January 2007 archive

The Book Thief- Book Review

Poignant, gripping, compelling, lyrical and tragic – The Book Thief is all this and more. Death narrates this tale of a young girl, a stealer of books named Liesel, who is growing up in a small town outside of Munich during Hitler’s reign of terror. Markus Zukas – an award winning author of children’s literature – pens an original novel which explores (among other things) the tragedy of war, love and hate, the power of words, and that tenuous space which separates life from death. The characters who people this amazing book come alive on the page:

Rudy Steiner – Liesel’s best friend and a boy whose dreams include being an athlete as great as Jesse Owens.

“Papa” aka Hans Hubermann – Liesel’s foster father, an accordion player who honors a long forgotten promise and whose kind spirit repeatedly brought tears to my eyes.

When he turned the light on in the small, callous washroom that night, Liesel observed the strangeness of her foster father’s eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that Hans Hubermann was worth a lot.          – from The Book Thief (page 34)-

“Mama” aka Rosa Hubermann – Liesel’s foster mother, a woman who loves as fiercely as she curses.

Max Vandenberg – The “Jew in the basement” who discovers the friendship of a girl and the healing power of words.

Ilsa Hermann – The mayor’s wife who has lost and grieved and punished herself, and yet makes room in her heart for a young girl with a hunger for words.

And finally, Liesel herself – a girl whose courage and wonderful spirit of life shines through on every page.

At one point, Liesel writes: I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. (from The Book Thief – page 523-) Markus Zusak makes the words right. His novel will resonate with book lovers. It is a story larger than life; one that touches the reader’s heart and never lets go. Death’s voice, at once both playful and profound, delivers the ending of this novel with a flourish that will break your heart.

There were many favorite passages from this book. Below are just a few.

About the colors or life (as narrated by Death):

People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.        -page 4-

About Trust and Love (as narrated by Death):

***A Definition Not Found In the Dictionary*** Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.      -page 37-

About the horrors of war:

It was a place nobody wanted to stay and look at, but almost everyone did. Shaped like a long, broken arm, the road contained several houses with lacerated windows and bruised walls. The Star of David was painted on their doors. Those houses were almost like lepers. At the very least, they were infected sores on the injured German terrain.         – page 51-

A horizon of Nazi flags and uniforms rose upward, crippling her view every time she attempted to see over a smaller child’s head. It was pointless. The crowd was itself. There was no swaying it, squeezing through or reasoning with it. You breathed with it and you sang its songs. You waited for its fire.
– page 110-

(As narrated by Death) They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.      – page 309-

“‘My heart is so tired,'” the girl had said. She was sitting in a chapel, writing in her diary. No, thought Liesel as she walked. It’s my heart that is tired. A thirteen-year-old heart shouldn’t feel like this.
 -page 427-

(As narrated by Death) I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me.          – page 175-

About the power of words:

After a miscarriaged pause, the mayor’s wife edged forward and picked up the book. She was battered and beaten up, and not from smiling this time. Liesel could see it on her face. Blood leaked from her nose and licked at her lips. Her eyes had been blackened. Cuts had opened up and series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin. All from the words. From Liesel’s words.     -page 263-

Purple Hibiscus – Book Review

Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.            -From Purple Hibiscus, page 16-

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel – Purple Hibiscus – is a poignant, beautifully written story. It is narrated by Kambili, a 15 year old Nigerian girl who grows up with her brother, Jaja, amid domestic violence, religious fanaticism and political unrest. Kambili and Jaja’s father, Eugene, is a well-respected and wealthy man who gives generously to his church and community; and as the publisher of a liberal newspaper, he speaks out against the tyranny of a new government following a coup. But, Adichie reveals a dark side to Eugene as he elevates his religious faith to something horrifying and tragic.  As the story unfolds, we watch through Kambili’s eyes as she matures and is transformed into a girl able to see beauty in a world full of cruelty, able to find love where she least expects it, and ultimately to realize hope amid tragedy. Lyrical, honest, exquisitely crafted and with an ending that stuns the reader … Purple Hibiscus will resonate with those who appreciate an authentic tale. Highly recommended.

