, which is the mark of a good story, but there also were portions that I just wanted to go back and re-read a few times because they were so well-constructed from a language standpoint.

One of the things I really liked about Shiver's world was that there were actually potentially logical explanations for the folklore (Unlike in Twilight, where Meyer just throws all the previous mythology out the window and doesn't explain why people may have developed those perceptions). For example, Sam explains that he believes people think werewolves change with a full moon because it is traditionally colder at night. Since the wolves in Stiefvater's world change as the temperature gets colder, this seems a logical explanation (Unlike the complete absence of fangs in Twilight or about 1,000,000 other things).

Grace is a character I would have liked to have as a friend when I was a teenager. She's smart, funny and caring. And Sam. Well, Sam is definitely someone I would have liked to meet when I was in high school. He's protective of Grace without being overbearing and he's intelligent and not afraid to show it. His good looks don't hurt, either.

Everywhere that Twilight failed, in my mind (And it's a lot of places), Shiver soared. I was thrilled to learn that this is going to be part of a series, although I'm interested to see how Stiefvater keeps the storyline going. This is one book that needs to get into the hands of every Twilight fangirl on Earth so she can see just how good a young adult paranormal romance can be.

My rating: 10/10

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Favorite Reads: The Great Gatsby

Hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books, this is a weekly meme in which bloggers tell about their favorite reads from the past.


 Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pages: 180

First Sentence: "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since."


Nick Carraway is a Midwesterner who moves out to New York looking for a change in life. He moves to West Egg, a stylish portion of the island of Long Island, where he rents a small house situated between two mansions.

One of those mansions belongs to Jay Gatsby, a mysteriously wealthy, charismatic man with a hidden past.

Across the harbor, on East Egg, the portion of Long Island belonging to the "old money," lives Nick's cousin, Daisy Buchanan.

After attending a lavish party thrown by Gatsby, Nick befriends the lonely millionaire, who draws the narrator into his life of constant parties. Later, Nick learns that Gatsby once loved Daisy, and amassed his fortune in an attempt to woo her away from her violent, philandering husband, Tom.

When something happens to Tom's mistress and Gatsby is made the fall-guy, the reader watches as the American Dream comes crashing down around his ears.

Note: I hate writing my own summaries because I'm always afraid I'll reveal too much of the plot, but I wasn't fond of any of the other summaries I've found online.

Why I Chose It:
Gatsby is my all-time favorite book. I don't know if there's a book out there that can replace this one in my eyes as the best. Of course, revealing Gatsby as my favorite book of all time always came as a surprise to my college professors and fellow classmates, as I was widely known as a staunch Anglophile who believed that American literature was not a bit original.

Part of what makes this book my favorite is its brilliant portrayal of the 1920s in all its brightly hued glory as well as its gritty reality. There's a deep sense of desperation underlying the entire novel, portrayed most vividly in the wasteland surrounding the garage and the billboard advertising an optometrist's office. People turned to wild parties and short dresses and lots and lots of liquor in the 1920s as a means of escaping the horrors that World War I brought. Thousands of young men died fighting a war halfway across the world, and people needed to forget that. The vibrant haze that was the 1920s, a time when many people enjoyed a new prosperity, offered that escape.

I first read this book my sophomore year in high school, and remember being enchanted. I always had a soft spot for the 1920s, but this was the 1920s unlike I had ever seen it before. Fitzgerald's language did something to me that I've never been able to turn away from. Sure, I read a lot before I read Gatsby, but I had never engaged so much with the poetry of the language until then.

For example:

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath -- already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group and then excited with triumph glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light. 
It's because of passages such as these that I return to this book at least once every couple of years, always discovering something new. The first couple of times I read this book, I strongly disliked Daisy. I thought she was nothing more than a vapid, shallow shell of a woman who flitted from one pleasure-filled adventure to the next. While this is true, I later discovered that she's also somewhat sympathetic. She's never been taught to be anything other than a poor little rich girl, and she doesn't possess the capacity to decide, for herself, what she really wants in life.

As always, though, Gatsby is my favorite character. He's so much like so many of us, it almost hurts to examine him closely. He found what he wanted -- Daisy -- at a point in his life when he couldn't have her, so he did everything he could to find a way to win her back. Gatsby comes so close to attaining his desire, his own personal American Dream, but it just slips right through his fingers. He's the person that has many, many secret troubles and struggles who puts on a brave face for the rest of the world. He's the man who's been kicked down many times, but keeps fighting. There's a little bit of Gatsby in everyone.

With that, I leave you with what is, in my opinion, the best closing of a book, ever:

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. ... And one fine morning--
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan

This book was provided to me by Thomas Nelson Publishers through Book Sneeze.

