Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The narrator of this unforgettable story is Death. Though he should not focus on the lives of humans he passes by while performing his never-ending work, he cannot help but pay attention to Liesel Meminger. She is a young girl living in Germany during World War II. As the story opens, she is being taken by her mother to live with foster parents. Though her new parents are complete strangers to her initially, she soon comes to love them. Hans, her foster father, helps her learn to read, and Liesel discovers deep love for words and books. Since there is a war raging, there is very little money for food, much less to buy books, so Liesel finds a way to aquire the new reading material she desires--she steals it! Sometimes her good friend Rudy is the lookout during these book raids. There are many very serious dangers that Liesel faces other than getting caught stealing. Besides the fact that there is a young Jewish man hidden in her basement, there are bombings that destroy entire city blocks. Will Death have to take the soul of this young girl whom he has taken an interest in?

First of all, let me say that the entire tone of this book caught me completely off guard. Going into it, I knew that Death was the narrator and the story was told during World War II. I was totally expecting it to be dark and depressing from start to finish. However, Death is NOTHING like I expected! On the first page, he says:
I am in all truthfullness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic,
though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no
matter my protestations.I most definitely can be cheerful.
I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's.
He is so incredibly observant and uses such vivid imagery in his colorful descriptions. (I have found myself thinking of what color I would use to describe certain people and situations the last few days.) I could write for a long time about what an interesting narrator Death is and how amazing Markus Zuzak's figurative language is, but the writing can speak much better for itself, so I am just going to write a few passages that stood out:

As the book quivered in her lap, the secret sat in her mouth. It
made itself comfortable. It crossed its legs (246).

There is air like plastic, a horizon like setting glue. There are skies manufactured
by people, punctured and leaking, and there are soft, coal-colored clouds, beating
like black hearts (309).

...I am always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their
beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both (491).

I am haunted by humans (550).

I love reading about people who risked their own lives to help others (even if they are ficional). It is so easy to like Liesel, her kind-hearted parents and her best friend Rudy. However, the entire time I was reading, worry kept creeping into the back of my mind, because why would Death be narrating if everything ended all happy and warm fuzzy? I'm not going to give away anything, but I highly recommend this book. Be prepared to re-read some passages because of the beautiful writing, and know ahead of time that you WILL find yourself emotionally involved.

# of pages: 550
Date completed: April 28, 2008
5/5 stars

Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekly Geeks #1

Dewey from The Hidden Side of a Leaf came up with a creative idea for a blogging challenge--The Weekly Geeks. Each week is a different theme--mostly related to book blogging. Since my blog isn't even a month old yet (bless it's little heart!), I am in need of good blogging ideas. This week is "Discover New Blogs" week, and the goal is to visit several blogs that are new to you. I've spent quite a bit of time over the last month "blog hopping" so now is a good time to slow down and pick a few to really read through. There are so many unique people out there, it'll be difficult for me to just list a few.

Melody at Melody's Reading Corner not only has a cute blog, but she reads a vast variety of books, and is also hosting a giveaway!

Katherine at A Girl Walks into A Bookstore writes nice, concise reviews of books that are well written and to the point.

I enjoyed reading Megan's (Leafing through Life) most recent post, and I definitely have similar feelings!

Erin at A Book Every Day is also a new blogger and is planning to read at least 100 books this year.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Widow of the South--Robert Hicks

Carrie McGavock was a sad woman mourning the loss of 3 of her children. Everyone, including her husband, thought she had lost her mind, as she would sit in her dead children's rooms all day every day-mending their clothes and drifting in her memories. However, what happened on November 30, 1864, shook her out of her melencholy and self-pity for the rest of her life.

Very close to the end of the war, the "bloodiest 5 hours of the Civil War" were fought in a battle close to the town of Franklin, Tennessee. The McGavock house was used for a hospital for many wounded and dying soldiers. Carrie and her servant/friend Mariah spent weeks caring for the soldiers-nursing some back to health, and easing many others to their deaths. There was one soldier in particular who seemed different from the rest. Carrie struck up a close friendship with him that soon evolved into love.

Though the war ended several months after this battle, Carrie's entire outlook on love, life, and death were changed forever. Instead of trying to forget the horrendous things she witnessed and the many men who died in her own house and backyard, she became the keeper of the cemetary where they were buried. She wrote letters to the families of the soldiers who died; she welcomed families who came to visit the graves. Some called her an angel, but she just felt that she was doing what she should.

Robert Hicks did a great job researching the story of Carrie McGavock. I especially enjoyed reading the Author's Note at the end that included the facts of the novel--along with pictures! I did not realize how much of the story was true until I finished it. If I am ever in Tennessee, I would try to find the time to visit the plantation and cemetary.
Though the novel was well written, it was not a book that I had a hard time putting down. The characters all seemed distant, and it was hard to "get into" what was happening. All in all, I feel good about reading it because I learned a few things I did not know about the Civil War!

