The Book Thief

The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak

Challenges: TBR Challenge

Published: 2006

# of pages: 550

Quote: "'Saukerl,' she laughed, and as she held up her hand, she knew completely that he was simultaneously calling her a Saumensch. I think that's as close to love as eleven-year-olds can get." -Liesel & Rudy p. 144

I loved this book! That pretty much sums it all up. I can't say everything that I want to say without revealing spoilers, but there is so much depth to the novel, more than I write about in this post. This would be a great novel to read for a book club and then discuss.

The story is narrated by Death, who tells the story of Liesel Meminger. Liesel is a familiar name to me because it's my sister's family nickname (from "The Sound of Music"). Liesel's life changes drastically as she travels on a train to the town of Molching, to live with a foster mother and father. Her brother dies on the journey, and that is her first meeting with Death. He is fascinated by the girl and ends up passing her 2 more times. On the third time he picks up her story, The Book Thief.

I enjoyed how Death tells Liesel's story. He could have introduced himself and then went on to read Liesel's story, or tell it in her words, but he makes it his own. It's not only a story about Liesel, it's a story about the people in Molching and the victims of WWII. Also, Liesel's new family, the Hubermanns, are unique and loveable characters, even Mrs. Hubermann. Zusak developed their characters and their stories perfectly. They did not agree with Hitler's persecution of the Jews, but I liked how it wasn't that they felt they were better than everyone else, or that they had a vague sense of morality that other Germans didn't have, it explains why they felt like they did. It was a progression.

I was surprised at how this book made me feel about death. It actually kind of made me feel better about it. I like the image of Death walking around, watching the sky and gathering up souls. I should already feel comfortable with death and I know that Zusak's idea is not really correct, souls either go to heaven or hell depending on if they have accepted Christ's love or not, but maybe there is some sort of angel of death or something who is like the character Death in the novel. And I think the way Zusak portrays Death could very well be how God feels about war, or how angels feel. Beings who are removed from the world, but still watching. They can have pity and compassion on both sides, but still recognize evil in the midst of good and good in the midst of evil.

Overall, I recommend this book to young adults and adults everywhere. There are a few bad words, but most of those are in German. Even then, it isn't overwhelming.

Travelin' Thursday: Indonesian Countryside

A house that is part of a village near Carita, Indonesia, on the island of Java. Carita is a fairly large coastal town, but about 10 to 15 minutes inland by car there are several small villages located near the base of the mountains. Most of these villages are surrounded by rice fields like the one in this picture.

The Rest Falls Away

The Rest Falls Away by: Colleen Gleason

Series: The Gardella Vampire Chronicles (Book 1)

Published: 2007

# of pages: 347

Quote: "Our Heroes Commence with Much Poofing and Slicing" -Chapter 12 title

The Rest Falls Away balances action and romance in a surprisingly addictive story. The first 100 pages were hard for me to enjoy, but after Victoria gets over her whining about the society she lives in and she and Max stop their constant juvenile squabbling, I found myself enjoying the novel much more. Last night and this morning I couldn't put the book down.

It's odd, because it isn't the best writing style and I still found some of the last half of the book forced (mainly the parts that concentrate on Victoria's mother's friends and the fact that those Victoria loves the most "have" to remain ignorant while other normal people know everything), but the story is unique and I found myself surprised throughout. The end has a great plot twist and leaves the reader hanging. I can't wait to read the next book and see what happens!

There is somewhat graphic sex in this book. I had hoped it would be one I could recommend to my younger sister (who loved the Twilight series), but I don't think I will because I don't want to be the one who "corrupts" her. She's probably read worse in school already, but I like to think that she would be a little shocked and I don't want to be the cause of that. I personally didn't mind it, it wasn't really crude, it was just sexual romance that spices up the story. However, it may not be appropriate for younger readers, although everything else in the novel seemed almost more young adult to me. Overall, I recommend this book to people who are looking for an exciting and unique romance that isn't overwhelming in terms of vocabulary, length, or the amount of thought needed for interpretation.