Title: The Long Way Home (Due out Feb. 2, 2010)

Author: Andrew Klavan

Pages: 342

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First sentence: "The man with the knife was a stranger."

Summary (From the back cover):
Charlie West went to bed one night an ordinary high school student. He woke up a hunted man. Terrorists are trying to kill him. The police want to arrest him for the stabbing death of his best friend. He doesn't know whose side he's on or who he can trust. With his pursuers closing in on every side, Charlie makes his way back to his hometown to find some answers. There, holed up in an abandoned mansion, he's joined by his friends in a desperate attempt to discover the truth about a murder he can't remember -- and the love he can never forget.

My Two Cents:
The Long Way Home is the second book in the Homelanders series by two-time Edgar award-winning author Andrew Klavan. I've not read the first book in the series (The Last Thing I Remember) , but I don't think it's absolutely necessary to have read the first book to understand the second. Actually, I think it makes the second book more intriguing because you don't know what happened in the first book.

The book starts out with a fight in a library bathroom between Charlie and an unknown assailant with a knife, and the action rarely lags from there on out. Charlie is on the run from a lot of very powerful -- and dangerous -- people, so it makes sense that he has a kind of Maniac Magee thing going on.

Since the book is so action-heavy, it's a really quick read, even by young adult standards. I think I finished this whole book in under three hours, pretty good considering its page count.

In terms of characterization, I thought Klavan did a good job with creating a believable fall-guy of sorts in Charlie, as well as creating some believable (albeit somewhat stereotypical) teenage characters in his friends. The two adults we see are also fairly believable (again, somewhat stereotypical) characters. But, since this seems to be a book about plot and action, I can forgive the stereotyping of the teens -- the nerdy friend who has all the technological hook-ups, the big lovable guy who looks scarier than he is, etc.

There was one point on which my suspension of disbelief kind of wavered. His friends try to help him out by providing him with food and clothing, and they spend a lot of time with him. I found myself wondering where these kids' parents were, that they didn't notice their kids weren't home a couple of nights, and where the kids got all the money they needed to help Charlie out. It's a small point, but it kind of bugged me.

Another thing that kind of got to me was the constant repetition of certain words and phrases in sentences. For example:

I was running out of time. I had to get out of here.
I scooped up the knife from the floor. I slipped the brutal blade under my belt so that it went into my pocket. I pulled down my fleece so that it hid the handle.
Maybe it's the writer in me, but I couldn't seem to get past the fact that Klavan began five sentences in a row with "I."

I also wasn't a fan of how heavy-handed the love of country plot got at times. Sure, I realize that it was necessary to show that Charlie really loves America and would be about the least likely kid to join a homegrown terrorist group, but I didn't really need paragraphs popping up every few dozen pages to tell me that. Paragraphs such as this:

The page was headlined: "Real True America: Debunking the Myths, Getting the Facts Straight." There were a lot of links on the page, but I only had to go to a few of them before I realized what they were. Basically it was a list of every bad thing that had ever happened in this country, everything people had ever done wrong. You know the stuff: slavery and some of the unfair attacks on American Indians and so on. Some of it really was bad and some of it only looked bad when taken out of its historical context. And there was none of the good stuff at all. Nothing about the Constitution and the way it preserved and protected the freedom God gave people to do and think and become whatever they could. Nothing about the fact that America's influence had brought that freedom to places where it had never been and protected it in places where it was under attack. There's so much about this country that is unique in history and great for humankind. But none of that was there. It was only about the bad stuff people do, which happens in America just like it happens everywhere else.
 OK, Charlie, I get it. America's great. But, wow. Did you need to go on about it that much? It was a little too "America's great and can do no wrong" for me.

Despite these criticisms, I really did enjoy this book, especially since I'm not usually into the thriller genre, young adult or otherwise. I think it's a great book for teens and adults who want some action and a quick read.

My rating: 7/10

Review: Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

Title: Rabbit at Rest

Author: John Updike

Pages: 465

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First sentence: "Standing amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what's floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his own: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane."

OK, I decided that I need to make up my own summary, because the ones I've found give too much away. Don't you hate that?

The final in the Rabbit Angstrom series (Although there's a novella that follows the timeline of this, according to Amazon), Rabbit at Rest finds Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom at 55-years-old, semi-retired and suffering from a bad heart. The book is set in 1988-1989, nearly 30 years from the setting of the first novel in the series.