The following are exceptional passages from Purple Hibiscus…

About Aunty Ifeoma:
Aunty Ifeoma drove into the compound just as we finished breakfast. When she barged into the dining room upstairs, I imagined a proud ancient forebear, walking miles to fetch water in homemade clay pots, nursing babies until they walked and talked, fighting wars with machetes sharpened on sun-warmed stone. She filled a room “Are you ready, Jaja and Kambili?” she asked. “Nwunye m, will you not come with us?”                                                                                                                                                                                               -page 80-

Papa-Nnukwu’s wisdom:
“This is what our people say to the high God, the Chukwu,” Papa-Nnukwu said. “Give me both wealth and a child, but if I must choose one, give me a child because when my child grows, so will my wealth.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        -page 83-

About joy:
The afternoon played across my mind as I got out of the car in front of the flat. I had smiled, run, laughed. My chest was filled with something like bath foam. Light. The lightness was so sweet I tasted it on my tongue, the sweetness of an overripe bright yellow cashew fruit.                                -page 180-

About freedom:
She picked up an enterprising snail that was crawling out of the open basket. She threw it back in and muttered, “God take power from the devil.” I wondered if it was the same snail, crawling out, being thrown back in, and then crawling out again. Determined. I wanted to buy the whole basket and set that one snail free.                                                                                                              -page 238-

Cone Head

you ever had an itch you had to scratch? Or a thumbnail you couldn’t
resist pulling on? Or a …

Non Fiction Challenge

I’m taking up another reading challenge…this one is sponsored by Joy at Thoughts of Joy.  It is a nonfiction challenge held from May through September and the goal is to read five non fiction books over the five months. I’ve received a couple of new non-fiction books lately (a gift from my good friend, Katy, and an Easter gift from my mother), so I’ve revamped and completely changed my book choices for this challenge!!

Here are my updated selections in no particular order:

1. The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren (completed June 17, 2007; read a review here.)
2. The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, A Death, and American’s Dilemma, by Alex Kotlowitz (completed June 20, 2007; read a review here.)
3. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson (completed September 12, 2007; read a review here)
4. Lucky, by Alice Sebold (completed June 10, 2007; read a review here.)
5. Coronary: A True Story of Medicine Gone Awry, by Stephen Klaidman (completed August 6, 2007; read a review here.)

UPDATE and RECAP of Challenge:

I completed this challenge on September 12, 2007. My least favorite book was The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. My favorite was Coronary, by Stephen Klaidman, closely followed by The Devil in the White City and The Other Side of the River.  I appreciated that this challenge got me to read some of the great non fiction books I have had collecting dust on my TBR shelf! Thank you, Joy, for hosting such a great challenge!

The Reading Across Borders Challenge

December 17, 2007 – Throwing in the Towel

With the days of 2007 winding down, it has become obvious to me that I will not complete this challenge. I read 8 of 13 books on my original list – not bad! I will eventually read the remaining 5 books, but it won’t be in 2007! My favorite read of the group was (hands down) The Book Thief, followed closely by Suite Francaise and Purple Hibiscus.

Thank you, Kate, for motivating me to read outside my boundaries. It is a habit I will keep as I move into 2008!


I’ve decided to take up
Kate’s Book Blog challenge: Reading Across Borders.

The idea is to determine which countries or regions tend to dominate your reading and to commit to reading a number of books over the course of 2007 which take you beyond those countries or regions.

I realized that I already had many books on my shelf waiting to be read which fit nicely into this challenge; and also there are a few on my list of books I want to read this year that I have yet to acquire. Here they are in no particular order:

The Translator, by Leila Aboulela (Khartoum, Sudan) – Finished 3/23/2007 and reviewed here.
Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky (France) – Finished 2/17/2007 and reviewed here.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak (Australia) -Finished 1/28/2007 and reviewed here.
Old Filth, by Jane Gardam (England)
Finished 5/29/2007 and reviewed here.
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spain) Finished 7/7/2007 and reviewed here.
Silver Wedding, by Maeve Binchy (Ireland)
Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts (Bombay, India)
The Alchemist, by Paula Coelho (Brazil) – Finished 6/15/2007 and reviewed here.
A Woman in Jerusalem, by A.B. Yehoshua (Jerusalem)
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (New Delhi, India) – Finished 3/16/2007 and reviewed here.
Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Aichie (Africa) – Finished 1/24/2007 and reviewed here.
The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink (Germany)
Hanna’s Daughters: A Novel of Three Generations, by Marianne Fredriksson (Sweden)

The House on Mango Street – Book Review

Sandra Cisneros’ love of poetry shines through in her novel: The House on Mango Street. Her sparse, beautiful prose conjures up vivid images of life in the Latino section of Chicago. Told from the point of view of Esperanza, a young girl living in the inner city with her family, the novel reveals the harsh realities of the city and the innocent beauty of a child’s perspective. It is a coming of age story, a story about a young girl who dreams one day of a house of her own “quiet as snow, a place for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.”