Fairest by: Gail Carson Levine

Published: 2006

# of pages: 326

Quote: "I gave her Mother's voice, bell-like and clear as mountain air." -Aza p.108

Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted, has performed another excellent job with her novel Fairest. I was so impressed at how unique and original this story was, even though it is an adaptation of the fairytale of Snow White. Although Levine does borrow from Snow White, she incorporates the traditional fairytale into her own story in subtle ways.

Aza, an innkeeper's daughter, considers herself ugly and has a strong desire to be as beautiful as the other women in the kingdom she lives in. Circumstances suddenly allow her to experience life in the royal castle, which means meeting the prince and falling into the middle of the queen's schemes and deceptions. She also encounters a magic mirror which will change her life in even more drastic ways.

This book was obviously written for young adults, but I was able to overlook the simple prose because of the intriguing storyline. Also, Levine does include some advanced vocabulary throughout the novel. It makes me happy that she doesn't dumb down her choice of words for the readers. It contains many important lessons, including the reminder than outward appearances aren't what really matters in life. I recommend this to fairytale lovers, readers who enjoyed Ella Enchanted (that book is briefly referred to in Fairest), and all young adults. When I have children, this will definitely be on their bookshelves!

Heaven's Wager

Heaven's Wager by: Ted Dekker

Series: The Martyr's Song

Published: 2000

# of pages: 369

Quote: "The phone began burping loudly in his ear. An electronic voice came on and told him in a roundabout way that holding a dead phone to the ear was a rather unbrilliant thing to do." -Kent p. 101

I started reading this book and didn't realize until I was a few chapters in that I've read it before! I remembered some of it, but I had forgotten other parts, so I kept reading it. This is one of Dekker's better novels. I love his books Blink, Three, and The Circle Trilogy. I also enjoyed Obsessed and Saint. I like how almost all of his novels connect to each other. However, I feel that some of his books were written in a hurry. Many of them don't concentrate on character development, so I feel like I don't really care what happens to the characters and it's harder to get through. But Heaven's Wager has great character development and spends a lot of time on the storyline and although it isn't one of my favorites by him, I still enjoyed reading it (both times) and recommend it to others.

This is one of the novels in The Martyr's Song Series. The series doesn't have to be read in any order, but Dekker recommends reading The Martyr's Song first, which I did. Heaven's Wager is the story of Kent Anthony, a motivated programmer, whose life drastically changes throughout the course of the novel. The changes set him on a new course as supernatural powers struggle for his soul. I liked that Dekker really shows Christianity as a lifestyle instead of preaching it as a religion. As a matter of fact, I think that this is a book that non-religious people can enjoy. It is a little more "in your face" than some of his others, but like I said, it isn't overboard. Also, I enjoyed this book because of the storyline, the "almost perfect crime, interwoven with a tale of bittersweet love" (back cover). It was pretty fascinating and I recommend this to people who want an easy read that still has depth. I also enjoyed Dekker's writing style, he has unique points of view and ways of expressing thoughts and emotions that readers feel everyday.

The only negative points were that I didn't really like the character of Helen all of the time. I felt like she was unnecessarily pushy and eccentric. So sometimes she got on my nerves, but other times I liked her just fine. Also, I thought that the pace of the story of Kent and Lacy was a little too fast. Others may not agree, but it just bothered me and I wish more time went by during the novel to make me feel better about it. Other than that, I enjoyed the experience and will definitely be reading more in this series.

Travelin' Thursday: Happy Valentine's Day

Moss in the shape of a heart near Lake James in North Carolina. Matt and I went there during my Spring Break in March 2007. Since it's Valentine's Day, I thought the heart was fitting. I also thought it was pretty cool that we happened to notice this on our hike.

The Eponymous Challenge

The challenge will run from 1 March to 31 May, 2008.