He and his wife, Janice, now spend half their year at a condominium in Florida, and the other half back home in Pennsylvania. The novel opens with the couple waiting for a post-Christmas visit from their son, Nelson, and his family. Nelson becomes increasingly antagonistic and "twitchy" throughout the trip, often disappearing for long periods of time with Harry and Janice's car.

Following a heart attack in Florida, Harry and Janice return to Pennsylvania, where Harry has an angioplasty. Although he knows he should exercise more and eat less, Harry can't get past the desire to snack constantly, mostly on things that are terrible for him.

The couple finds out Nelson is addicted to cocaine and has swindled the family Toyota dealership out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Harry tries to convince Janice to pull Nelson from the job, a job Harry never wanted him to have because he doesn't think Nelson is responsible enough, but it isn't until Nelson admits his problem and enters rehabilitation that anything gets done.

I really don't want to go into much more in this summary, as it kind of helps give away the ending. So, if you're still interested, read the book!

My Two Cents:
This was my favorite of the whole quartet, at least from what I can remember of Rabbit, Run. Nelson is still as annoying as he was in Rabbit is Rich (My review here) , but Harry is much less horrible than he was in Rabbit Redux (My review here). In fact, he seemed to mellow out a whole lot more and actually start to stand up for what he thought should happen instead of sitting back and taking it all.

Janice started to redeem herself in my mind in this book, but kind of threw it all away in the latter part of the book. I didn't like her in Redux because she put herself before the welfare of her son, and she was just really, really dumb in Rich. She was still far too indulgent of Nelson and his immaturity, but she actually stood up to him, which he needed.

As always, Updike was one of the masters of prose writing. Some of these passages are amazingly brilliant and detailed. Here's an example:

Up, up; the air thins, the barometer registers, the timer begins to tick as the plane snugly bores through the darkness and the pilot chats on the radio while the cockpit lights burn and wink around him and the passengers nod over their drinks in their slots of pastel plastic. This image, like a seed at last breaking its shell in moist soil, awakens in Harry the realization that even now as he lies here in this antiseptic white fog tangled in tubes and ties of blood and marriage he is just like the people he felt so sorry for, falling from the burst-open airplane: he too is falling, helplessly falling, toward death. The fate awaiting him behind this veil of medical attention is as absolute as that which greeted those bodies fallen smack upon the boggy Scottish earth like garbage bags full of water.

I'm still failing to see where this quartet is a "valentine to (Updike's) country" as Joyce Carol Oates said, but I think this is a book, if only for the prose alone, belongs in the American canon of great books.

My rating: 8/10

Booking Through Thursday - Favorite Unknowns

For more Booking Through Thursday questions, and links to other bloggers' responses, click here.

Today, I'm procrastinating on writing reviews of the two books I finished yesterday by doing a Booking Through Thursday first. Yes, yes, I know: Work before play. However, I just can't seem to wrap my head around the reviews at this moment, so hopefully this will help clear the pipes.

Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

I read a lot of classics, so finding an "unknown" author is kind of difficult for me. However, there were two or three that sprang to mind. They're all kind of well-known, but they aren't the big bestsellers that I think they should be.

Kate Morton

The House at Riverton: A NovelI first got a copy of Kate Morton's The House at Riverton through an ARC program
on Barnes & Noble's Web site. It hadn't come out in the United States yet, but we were asked to read and participate in a book discussion.I loved how she writes what I call "family mysteries" -- You know, those books about skeletons in everyone's closet and one person is trying to figure it out -- instead of a traditional murder mystery. More my style.

She draws the reader in with some great dialogue and even more fascinating characters. And, once she's got you, she twists and turns the story so that, just when you think you've got things figured out, you start to question your judgment.

The Forgotten Garden: A NovelHer second novel, The Forgotten Garden, came out in the middle of last year and was just as fabulous and engrossing as the first. This one, though, had a little touch of magic and fairy tales which made it seem a little more fantastical, but no less real.

Luckily, everyone at my library I've given these books to have loved them.

Stephanie Kallos

Sing Them Home: A NovelI purchased Stephanie Kallos' second novel, Sing Them Home, for my library early in the fall. I had seen it in bookstores, and it kept popping up in my Amazon recommendations, so I took a look.

The premise sounded just off-the-wall enough for me to be interested -- A woman disappeared during a tornado several years ago, and her children must struggle to come to terms with her disappearance. It's got a little bit of fantasy, a lot of realism and a lot of great characterization.

The three children are all very different, and each deal with their mother's disappearance and the resulting change in family dynamics in their own way. Ultimately, though, it is their father's death that makes the siblings realize that they can't keep living in the past.

I'll admit, there were times when this book seemed as if it was going in too many directions. Kallos, however, sews things up nicely in the end.

