Friday, June 20, 2008

Bad Blogger and a Couple of Reviews

I have been a bad blogger. I admit it. I haven't meant to be, but it's just worked out that way. I've been super busy at work and at home. The job I started a couple months ago has kept me extremely busy. I'm loving it, but I've just been swamped. Most of it is my fault. I'm absolutely incapable of just doing what's required of me. I can't say no to people who ask me to do things because I want to be involved. I have all these ideas for ways of improving our library service to our students and faculty. So, before you know it, I've overextended myself. It's O.K. though. I'd rather be super busy than bored! But, between work and the hectic home life, I've spent little time online over the last couple of weeks.

I have been reading, even though that has stalled a little this week. I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I enjoyed them both, but they really couldn't be more different. I'm currently reading Lolita for the Year of Reading Dangerously, but I haven't gotten very far with it, yet. Im leaving for vacation in the morning and I'll be taking lots of books with me. I plan on spending my days on the beach with book in hand. I'm really looking forward to it. Before I go, I thought I would quickly give my thoughts on the books I've finished before I forget everything about them!

The Book Thief

This book is hauntingly beautiful. I really can't say enough about it. The basic story is that of young Liesel Meminger who loses her mother and brother just before WWII in Germany. She's sent to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann outside Munich. Leisel grows to love her new papa dearly and she ends up loving Rosa, as well even though Rosa is very hard on Leisel. There are no other children in the house. The Hubermann's children are grown, but Leisel becomes friends with Rudy Steiner, the boy next door. This book is profound on many different levels. It's about relationships, war, regret, but most of all I think it's about the power of words. This is a theme throughout the book. Leisel becomes a book thief as she's leaving the fresh grave of her little brother. One of the gravediggers drops a book, and Leisel picks it up. She can't read, yet. But, she feels a compulsive urge to take it. It's over this book that Leisel and her papa forge their strong relationship. Papa comes to comfort Leisel every night when she's awakened by her recurring nightmare. He discovers the book and begins to help her learn to read. As time passes, and the Nazis gain power, Leisel begins to take more books. She steals one from the ashes of a Nazi book burning. She also begins to steal books from the home library of the town's mayor. She first discovers this treasure trove of books when she's delivering the wash for Rosa. She and Rudy return to the house many times, and Leisel "breaks in" the library and steals the books. However, it turns out that she's welcome there in a strange sort of way. But words are seen as powerful in other ways, as well. Though she's young, Leisel realizes that it's Hitler's use of words that has caused the trouble for the Jews and for Germany.

There's so much more I could talk about with this book, but please just take my word for it. If you haven't read it, you really should. I know I recommend a great many books simply by virtue of discussing them here, but this one is different. This is a truly amazing book for so many reasons, not the least of is the fact that Death is the narrator. It may sound corny, but it works. The subject matter is difficult to say the least, but it's so well done. It's not sappy, it's not preachy, it's brutally honest. Just as with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today, the book demonstrates just how truly awful war is for everyone, and it's usually the children that suffer the most. The majority of the ordinary German citizens during WWII were victims of Hitler just as the Jews were victims. This book gives a glimpse into the lives of one such family that opposed the atrocities they saw happening around them and paid a high price for it. One last thing -- make sure you have some tissues handy.

Garden Spells (for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge!)

I read about this book on several book blogs over the last several months, and I was intrigued byit. Another plus for me is the fact that it's set in North Carolina. I did enjoy this one, but I had a few small quibbles with some of it, which I'll explain later. After a difficult childhood with an unfit mother, Claire Waverly ends up being raised by her grandmother in the small town of Bascom, North Carolina. After the death of her grandmother, Claire remains in the family home and works as a caterer. Claire's one sister seems to be following in their mother's footsteps. She took off right after high school and hasn't been heard from since. For Claire, her life is safe, secure and simple. As long as she doesn't let anyone get close to her, there's no chance that she can be hurt. As it turns out, it's easy for Claire to remain aloof because of the local lore about the Waverly family. It seems that all of the Waverly women through the years have been blessed (?) with a special gift. For Claire, it's cooking. Or, to be more exact, it's influencing those who eat her dishes by using the special flowers and herbs from the family garden. For example, a dish made with lavender raises spirits and "prevents bad decisions resulting from fatigue or depression." Rose geranium "produces memories of past good times." Not many want to admit it, but many of the townspeople use Claire when they really want to make an impression on their guests.