During that time your mission should you choose to accept it is to read 4 books whose titles are the name of one or more of the characters (e.g. Evelina, Oscar and Lucinda); or a description of one or more of the characters (e.g. The Merchant of Venice, Sylvia’s Lovers).

Non-fiction books and overlaps with other challenges are welcome, as are books named after four-legged characters.
1. Anna Karenina by: Leo Tolstoy (overlap)
2. Dracula by: Bram Stoker (overlap)
3. Coraline by: Neil Gaimon
4. The Kitchen Boy by: Robert Alexander

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The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye by: Toni Morrison

Challenges: My Year of Reading Dangerously

Published: 1970

# of pages: 206

Quote: "He remembered just how she held it - clumsy-like, in three fingers, but with so much affection. No words, just picking up a bit of meat and holding it out to him. And then the tears rushed down his cheeks, to make a bouquet under his chin." -Cholly p. 158

Written from the mid to late 60s, during what Morrison describes as the "reclamation of racial beauty", The Bluest Eye is not only a novel about racial beauty, but about beauty in general. I believe that this novel should be read several times in order to fully understand and appreciate everything Morrison includes in her story about Pecola Breedlove in the year 1941. I went back and read several parts over again while reading it through the first time. I haven't read it completely through again yet, and maybe I should before reviewing it, but I don't want this to be an essay on a book that I critically read. I want it to be an easy-to-read review to recommend this book to others.

There are several themes and lessons throughout the book, but I felt most strongly about the subject of beauty, which is what the title is based on. Pecola longs to have blue eyes so that she can be beautiful. She has bought into the nation's opinion that blue eyed, blonde haired white girls are the most beautiful in existance. Claudia, one of the narrators, has a glimmer of understanding that this view is unfair to black girls when she is a child, but claims that later she also learns to worship Shirley Temple, along with everyone else she knows, black and white alike.

I've always known that African American women have always had to struggle with being looked down upon because of their skin color, but reading this novel made much more of an impact on me that African American women and even women of other nationalities had such a strong opinion of beauty working against them every day of their lives during this time period. After the 60s, it became more popular to believe that the previous definition of beauty was wrong, but before then, it wasn't even a consideration. As a dark haired and dark eyed person, I have also rebelled against the notion that blonde hair and blue eyes are more beautiful. It isn't comfortable to think that something beyond your control is inferior, but at least I wasn't told that my appearance was ugly, like the women in the book are led to believe. And I have always thought that my hair and eyes are beautiful, even if some of the movies and commericals don't agree. It's sad to think that girls like Pecola did not think this way about their own appearance, but instead always felt like they fell short.

This isn't an easy novel to read. Most of the characters suffer some form of abuse, neglect, feelings of inferiority, poverty, and rape. I liked the way Morrison described how each character came to have the personality they have in the present time of the book, 1941. She describes different points of view and even includes the backgrounds of more minor characters. I enjoyed the unique way the story of Paulina Breedlove is told. The narrative alternates between third person and first person POV. It provides interesting details and a clearer understanding of Pecola's situation.

The Bluest Eye didn't win a Nobel Prize and become a part of Oprah's Book Club for nothing. It is worth reading to better learn about our society in the past and the present and ourselves as individuals, whether we be black, white, or in between.

Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera by: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Penguin Books)

Challenges: TBR 2008

Published: Columbia - 1985, U.S. - 1988 (Penguin Books: 1989)

# of pages: 348

Quote: ". . . she felt an irresistable longing to begin life with him over again so that they could say what they had left unsaid and do everything right that they had done badly in the past." -Fermina Daza p. 47

Personally, I didn't enjoy this book. I couldn't get over how disgusting Florentino Ariza was, sleeping with 622 women, causing the deaths of 2 women, and seducing his 12 year old relative whose parents had entrusted her to him as a guardian! All of the other women at least made informed decisions to sleep with Florentino. Many of them were widows who chose that way of life as a form of freedom from their previous lives. But America Vicuna was so young and innocent, she hadn't even lived life or had any experience to base decisions on before her grandfather figure is playing "games" with her by taking off her clothes and touching her. After that I had no respect for him and I thought his love for Fermina Daza was tainted, if it was love at all. I don't think it's true love when you sleep with that many women and seduce children in secret while waiting for the one woman you love. I felt like Florentino was mentally unstable and his "love" for Fermina was more like a crazy obsession. Also, Fermina was the only woman he couldn't sleep with, so that also might have had something to do with his obsession.