Broken for YouI have since purchased her first novel, Broken for You, for the library, but haven't had the chance to read it.

Haruki Murakami

I know, I know... Murakami is pretty well-known across the book and reading world, so he doesn't technically count. However, I don't know a whole lot of people who read him, and I know people who read a lot of really obscure stuff.

I think a lot of what scares people off Murakami is that he tends to blend the fantastical and magical right in with the realistic, and his fantastical and magical is kind of out there.

Kafka on the ShoreTake Kafka on the Shore, the only book of his I've read to date (Although I do have at least one or two others sitting on my shelves, waiting). There are talking cats. There are ghosts. There's an Oedipal curse. But, the whole time, you're always left wondering: Is this really happening in the novel, or is it just one big hallucination?

The thing I really like about Murakami, at least from Kafka, is that he gives us a taste of Japan without it being Memoirs of a Geisha. It's subtle, but it's there.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review: The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers

Title: The World According to Mister Rogers

Author: Fred Rogers

Pages: 189

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

From the inside flap:

There are few personalities who evoke such universal feelings of warmth as Fred Rogers. An enduring presence in American homes for over 30 years, his plainspoken wisdom continues to guide and comfort many. The World According to Mister Rogers distills the legacy and singular worldview of this beloved American figure.
An inspiring collection of stories, anecdotes, and insights -- with sections titled Understanding Love, The Courage to Be Yourself, The Challenges of Inner Discipline, and We Are All Neighbors -- The World According to Mister Rogers is a testament to the legacy of a man who served and continues to serve as a role model to millions.

My Two Cents:

I have always had a fondness for Mister Rogers and his show, ever since I was a kid. So, when I saw this on the Amazon clearance page, I had to order it for the library.

This book is a series of quick-hit quotes and stories, very rarely over one page long, that capture the essence of who Fred Rogers was. And, as many people know, he was exactly the person off-camera as he appeared to be on-camera.

I loved a lot of the things Mister Rogers (I just can't not call him Mister Rogers!) said in this book. Although he devoted his life to teaching and serving children, this really isn't so much a children's book as it is a book for the adults who remember Mister Rogers and his show from their childhoods. I could hear him saying a lot of the things, and, whenever there was a song quoted, I could hear his softly lilting voice. It brought back some great memories.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from this book:

I'm proud of you for the times you came in second, or third, or fourth, but what you did was the best you had ever done.

Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.

I do love being a grandfather, and I wonder if it wasn't because my grandfather McFeely loved me so much, and I had such a good time with him.

I hope you're proud of yourself for the times you've said "yes," when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to somebody else.

This is one of those books that I would like to purchase eventually, to come back to over and over again when I'm in need of a little help through the day. It's always good to know that you've got a friend in Mister Rogers.

My rating: 10/10

Teaser Tuesdays: Split-Level Edition

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read

Open to a random page

Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
My teasers:
"No, it isn't moonlight, he sees; it is the sulfurous illumination that afflicts busy paved places all night. Though the hour is near eleven, a traffic of giant trucks heaves and snorts and groans through the sleepy stone town; the realtor's big window is full of Polaroid snapshots of property for sale, and Route 23, once a narrow road on the bridge between two farm valleys as dark at night as manure, now blazes with the signs that are everywhere." - Rabbit at Rest, John Updike

"But summer comes and he, Cromwell, knows he has gone to the brink and must feel his way back. Henry is too timid, Tyndale too intransigent." - Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've decided to join in on the weekly It's Monday! What Are You Reading? meme hosted by J.Kaye.

This week, I finished reading:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Aeneid by Vergil

This week, I reviewed:

This week, I'm reading:
Rabbit at Rest by John Updike (Then I'll FINALLY be finished with the quartet! Although, I hear there's a fifth book...)
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This week, I hope to begin reading:
Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton or Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

The Honest Scrap Award

I received the Honest Scrap Award from Kathmeista at [Insert suitably snappy title here]. Thanks! The rules for this award are:

1. The Honest Scrap Blogger Award must be shared.

2. The recipient has to tell 10 (true) things about themselves that no one else knows.

3. The recipient has to pass on the award to 7 more bloggers.

4. Those 7 bloggers should link back to the blog that awarded them.

My 10 things are:

1. I don't mind doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming, but I hate, hate, hate doing dishes. Since we don't have a dishwasher, this means that dishes can sit in our sink/on our counter for a couple of days before being washed.

2. I like knowing where everything is in my house and at work, so certain things are hyper-organized. However, when I'm in the midst of working on something, I can make a huge mess that will sit there until the project's done.