A short read that flows easily along and leaves the reader with a sense of hope.


Favorite passages:

She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.                                                                                                           
-page 11-

All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes.
-page 28-

You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky. Butterflies too are few and so are flowers and most things that are beautiful. Still, we take what we can get and make the best of it.
-page 33-

The Grapes of Wrath – Book Review

In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

                                                                                                                                                            -From the Grapes of Wrath, page 349-

In John Steinbeck’s most renown novel, The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad gets released from prison and returns to a home decimated by technology:

“Le’s look in the house. She’s all pushed out a shape. Something knocked the hell out of her.” They walked slowly toward the sagging house. Two of the supports of the porch roof were pushed out so that the roof flopped down on one end. And the house-corner was crushed in. Through a maze of splintered wood the room at the corner was visible. The front door hung open inward, and a low strong gate across the front door hung outward on leather hinges.                                                                              -From The Grapes of Wrath, page 41-

Thus, this sweeping novel takes us on a journey with the Joad family as they join thousands of migrant workers seeking a better life in the West. Steinbeck fills his novel with homespun characters and the bitter reality of life in the 1930s during the Great Dust Bowl migration.

This novel has been banned, burned and challenged since its publication in 1939 for reasons such as “vulgar language” and “sexual references.” In addition, Steinbeck angered many for his honest depiction of the political and economic landscape in the 1930s, where large landowners artificially inflated the cost of goods by destroying surpluses and drove down wages by luring thousands of workers to a California  that could not support their numbers.

Steinbeck is a genius at characterization and using symbolism to draw images for the reader. Tom Joad represents all the survivors who joined together and found strength in numbers; who fought back when the future looked the bleakest; who rose up to fight for their families; and who refused to lose dignity even while camping in Hoovervilles.

The women who people this novel are wonderful – strong, authentic, the glue that holds the family together. Ma Joad’s tough, realistic character drives the novel and tugs at the reader’s heartstrings:

She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.                                                                                                                            – From The Grapes of Wrath, page 74-

Beautiful descriptions of a desolate country; use of symbolism; amazing characterization; compelling dialogue; a vivid and honest portrayal of the family; and an ending which will shock…are all reasons why Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is one of the few great American novels. A must read. The Joad family will stick with the reader long after the final page has been turned.

Highly recommended.

Following are some of my favorite passages from the novel.

About the countryside:

66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from  dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert’s slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there.  From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.     -page 118-

About Granma:

Behind him hobbled Granma, who had survived only because she was as mean as her husband. She had held her own with a shrill ferocious religiosity that was a lecherous and as savage as anything Grampa could offer. Once, after a meeting, while she was still speaking in tongue, she fired both barrels of a shotgun at her husband, ripping one of his buttocks nearly off, and after that he admired her and did not try to torture her as children torture bugs. As she walked she hiked her Mother Hubbard up to her knees, and she bleated her shrill terrible war cry: “Pu-raise Gawd fur victory.”     -page 78-

About symbolism (the turtle):

He came over the grass leaving a beaten trail behind him, and the hill, which was the highway embankment, reared up ahead of him. For a moment he stopped, his head held high. He blinked and looked up and down. At last he started to climb the embankment.         -page 14-15-

About community:

In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was a dream. And it might be that a sick child threw despair into the hearts of twenty families, of a hundred people; that a birth there in a tent kept a hundred people quiet and awestruck through the night and filled a hundred people with the birth-joy in the morning. A family which the night before had been lost and fearful might search its goods to find a present for a new baby.     -page 193-

A Pain in the Mouth

Argus was a puppy he liked to chew on rocks (he now enjoys demolishing
our wood pile). This habit …

The Piker Press – Article Published

I’ve been in a writing rut for months now. Call it exhaustion or burn out or just plain laziness … but, I haven’t been writing. Until last week, when I decided to write a food article called Bananas Anyone? for The Piker Press. It will be on the site all this week. Hope you’ll go …

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The Color Purple – Book Review

You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.

So begins The Color Purple,
a novel …

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