However, the book does make you think about how you define love. Most books express love in traditional ways and while you might agree or disagree, you don't typically think of what love is for you. Love in the time of Cholera does this. Also, the book is written in an interesting order of time. It would be neat to go back and try to order it chronologically and see if that changes my concept of the marriage between Dr. Urbino and Fermina Daza. They were interesting, sometimes I felt like they did have a happy marriage and other times I thought, how can she possibly look back and say that she had a happy marriage when it seems like they have more marital problems that most people! I also wonder how culture plays into the book. Would a reader in South America or the Caribbean feel like Florentino's concept of love is normal or acceptable? Maybe I feel like it is disgusting to sleep with so many women, including women much older and MUCH younger, but people in that culture see it as a positive thing. And maybe in their culture the marriage between the Urbinos is better than most. And the end was as perfect as it could be, I love the title of the book.

I am interested to hear what other people think about this novel. I know a lot of people like it a lot. Is it because they feel like it is a story of true love or because of the original way of telling the story or the way of looking at life and death or is it something else? I would love to hear what you thought of this book!

Travelin' Thursday: Glockenspiel

Munich, Germany June 3, 2006

My mom and I went on a trip to Greece in June 2006 and stopped in Munich, Germany for a day on the way. This is the Glockenspiel, a clock that chimes every hour and at 5:00 PM every day little figures come out of it and dance around. We didn't see it at 5:00 because I was feeling sick and we were both suffering from jet lag, so at that time we were on the very slow train back to Friesing and our hotel (after one train was delayed and we got on another one going the wrong way).

The Bonesetter's Daughter

The Bonesetter's Daughter by: Amy Tan

Published: 2001

# of pages: 403

Quote: "She wanted to be here, as her mother told her about her life, taking her through all the detours of the past, explaining the multiple meanings of Chinese words, how to translate her heart." -Ruth pp. 168-69

This is the story of Ruth and her mother LuLing. The two women grew up living together in California after the death of Ruth's father when she was two. Ruth tells the story of her childhood with her mother and reads about her mother's past, learning the Liu family secrets that go back to her grandmother's childhood in China.

I felt like this was a really touching story about the power of words and communication. I was kind of afraid it would be a really girly, sentimental story, but it wasn't in the way I expected it to be. I really related to Ruth's feelings and her way of life, so maybe that was one reason why I enjoyed the book so much. I also found the mystery of the Liu family fascinating. It's told in the present time of Ruth's middle aged years as she looks back on her own childhood and then discovers a memoir her mother wrote about her own childhood. LuLing, in turn, also received a memoir from her own mother describing her past. The family has a heritage of writing and using written words to communicate secrets that they can't seem to say out loud.

It also made me realize the strength of relationships between most mothers and daughters and how closely their feelings are intwined. I hope that my possible future daughter and I have a more open relationship and are able to communicate better than Ruth and LuLing and LuLing and her mother. Reading this book made me feel grateful for my own relationship with my mother as well and also a little disturbed about how easy it is to hurt a mother's feelings when you are a teenager and more selfish than you are before and later in life. All this mother-daughter stuff really does make this book sound mushy and sentimental, but it's not that bad! It was well-written, but easy to read. I enjoyed reading about all of the characters and was interested to see the different points of view that are presented in the novel. I also loved the historical and cultural setting of LuLing's life in China. This is going on my favorites list for being so well-written and because I couldn't put it down, that's why I finished it so fast.

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