3. I have a very different approach to organizing my books. You would think that, as a librarian, my books would be organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. Not true (Although I have toyed with doing so recently). I currently have three floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books, and the organization goes like this: Shakespeare and contemporaries; American fiction and poetry alphabetical by author; world fiction and poetry alphabetical by author; anthologies; drama; non-fiction; British poetry and fiction alphabetical by author; books to be read organized by date they were bought (Most recent at top) and then alphabetically by author within those dates (ie, If I purchased a group of books at a book sale on one day, I will alphabetize them by author).

4. I didn't set out to be a journalist or a librarian. I started college wanting to be an English professor. It wasn't until the second semester of my junior year in college that I started writing for my college's newspaper. From there, I was hooked and spent the next three years as a journalist. I became a librarian because I saw an advertisement in a local newspaper and was itching to get out of full-time journalism.

5. When I studied at New College, Oxford, for a term, I rowed on my college's novice team. We came in second in the big novice regatta (Against something like 60 other teams) only because one of my teammates caught a crab. GDBM.

6. When I'm not reading or writing, I'm cooking or knitting. I love to cook and knit. A lot.

7. I have an unhealthy addiction to Shakespeare merchandise. Anything with a Shakespeare picture, quote, etc., is fair game for a purchase. It is kind of ridiculous, especially if you ask my husband.

8. If I could have dinner with any three people in history, living or dead, I would choose Shakespeare (See above!), Sylvia Plath and Atilla the Hun. Why Atilla the Hun? Because I think it would add a little bit of spice to the meal.

9. I'm trying to give up processed sugar this year. I just recently (Like, yesterday) began this one, so we'll see how it goes. I have a feeling I'll be having withdrawal pains somewhere around Friday.

10. I drive a car with a manual transmission. My husband taught me how to drive stick when we first began dating, and I'm on my second manual car. I always feel kind of cooler than the rest of the drivers because I'm driving a stick. :)

The seven blogs to whom I pass on the Honest Scrap Award are:

silencing the bell

a ska loving geek

a lovely shore breeze...

Find Your Next Book Here

As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Bermudaonion's Weblog

Library Queue

Thanks again, Kath!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: The Aeneid by Vergil

Title: The Aeneid

Author: Vergil

Pages: 379

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Summary (very, very basic):

The Aeneid was Latin poet Vergil's answer to the Greek poet Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. It tells the story of how Aeneas, a refugee from a destroyed Troy, founded the city of Rome.

Vergil based much of the structure of his epic, which is in two main parts -- The journey to Italy and the wars in Italy -- on Homer's two epics. He used long-told legends of Aeneas for the majority of his storyline.

As Aeneas and the other refugees set out for Italy, they are at the mercy of a wrathful Juno, who is upset that Aeneas' mother, Venus, was chosen by Paris as chief among the goddesses, and that the fleeing Trojans are destined to destroy Carthage, her favorite city.

Half of the epic, Aeneas is telling, at a banquet, of the Trojans' journey to Italy from the point in time where Homer's Iliad left off.

My Two Cents:

The Aeneid is one of those staples of an education in Latin with which I was acquainted during my high school and college years, but only from a translation standpoint. In other words, I would be assigned to translate passages from The Aeneid as homework, but never really read the epic in its entirety until now.

I love poetry, but epic poetry is something I've never quite been able to wrap my head around. I think it's because, with epic poetry, it's so much about the story and so little (In many cases) about the symbolism that I run into trouble. The conventions of the poetic form make it difficult to follow what would be, in prose, a normal sentence over several lines. By the time I get to the end of a "sentence" in an epic, I've lost the entire meaning of the thought because of the twists and turns of the poetic dialogue.

So, basically, this was a bit of a slog for me.

Keeping in mind that, in both Greek and Roman mythology, the gods and goddesses are petty and vengeful and really, really like to indulge their whims, I really thought Juno was spot-on. She was upset that Paris chose Venus as the best goddess (That's such a reductive way to state this, but there you have it), so she decided to take it out on Aeneas. However, she didn't really take into account that Aeneas would be protected by some other gods and goddesses, so she just ended up killing a bunch of people close to Aeneas without ever really being able to touch him. I guess that's the "Hurting those closest to your target hurts more than actually hurting your target" theory of vengeance.

Aeneas is one of those characters that ran kind of hot and cold with me. At times, he seemed to be the heroic, noble founder of Rome from legends. At other times, he was kind of boring. For being the title character of this epic, I found him pretty blah.

