Wednesday, May 11, 2011

#17 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It takes a lot to make me cry, even with the craziness that is going on in my life right now.  For a book to make me cry, it has to hit every note.  The characters have to be incredibly written, the plot has to be believable, it has to feel real.  The Book Thief made me cry so much that I had to stop reading, wipe my tears, and calm down (chanting it's not real, it's not real) before I could pick it up again.  This is not a spoiler.  The book is set during WWII Germany and is narrated by Death, so you know upfront that there are going to be some depressing moments.  Even though it made me cry like a baby, I absolutely loved this book.

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl who Death has seen on a few occasions.  Death finds her story abandoned on the ground and decides to keep it with him and relate it to us.  The first time Death sees Liesel, she is on a train with her mother and younger brother, who unexpectedly dies.  The family gets off the train to bury the boy and one of the gravediggers drops The Gravedigger's Handbook.  Liesel snatches the book, even though she can't read, before getting back onto the train.  Her mother drops her off with a foster family, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who both love Liesel but show their affection in dramatically different ways.  It's Hans who teaches Liesel to read and becomes the greatest influence on her.  In her new home Liesel meets a variety of new people, some opposed but afraid of the Nazi's, and some fervent supporters.  Her best friend Rudy Steiner is probably my favorite character.  He is known in town as an oddball-- he once used charcoal to paint himself black and ran around the track to be like his hero Jesse Owens.  This wasn't the best way to blend in.  Over the course of a few years, Liesel steals more books and becomes aware of the power of words, what they can do to people.  She lives in Nazi Germany but grows to hate it and tries to find ways to defy the injustices that she sees.

Again, this book was incredible.  The writing was terrific, the characters were realistic, every part of it was engrossing.  The only thing that I can say against it is kind of nit picky-- when Death is telling the story sometimes he would bring up a topic and then say that he is not going to discuss it until later.  This got on my nerves a bit.  But aside from that very small annoyance, I loved this book and will definitely be reading it again.

#16 In the Woods by Tana French

After reading a few reviews for this book, I figured that it was just the type for me.  Detective stories, Ireland, moodiness, what could go wrong?  When I picked it up from the library though, the librarian shook her head and warned me about a possible disappointment.  She said that she was with it until the end, and after finishing the book I too was left feeling just as disappointed.

In the Woods starts in 1984 Knocknaree, Ireland, a suburb outside of Dublin.  Three best friends, Adam, Peter, and Jamie, go off to play a summer afternoon and two are never seen again.  The third kid is found later clutching to a tree and soaked in someone else's blood.  That kid, Adam Robert Ryan, grows up to be a murder detective in Dublin.  Ryan was never able to remember what happened to him and his friends, and has tried to distance himself from those events as much as possible.  One day though he and his partner Cassie Maddox are called to Knocknaree to investigate the murder of 12 year old Katy Devlin who is found by the woods that Ryan and his friends disappeared into.  There are a few similarities between the two cases so Ryan and Maddox investigate both.

This book is well written, I was instantly hooked and had a hard time putting it down.  The characters are great and a lot more realistic then you get with most detective stories.  We are taken through Ryan's relationship with Maddox and his phycological breakdown, both of which felt genuine.  I really was completely engrossed until the end, when I was left feeling like I did after the Lost finale: That's it?

Spoilers from here to the end

For those of you who have read the book could you please answer some questions for me?  First, I'm fine that we don't know what happened to Jamie and Peter, but why was Jamie's hair clip found by Katy's body if they weren't connected?  And why did Cassie and Rob's relationship dissolve so easily?  They were shown to be incredibly close, I just don't believe that what happened between them would be the end of their relationship.  It seemed like French just wanted to get rid of Ryan's character so she could focus on Cassie for her next book.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

#15 Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

I decided to read this book after reading effcubed's review.  How could I resist a novel that includes flow charts?

Vera Dietz is a high school senior just trying to get by without anyone noticing her.  This has been her goal since she found out at a fairly young age that her mom was a stripper for a brief time, before eventually leaving Vera and her dad for Las Vegas when Vera was 12.  She works hard in school and at her job as a pizza delivery technician, but has been haunted for the past few months by the two dimensional ghosts of her best friend Charlie.  Charlie died under circumstances that are only suspicious to Vera, and she knows that he wasn't what people thought he was.  Vera refuses to clear his name though because she is still hurt by his defection to the 'detention heads' in the months before he died.  Despite what she proclaims, Vera has not gotten over Charlie's death or her mother's abandonment.  Her dad's well intentioned advice on the dangers of alcohol (he is a recovering alcoholic) does nothing to stop her from drinking any chance she gets.

The story is told by Vera in the present and in flashbacks, by Charlie, Vera's dad (the one who loves flow charts), and the Pagoda, which I'm pretty sure is a failed restaurant, but it's a little unclear.  All the narrators were fantastic, especially the snarky Pagoda and Mr. Dietz, who is frustrated that his daughter is making the same mistakes that he did.  I highly recommend this book to anyone; this is not the typical book that I go for but I'm really glad that I gave it a shot.