Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Book Thief | Book Review

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh this book. It is incredible. Painful. Dark. Slow. Mournful. Beautiful. I loved it. And yes, I hated it. But it is a book that strikes you with its realness despite its fantastic elements. I give it 4.5 Magnificent Stars--it loses points only because its realism robbed me of the happiest of endings. The ending is good, probable, and acceptable. But not quite as hopeful as I would have preferred.

Writing Technique: ★★★★★ This is not a fast read. But it is grand because Zusak's writing is thoughtful, poetic, shocking, and different. I love that the narrator is Death, and that Death doesn't tell the whole story in a straight line. Had we come to that ending with no warning, I might have been enraged. But style of the storytelling is such that it is engaging and surprising. One must be patient. One must be focused. But ultimately, it is a rewarding story to finish.

Character Development: ★★★★ Liesel, Papa, Mama, Rudy, Max - these characters have my heart. Completely. Even Death. In trying to explain this book to others, I've struggled. It's about Liesel, mostly. But ultimately, it's about her effect on Death, the "person." She grows and changes and does many great things. Papa is the most admirable man. Rudy, a boy to love and follow. And Max, a man robbed of everything who finds hope in a family of misfits. And ultimately, the last words of this book do not spoil anything but aptly portray Death's thoughts and perhaps reason for telling this story (read them or not, it's up to you):

"I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality, but what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant. None of those things, however, came out of my mouth. All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you. I am haunted by humans."

Plot/Story Development: ★★★1/2 I will say that not as many things happen in this book as are felt. Experienced. Learned. The plot moves slowly. But it is not a story that's really about things happening as people and their relationships in a tumultuous time (World War II).

Message/Theme: ★★★★★ life, death, love, hate, suffering, pain, struggle, fight, family, friendship, hope, war, peace, ethics, racism, power, strength v. weakness, The Power of Words, the essence of humanity.

Audiobook Performance: ★★★★1/2 Allan Corduner is the perfect voice for Death. His German, French, British (etc.) accents are all masterful. Fantastic audiobook if one can be patient enough to listen and if one doesn't fall asleep (as his voice is comforting and lulling even when discussing the darkest of subjects).

Rating: PG/PG-13 for language (there is muuuuuch swearing in German--which I rather enjoyed--and also some in English.)

Overall: ★★★★1/2 One of the best historical novels I've read. Quirky. Dark. Brilliant.

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Afterwife | Book Review

Afterwife by Polly Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"So I get run over by a bus and I am wearing my worst knickers. Huge banana-yellow knickers."

With these hilarious first words, I was completely hooked to Polly Williams' ghosty romance novel Afterwife. I read it in two short sittings in the library two days in a row. That said, it's not a perfect book. Here's the review breakdown:

Writing Technique: ★★★★ I love Williams' way with words. I found her hilarious and emotional and addicting to read. Like a grittier Cecelia Ahern - she blends comedy and drama very well. And what made me read this book cover to cover in two sittings was the writing style. It was spot on for me (although beware of a lot strong language and sexual content).

Character Development: ★★1/2 Agh. This is where the book lacked for me. The richest character was of course the dead wife/ghost, Sophie. But she didn't change through the book. And while the blurb makes it sound like Sophie plays matchmaker for her husband, (minor spoiler????) she actually doesn't contribute to the plot of the living characters at all. So I was puzzled in the end of the book as to the purpose of her character. Jenny and Ollie were the other protagonists, but they didn't change much either. Perhaps Ollie's perspective would have shown the most character growth as he is the widower who must cope with being without his wife and learn to move on etc. But we don't get a peek into his head. So :/

Plot/Story Development: ★★ While I looooved the language and style of the author, the actual plotting was subpar. The world is huge with possibilities at the prospect of a ghost wife setting up her living husband and best friend, and I think all the best opportunities were wasted. I strongly disagreed with most of Williams' writing choices here. The romance between Ollie and Jenny was weak. The Big Secret That You Wait Forever To Find Out wasn't that big of a deal. The Guy You Just Know Is The Absolute Worst really was the worst and there was no twist or anything, just the waiting for the other characters to catch up. I dunno, in the end, the plot was where I was really disappointed. Bottom line: it's a love story lite with a haunty undertones.

Message/Theme: ★★★ life, death, family, friendship, lies, betrayal, soulmates, urban v suburban lifestyles, grief, know, the usual.

Rating: R for sexual content and strong language.

Overall: ★★★1/2 I was addicted to this book because the writing was funny and intriguing. Sadly the plot was predictable and uninspiring. For a light, feel-good, escapist read, look no further.

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