I did find myself, during battle scenes, grimacing quite often whenever someone was slashed/impaled/beheaded/what-have-you, as Vergil was quite fond of the term "gore" and all that went with it ("Thick gore," "thick black gore," "clotted gore" -- You get the idea). Much more effective than a lengthy description of blood spurting several feet from a decapitated trunk, if you ask me.

Overall, I liked The Aeneid well enough to see why it's a classic in higher education. However, for those of you squeamish of epic poetry, I'd suggest finding either a prose version (I'm sure they exist somewhere) or a version that offers summaries of each of the books.

My rating: 7/10

Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Author: Alan Bradley

Pages: 370

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Line: "It was as black in the closet as old blood."

Summary (from the back of the book):
In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950 -- an a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia's family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.

My Two Cents:

Although I enjoyed this book, something didn't sit quite right with me.

This book started and finished strong. For the first 50 to 75 pages and the last 70 or so pages, I couldn't put the book down because I wanted to know what happened. But the middle just lagged something awful. I kept putting the book down and, reluctantly, coming back to it. At a couple points, I almost gave up on it entirely, but I don't usually do that with books. I'll wrestle through it and hope it gets better in the end.

Luckily, the book did pick up near the end, but that middle portion likely soured my view of the book.

I'm also having a difficult time deciding whether I liked Flavia, or whether I was annoyed with her. I usually like child and teen characters who are smart and aren't stereotypical, but Bradley's narration style made Flavia almost seem a show-off; it was as if she was rattling off chemical formulas simply because she knows that's what smart people do.

Another thing that bugged me throughout the book was that it seemed as if Bradley was cramming in every British phrase and reference possible simply because he thought he should (Bradley is a born-and-bred Canadian, although there's no mention in his biography as to whether he's ever lived in the UK). Having lived in England for a few months, I know that there are certain turns of phrase and products (Such as Weetabix) that are quintessentially British. However, there is a point of saturation that can be reached to where all the references from that point on just seem like overkill. I think Bradley reached that point round about page 125.

Despite the fairly negative tone of this review, I can honestly say that I did like The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and will likely read Bradley's next Flavia de Luce mystery, The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, due out in March.

My rating: 7/10

My Favorite Reads: The Exorcist

Hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books, this is a weekly meme in which bloggers tell about their favorite reads from the past.

Title: The Exorcist

Author: William Peter Blatty

Pages: 400


An elderly Jesuit priest named Father Lankester Merrin is leading an archaeological dig in northern Iraq and studying ancient relics. Following the discovery of a small statue of the demon Pazuzu (an actual ancient Sumerian demigod) and a modern-day St. Joseph medal curiously juxtaposed together at the site, a series of omens alerts him to a pending confrontation with a powerful evil, which unknown to the reader at this point, he has battled before in an exorcism in Africa. Meanwhile, in Georgetown, a young girl named Regan MacNeil living with her famous actress mother, Chris, becomes inexplicably ill. After a gradual series of poltergeist-like disturbances, she undergoes disturbing psychological and physical changes, appearing to become "possessed" by a demonic spirit.

After several unsuccessful psychiatric and medical treatments, Regan's mother turns to a local Jesuit priest. Father Damien Karras, who is currently going through a crisis of faith coupled with the loss of his mother, agrees to see Regan as a psychiatrist, but initially resists the notion that it is an actual demonic possession. After a few meetings with the child, now completely inhabited by a diabolical personality, he turns to the local bishop for permission to perform an exorcism on the child.

After consultation with the Jesuit president of Georgetown, the bishop appoints the experienced Merrin, recently returned to the States, to perform the exorcism and allows the doubt-ridden Karras to assist him. The lengthy exorcism tests the priests, both physically and spiritually. After the death of Merrin, the task ultimately restores Karras' faith, leading him to give his own life to save Regan's.

Why I Chose This Book:

I picked up this book from a garage sale sometime when I was in 7th or 8th grade. At that point in my life, I was really, REALLY into the paranormal (I still am -- Heck, my license plate is an homage to The X-Files). I had never seen the film, but I wanted to read the book.

Over the course of the next several years, I think I read this book at least once a year for a total nearing 16 times. I'm not quite sure why, except I was working on a lot of theater at the time, so this was something I could pick up between scenes and just read.

I finally saw the movie when I was in high school, probably around the time that they theatrically released the director's cut for the 25th anniversary. I was so disappointed. It wasn't scary at all in my opinion. The book was much, much better.

Part of the reason why this is one of my all-time favorite books is because Blatty does a fantastic job with the description and suspense. Sure, there are some really disturbing scenes in here (I'm not even going to go into the reason why I couldn't look at a crucifix for several days after I read this book the first time), but  knowing that the book was based on actual events makes them even more creepy.

