Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief didn’t really hit home as it did for so many other readers that I’ve seen on GoodReads. The Book Thief is the first novel I’ve read that takes place in World War II that isn’t non-fiction. I’ve always enjoyed reading about this period of time, not because World War II happened, but because of the many components that caused it to happen was intriguing in a painstakingly, twisted way. I picked up this book because of the interesting premise  and because of the many good reviews I’ve heard about it. Unfortunately, I didn’t come to enjoy it as much as I thought I would even though this is a good, good book. I do recommend it to anyone interested in reading a piece on historical fiction. The Book Thief is written from the perspective of Death/Grim Reaper, and I suspect that because of this, I just was not so emotionally attached to the main characters.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Cover found on Wikipedia.org.

During WWII, Death makes his rounds collecting souls from those who died, and this particular story focuses on Liesel, a poor German girl living in a outskirts of Munich. Death constantly premeditates important plot points – the time when Liesel steals her first book, the upcoming death of Rudy, the death of Papa, etc. Death’s narration interrupts the flow of the otherwise third-person ‘neutral’ perspective when he gives these previews, and I can’t quite make up my mind whether I like this or not. On one hand, I do not get the element of surprise and am fully prepared to find out what happens to Liesel’s friends and family. On the other hand, this is war. What else can you expect to come out of this treacherous period of our history?

The key element I like about The Book Thief is that it focuses its attention on the lesser talked about folks – the poor Germans who live in the countryside. Those who are just trying to make ends meet. Those who do not really give much of a pig’s butt whether Jews live or die. These are the folks who join the Nazi Party so their family is not punished. They join because they know better than to resist. For me, this is the more interesting parts of the book and is what keeps me moving along. The Book Thief is not a page-turning, fast-paced novel, but it is one where you can pick back up at any point and still remember what happened before.

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Book Review: Gone Girl

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I recently finished a novel by Gilliian Flynn called Gone Girl. It is the first book I’ve read by this author, and a quick skimming of her work shows that she writes mostly in the mystery and suspense genre. Gone Girl is written in the first-person narrative and switches perspectives between Nick Dunne and his wife Amy Dunne. The couple has always been perceived by neighbors and family as a loving couple. “They are perfect for each other,” her mom would say. On the day of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy is nowhere to be found. Nick came home to their house to find the door gaping open, the iron left on, and a living room with overturned furniture. Here begins a story of who’d dun it – Where is Amy? Is the culprit before our very eyes – Nick?!

I breezed through this piece of fiction like it was a piece of cake. The story line is easy to follow and the writing is easy to understand. Because the characters tell their side of the story in first-person, I soon found myself sympathizing with one character more than the other, rooting them on. But, like any good mystery novel, you discover more details and flaws about the character you so want to “win” this, and then you’re left with not knowing what to believe any more. This is one of those books, where you have to second guess your hypotheses as you move along and gather clues.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW:

At the end, this book made me think, and I love books that make me think. This book, particularly, made me think of how stupid Nick’s decision is and how Amy still has him wrapped under her belt. Of all the things he said – “come back home, bitch, and I will kill you” [my paraphrase], etc. – he was just one sad puppy in the end. The book has plenty of GOTCHA! moments, and the last one was a pretty good wrap-up and solidifies how pathetic Nick’s situation is.

Why couldn’t he divorce this evil b**** and have children with another woman?!

Readings: Inferno by Dan Brown

I finished this book yesterday on my lazy Saturday afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and find it to be very typical of the Langdon series. There is a lot of running around and racing against the enemy to a historical site and to solve a puzzle based on symbols and historical artifacts. I liked that Inferno spanned across three distinct cities – Florence, Venice and Istanbul. I’m now very inspired to visit these cities some day. I also liked that Brown incorporated one central theme that flowed very well throughout the novel – overpopulation and literal references to Dante.

 

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Inferno book cover found on http://fieldgatehomesblog.com

A problem I have with Inferno (one that I previously mentioned) is one around character-building and reading this particular Dan Brown book makes it seem to stick out more than the other Dan Brown books. Robert Langdon has too easy of a time finding his place around to every he needs to go. Sure, he is an intelligent Harvard professor, but maybe because he is so well-versed in Dante that there is never any obstacles in his way. The obstacles, the “army” and drones that were chasing him down, were easily avoided because of convenient secret passages Langdon learned about from tours he took years ago. The answer to every one of his problems in the book was too conveniently solved. I’d like to see this professor stumped every once in a while; I want to see him set back a few steps before he makes quantum leaps again.

What this really means, I feel, is that Langdon is unstoppable and there is never a break in the pacing of the book. Langdon and Sienna are constantly on the go. While I am fine with this, I think this is what separates a good thought-provoking thriller and a plain beat-the-clock arms race around the world. For Inferno, this book falls on the latter category. Overpopulation is indeed a serious topic, but Langdon’s chase to get to the pathogen sac makes me forget that this is the central theme in the book.

Readings: Life of Pi (short) Review

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Picture from GoodReads)

In short, this is a story about a boy who is stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger… for 7 months. It is a story about survival, the nature of religious beliefs, coming-of-age through this adventure, and, the power of storytelling.

I absolutely enjoyed this book from the beginning to the end. How this book can say so much with so few elements (and scenes) leaves me bedazzled. The settings of the book include 20% time in India and 80% time on the ocean (rough estimates, of course). Life of Pi holds so much in its 300-some pages that even after I finished reading the book, I’m still not done with it – my mind keeps thinking about it, wondering, which is the real story?? There is no concrete answer to that question, I think. This is a story within a story within a story. (The author Martel tells the story of how he came about to finding Pi, Pi tells of his time shipwrecked on the Pacific, and then Pi tells an alternative version of his story that is not like the first animal version at all!) As Pi said, whichever story you choose is ultimately based on your own perspective. Do you choose Richard Parker because you believe in the nicer story but slightly more unbelievable story or do you choose the story with no animals because it is more realistic?

Richard Parker all the way, man.

Readings: The Brain that Changes Itself

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Book cover from normandoidge.com

I recently picked up a book I started reading about 3 years ago. It’s a book about brain plasticity and current research that will seriously blow your mind away. While I do want to spend more time devoting a review post about the book, I just felt like giving Dr. Doidge (the author of the book) a quick shout-out. Kudos and hats off to you! It is books like this one that really motivates me and wants me to go back to school and learn about this kind of thing all over again.