To escape an abusive relationship, Claire's sister Sydney suddenly returns home with her young daughter in tow. Claire's glad to have Sydney back, but she's sure that Sydney will leave again as quickly as she reappeared. The sisters must come to terms with a shared past of regret and learn to love each other and embrace a family heritage that isn't always comfortable.

This book was a lot of fun. The only quibble I had with it is sometimes I couldn't quite believe the "magic." I know that's probably clear as mud, but I'm not really sure how else to explain it. I like stories with a touch of magical realism. But, sometimes it just didn't work very well for me. It probably had more to do with me and when I read it (immediately following the gritty reality of The Book Thief) than anything else. I wouldn't let this keep you from reading. I know it's not going to deter me from picking up Allen's next book -- The Sugar Queen.


Nymeth said...

Have a wonderful vacation, Lisa. I hope you enjoy Lolita.

I love your review of The Book Thief. Garden Spells does sound like fun. It's one I'd like to read.

Literary Feline said...

Have a great vacation, Lisa! It sounds like you have been very busy lately. I like to keep busy at work too personally.

I am looking forward to reading both Garden Spells and The Book Thief. Maybe someday.

Lisa said...

nymeth, as you can tell, I really loved The Book Thief. It's interesting though that quite a few people in Cornflower's Book Group didn't like the writing style. I never even thought about it.

literary feline, I know the list of books continues to grow doesn't it? :)

Charley said...

I liked the Book Thief, too. I struggled with it in parts, but overall I thought it was beautifully done. Have you read I Am the Messenger, also by Zusak? I like that one as well.

Andi said...

So glad you enjoyed The Book Thief. I loved it, and I would like to re-read it already (it's probably been 1.5 years since I first read it...that's quick for me).

I enjoyed Garden Spells for the pure escapism of it. It was a GREAT plane book, and while the magic was a little hokey in spots, I enjoyed it overall. Can't wait to try out The Sugar Queen.

____Maggie said...

Have fun and be careful, but does anyone realize when they are being uncareful! :D

I think after The Book Thief any book I read was hard to get into. Seems to me I read some short stories to get back into the groove. GS is trivial compared to Nazi Germany.

Iliana said...

A new job is always super busy in the first months isn't it? Along with work you've got the added stress of getting to know your co-workers, new policies, all of it. Hope you have a wonderful time on your vacation relaxing with good books :)

Stephanie said...

Hope you have a great vacation!

The Book Thief was phenomenal, wasn't it?? I have Garden Spells here right now. I hope to get to it soon!

Tara said...

I loved The Book Thief, too, and was interested to see Cornflower's Book Group's respone to it. I may suggest this for my book club.

Enjoy you vacation!

Gentle Reader said...

This makes me want to read The Book Thief even more--it's been on my list for awhile, but it's moving up the ranks! Thanks :)

Lisa said...

charley, I haven't read The Messenger, but I've heard good things about it. I'll definitely have to check it out after loving The Book Thief as much as I did.

andi, The Book Thief is definitely one that is worth a re-read in my humble opinion.

maggie, yeah I guess it's hard to follow a book like The Book Thief with anything else. But, I did enjoy Garden Spells.

iliana, thanks for the encouragement. There is a lot to learning a new job besides the actual work.

stephanie, hope you enjoy Garden Spells. It's a nice summer read.

tara, I think this would be a great book for a book club. I was a little surprised at some of the responses to the book at Cornflower's group. But, that just shows how different we all are.

gentle reader, as if you couldn't already tell -- I highly recommend this book! Move it up!!

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I loaned out my copy of The Book Thief to a friend who said she wouldn't be finishing it. I was so disappointed! I loved it!

Lisa said...

natasha, I know everyone has different tastes, but I really can't understand anyone not liking this book. The complaints I heard had to do with the writing style.