I was going to post another of my favorite reads today, but The Exorcist popped into my head on my way to work because of this lovely little photo I saw on Awkward Family Photos yesterday. I have this exact same copy of the book, only mine no longer has a cover.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Flaps

I've decided to join in on the Booking Through Thursday meme that I've seen on so many other blogs. For other responses to today's question, go here.

btt button
Suggested by Prairie Progressive:
Do you read the inside flaps that describe a book before or while reading it?

My answer: Yes, I read the flaps/backs of books before I read a book. If it strikes my fancy, I'll pick it up. If not, I won't waste my time with it, especially since there are so many other books out there I could be reading!

What about you? Do you read the flaps/backs of books?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

Title: Rabbit Is Rich
Author: John Updike
Pages: 432
Challenges: 451 Challenge; Read 'n' Review Challenge

From Wikipedia:
This third novel of Updike's Rabbit series examines the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a one-time high school basketball star, who has reached a paunchy middle-age without relocating from Brewer, Pennsylvania, the poor, fictional city of his birth. Harry and Janice, his wife of twenty-two years, live comfortably, having inherited her late father's Toyota dealership. He is indeed rich, but Harry's persistent problems — his wife's drinking, his troubled son's schemes, his libido, and spectres from his past — complicate life. Having achieved a lifestyle that would have embarrassed his working-class parents, Harry is not greedy, but neither is he ever quite satisfied. Harry has become somewhat enamored of a country-club friend's young wife. He also has to deal with the indecision and irresponsibility of Nelson, his son, who is a student at Kent State University. Throughout the book, Harry wonders about his former lover Ruth, and whether she had ever given birth to their child.

My Two Cents:

While Rabbit Is Rich is much better than Rabbit Redux (See my review of that here), both in characterization and story, there's just something about the sequels to Rabbit, Run that irks me.

Where Rabbit was disturbing in an overly voyeristic and sexual way in Redux, I found him to be much more enjoyable this time around. He was actually funny and somewhat sympathetic, something I hadn't felt for him since Run. In fact, I actually liked Rabbit this time around.

Nelson, his son, however, I wanted to slap across the room and into next Tuesday. He was whiny, lazy and spoiled. I had to keep reminding myself that he was 23 instead of 13 because he acted as if he was nothing more than a put-upon teenager (You all know the type!). He quits college because it doesn't "do anything" for him, and thinks he can just come home and work at the car lot his grandmother and parents co-own. Janice and Bessie, her mother, try to push Rabbit to give Nelson "a place" there, because it's what Janice's father would have wanted, even though he is nowhere near ready for the responsibility. He whines, complains and bullies his way onto the car lot against Rabbit's better judgment, and eventually Rabbit's skepticism is rewarded.

Updike is still that fabulous, present-tense writer he's always been. I especially liked his description of Janice and Rabbit's plane ride to the Caribbean.

I know this is supposed to be an "everyman" kind of novel, and the characters aren't supposed to be heroic or really even likable, but I still have a hard time with a novel in which I hate nearly every character (With the exception, this time, of Rabbit). It just doesn't do much for me.

My rating: 6/10

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Review: Swimsuit by James Patterson

Title: Swimsuit
Author: James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Pages: 391
Challenges: Take Another Chance Challenge (#6 - Genre Switch-Up); Read 'n' Review Challenge

From Publishers Weekly:

A serial killer with an urge to break into print propels this thriller from bestseller Patterson and collaborator Paetro (4th of July). Ben Hawkins, a former L.A. cop turned reporter and author, travels to Hawaii to look into the disappearance of model Kim McDaniels, who has fallen victim to a sadistic fiend who calls himself Henri Benoit. Ben meets with Kim's distraught parents, but the investigation soon runs into dead ends, even as the body count rises. Back in Los Angeles, Henri gets in touch with Ben, and offers the story of his life and the reasons he continues with his murderous spree. As part of the deal, Henri asks the reporter to write his tell-all book. Ben can't refuse given the killer's threat to his life as well as his girlfriend's. In just one of many clever twists, Henri proves to be the consummate storyteller. Patterson fans will devour this one in a single sitting.

My Two Cents:

Since this book fulfills the "genre switch-up" portion of the TAC Challenge, I will just start out by saying I am not a fan of thrillers. Never have been and never will be.

I know James Patterson is a really popular author (If he weren't, he wouldn't come out with a novel every other month! But I digress...), and he can tell a good story, but there were some glaringly annoying things about this book. Mainly, I wasn't too fond of the way his main character, Ben Hawkins, wasn't particularly consistent.