Rating: 3.5/5
# pages:418
Date completed: April 21, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Overflowing bookshelf

On Friday night, after an evening of shopping for my new nephew, I somehow found my car driving itself to Half Price Books. Though I had decided not to buy any more books until there was open space on my TBR shelf, I rationalized that I needed to buy a few books for the challenges I just joined. On my way to find the books I specifically was looking for, several others started calling my name and I just HAD to buy them too! So including the book on its way from Amazon that I purchased a few days ago, and the book I won in Literary Feline's book giveaway, the following is a list of the books I added/will be adding to my overflowing shelf this week:

Tending Roses--Lisa Wingate
Blue Like Jazz--Donald Miller
The Winter of our Discontent--John Steinbeck
Tortilla Flat--John Steinbeck
The Known World--Edward P. Jones
The Inheritance of Loss--Kiran Desai
The Devil in the White City--Erik Larson

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Pact-Jodi Picoult

Title: The Pact
Author: Jodi Picoult
# of pages: 389
Date Completed: April 11, 2008
4/5 stars
Chris and Emily were like "two flip sides of a coin." They grew up in adjacent houses in a quiet New England town. Inseparable from the time they could walk, they were not only best friends, but they deeply felt the other's happiness as well as pain, as if it were their own. When Emily's secret pain becomes too much for her to bear, she makes up her mind to end her already short life. Emily tells her plan to Chris and he now is faced with deciding what is best for his beloved--telling a parent about her decision, physically stopping her from committing the act, or helping her do what she feels is the only way out of her torment.
Knowing the subject matter, I was conflicted about this book even before I began reading it, and that feeling stayed with me throughout the book. Most of the time, I am an overly optimistic person, and I have a difficult time reading books that I know contain really sad events. Since "real life" can often be so depressing (just watch the nightly news any night of the week), I generally like to escape by reading about people/ideas/events that are happy or at least have a happy ending. The Pact definitely did not make me feel happy!
Jodi Picoult wrote a page-turner--I had a hard time putting the book down. I needed to find out the truth of what happened with Chris and Emily, but all I really wanted to do was to put the book in the freezer (like Joey of Friends) and try to forget about it. What makes me truly sad is that though this was a fictional story, there are many people who have felt or feel like Emily--that they are completely out of options.
I did recently buy Nineteen Minutes, but I will be waiting awhile before reading another Picoult book. She is a good storyteller, but I'm not ready yet for such a heart-wrenching story.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Jewel by Bret Lott

Jewel by Bret Lott
finished: April 6, 2008
358 pages

Jewel Hilburn had a difficult childhood. From watching her father walk away from her and her mother, to finding her place in the world as an orphan, she is always trying to overcome the hardships life keeps throwing at her. However, she marries a good man and has five healthy children. Though she and her family live in the backwoods of Mississippi, World War II is a blessing in disguise as there is abundant work for the war effort, and therefore, plenty of money. Jewel is content with her life.
When she gives birth close to the age of 40 to a baby girl, her life changes drastically. Her daughter, Brenda Kay has Down's Syndrome and is not expected to live past the age of 2.With the war over, there is no work and no money. Instead of wallowing in despair, Jewel finds a way to have food on the table and money for the shots the doctors say Brenda Kay needs.
Jewel spends the majority of her life struggling to rise above the many difficulties she is faced with. She maintains an optimistic attitude and faith in God, and has unconditional love for all her children and her husband. Though she is not perfect, she devotes her life to her family, and mainly to Brenda Kay. When she is old, she realizes, "My life would never end...because of those eyes turned to me and asking what to do...the looking of a child...to you for what wisdom you can give away before you left for whatever reckoning you had with the God who'd given you that wisdom in the first place" (352). This is what she lived for--giving all she had to her children.

I never really know what to expect when reading an Oprah's book club book. Though Jewel wasn't a fluffy, warm fuzzy story, I did enjoy reading it. Though some of the non-PC terminology could probably make some readers cringe, the diction Lott chooses really brings the characters from Mississippi to life. Though I do not know anyone who has experienced the same specific circumstances that Jewel Hilburn faces, reading the book brought to mind several women I know who have kept the same optimism throughout extreme difficulties. It really makes me thankful for the comforts I had as a child and the loving mother I am blessed with!

2008 Non Fiction Five Challenge

Joy at Thoughts of Joy, the host of this challenge says,

After months and months of reading mysteries, short stories, thrillers, adventures, fantasies, romance novels, etc., it's time to start planning for a reality check! Reality in the form of
NON-FICTION reading. Come on in and join the fun!

1. Read 5 non-fiction books during the months of May - September, 2008 (please link your reviews on Mister Linky)
2. Read at least one non-fiction book that is different from your other choices (i.e.: 4 memoirs and 1 self-help)

This should be a true challenge for me, as I very rarely pick up non-fiction to read. I'm pretty sure the last few times I've tried, I've gotten a few chapters in, then decided to set it aside and read something else.

My list is--

1. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality

2. Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt

3. The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison

4. Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

5. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Historical Fiction Challenge

This will be my first challenge to join, and what a fun one! Check it out at Reading, Writing and Ranting.

My 6 choices are:

Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Canaan: A Novel by Donald McCaig
The Virgin's Lover by Phillipa Gregory
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

There's a first time for everything!

A friend at work opened the world of book blogging to me, and I've been spending more and more time browsing others' reviews and opinions. One of my new year's resolutions was to start keeping track of the books I read, as I have a difficult time remembering what I've read over the years. After I bought a shiny new notebook and started writing my thoughts on each completed novel, I realized that we are in the 21st century, and there are far more interesting and advanced ways to keep a journal!

The challenges seem like a great way to expand my horizons and read books I wouldn't normally just pick up on my own. In addition, they will give me even more of an excuse to buy new books (not that I really need an excuse)!

I've really missed discussions over literature since I've been out of college, so I'm looking forward to sharing opinions and thoughts with other bookworms out there!