Sure, people have their public personas, the ones we show when we're on-duty at work, but the thought process going on behind all that doesn't change that dramatically. Or, it shouldn't. Ben is all business while at work, and it shows in his narration -- Taught sentences, quick images. Then, when he talks about his girlfriend, Amanda, it's suddenly a big Ben puddle of love. His thoughts get sloppy and he fawns constantly. Yeah, you could chalk it up to the whole "crazy in love" thing, but it bugged me.

That being said, this was an engaging story. If I had been able to sit down and read it straight through, I think I could have pounded it out in a couple of hours. As it is, I finished it in less than a whole day. And the psychopathic killer, Henri Benoit, is very believable as a delusional killer. He really did creep me out.

I like Patterson's young adult series, Maximum Ride and Daniel X, and I went into this book hoping to see much of the same funny, snappy narration. I didn't really get that, and I was disappointed. But, I do have to give the man a lot of credit: He can tell a really compelling story.

Part of my prejudice against thrillers comes in that they are just so popular. They're full of action and suspense, so they make great movies. I prefer a little more cerebral work with my reading, thank you, so I have never thought twice about picking up a thriller. They fly off the shelves at my library, but I usually just smile and say I haven't read it when someone asks.

If you're a fan of thrillers, you'll love this. As for me, I think I'll stick to Patterson's young adult series and steer clear of anything with the thriller label from now on.

My rating: 5/10

Friday, January 8, 2010

Reviews: The Lightning Thief and The Book Thief

Note: I am writing two reviews in one post today because they fall into the same category in the Take Another Chance Challenge.

Title: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1)
Author: Rick Riordan
Pages: 400
Challenges: Take Another Chance Challenge (#9 - Same Word, Different Book); Read 'n' Review Challenge

From School Library Journal:

At the outset of this fast-paced tale by Rick Riordan (Hyperion/Miramax, 2005), it would seem that Percy Jackson is just another New York kid diagnosed with ADHD, who has good intentions, a nasty stepfather, and a long line of schools that have rejected him. The revelation of his status as half-blood offspring of one of the Greek gods is nicely packaged, and it's easy to believe that Mount Olympus, in modern times, has migrated to the 600th floor of the Empire State Building (the center of Western civilization) while the door to Hades can be found at DOA Recording Studio, somewhere in LA. With his new friends, a disguised satyr, and the half-blood daughter of Athena, Percy sets out across the country to rectify a feud between Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon. Along the way they must cope with the Furies, Medusa, motorcycle thug Aires, and various other immortals. Mythology fans will love this take and kids who haven't been inculcated with the Classical canon will learn aspects of it here while having no trouble following a rollicking good–and modern–adventure.

My Two Cents:

This book was such a refreshing change from a lot of young adult literature; it was a HUGE breath of fresh air. Most young adult books either have pathetically one-dimensional characters (I'm looking at you, Twilight) or their characters are stereotypically awful kids (Gossip Girl, et al) that no amount of great storytelling is going to make up for it.

Riordan, however, manages to not only make Percy Jackson, a demigod (But I won't tell you whose son he is!), a likable character with just the right amount of teenaged sass (He knows who to mouth off to, but shows proper respect to his mother), but he also tells an enthralling story filled with hilarious allusions to Greek mythology.

The writing here is also solid, neither talking down to the target audience nor too over their heads, and Riordan sucks you in from the very beginning. I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

My rating: 8/10

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Pages: 550
Challenges: Take Another Chance Challenge (#9 - Same Word, Different Book); 451 Challenge; Read 'n' Review Challenge

From School Library Journal:

Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.

My Two Cents:

Wow. This was one powerful book.

When I first began reading it, I had read several glowing reviews touting this book as "life-changing," but I wasn't so sure. I was intrigued, especially since the book is narrated by Death, so I kept plugging along.

Then, I fell in love with Liesel. She is one of those adolescent characters who is wise beyond her years and that I always wish I had known when I was a kid. She is strong, mostly by virtue of her situation, and her tenacity pays off when she learns to read and write through a series of late-night sessions with her foster father, Hans.

Hans is another character I simply adored. He has a deep-reaching kindness in his heart, a love of music and a tender nature that anyone would be lucky to have in a father or friend. He's also one of those people who is so committed to doing what is right, he is willing to put himself and his entire family in danger by harboring a Jew in his basement.

I could gush all day about the characters in this book, or Zusak's unconventional narrative style, but I am still in a little bit of shock from the incredibly emotional ending. I kid you not, I was sitting in the library with tears streaming down my face, choking back sobs, as I neared the end of this book. It's that good.

My rating: 10/10 
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