Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

After reading The Book Thief, I was in real need of something light and fluffy and this fit the bill perfectly.  Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is a sweet book about a young girl forced by her parents to spend her senior year of high school at a boarding school in Paris, France.  I know- poor thing, right?  Of course as a grown woman with a husband and children and responsibilities, this sounds like a wonderful opportunity and I can't help but think how much I would have loved to spend a year of high school in Paris.  However, that's the 33-year-old me speaking.  The 17-year-old me would have freaked out.  Paris?  Alone?  Away from all my friends and everything familiar?  Well that is exactly what the title character in this book thought.  As the title also indicates, it turns out to not be quite as bad as she imagined. 

This book was fun.  It was easy.  It pulled me in and kept me turning the pages.  It also made me remember our wonderful, if too short, weekend in Paris last summer and it made me want to return.  It is a Young Adult novel in the purest sense.  Adults can enjoy it.  I've read many book blogs heralding it's loveliness, but it's really just fun.  I don't think it will sweep the nation like Twilight did and I can't add it to my list of books I think every teen must read, but I will add it to my "I really liked this book and it was tons of fun" list.   Pick it up, you'll like it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Oh, my goodness.  I have been reading and hearing about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak for a long time, but I've just now finally read it myself.  To be perfectly honest, I picked up my copy over a year ago at the used bookstore in my library and even though I had heard how wonderful it was, I wasn't in a hurry to read it.  I have so many books on my "To Read..." list that I have to pick what sounds good that day and a book about the holocaust didn't exactly sound like a fun read.  However, when it was my turn to host book club, I went with this one.  (Everyone loved it!)  And I was right, a book about a young girl's perspective of the holocaust in 1940s Germany wasn't what I would call fun, but it was brilliant. 

Zusak is an extraordinary author and The Book Thief is beautifully written.  The haunting imagery he uses brings the reader right in to the story and the characters are so well developed they feel like friends.  Even Death, the narrator of this enthralling novel, seems more like a companion and advocate than the evil Grim Reaper so often envisioned. 

I think the most shocking thing about this book, for me anyway, was that it wasn't pure fiction.  How could this have really happened?  I have a simple understanding of the holocaust that probably most publicly educated Americans have.  I've read about it, I've seen documentaries (though I admit I skipped Schindler's List because I didn't want those images in my head), but through this book, my eyes have been opened to so much more.  It is easy to lump all Germans at that time into the Nazi box, but I now see that there were many Germans who were not in agreement with Hitler and his ideas.  The fear was so strong that it was difficult for most people to stand and fight.  It is possible that they never knew that the people standing on either side of them wanted to fight, too. 

Of course, the next logical question to me is this:  What can we do to make sure nothing like it ever happens again?  We must be involved with and aware of the world around us.  We must speak up.  We must help those in need and never turn our backs. 

And now, I must get off my soap box and go read something lighter.  This was a wonderful book and one I really believe everyone should read.  Have you read it?  Tell me what you thought.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beautiful Darkness

The second book in the Caster Chronicles, Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is another YA novel that I have been reading about on various book blogs.  I read the first book in the series, Beautiful Creatures, sometime last year.  I was not crazy about the first book.  I felt it was slow, that it rambled and that it was unnecessarily complicated.  I didn't love it, but I knew I would probably read the next one anyway because I would have to know what happened.  Since so much time had passed since I read the first one, and due to the complexity of the story, I searched online for a plot summary.  After much searching and turning up mostly what people had copied from the book jacket, I came across a blog that had hosted a weekly discussion of the book chapter by chapter.  This allowed me to catch up with the plot and also remember who each of the many characters were. 

Beginning Beautiful Darkness with the previous story in mind made this one much easier to understand.  I do believe the writing improved (although I was annoyed to no end when they began using the term "incubuses"- the plural is incubi which seems obvious to me and is easily verified on dictionary.com) and it seemed as if all the details in the first novel were finally useful.  There is a lot of talk about how this book is so unique because it is told from a teenage male perspective and because the boy is the mortal and the girl is the one with supernatural powers.  I suppose it is different to hear a male voice in YA fiction, but I can't say that I am all that impressed by the transfer of power to the opposite gender, at least as it relates to most other YA novels with a supernatural story line. 

One of the characters I love in this book is Marian, the super awesome librarian who is far from the grey-haired bun wearing, old spinster stereotype.  She is young, beautiful and relevant.  She is also a genuine book lover:  "Marian...pulled a stack of new books out of a cardboard box, sniffing deeply."  Those of you who know me already know that I really want to be a librarian someday and this sounds exactly like something I would do.  The first library I can remember visiting was a little bitty two room space next door to the fire station in the little bitty town we lived in.  I can still vividly remember the smell of that tiny space and feel those old books.  In every library I've ever visited I've noted the lovely book smell. 

This book is full of magic and mythical characters.  It is also full of the South.  Touted as a Southern Gothic novel, obvious Southern references occupy every nook and cranny, but fortunately so do the less obvious ones.  Having grown up in the South (Texas), but not the Deep South, some of these were personally familiar and others only through other books and pop culture.  The location is almost more of a character than simply a setting.

This book captured my attention and I was unable to do much else before I finished reading it.  I should have begun my book club book this week, but I couldn't help myself.  It did only take about three days to finish it so that says something about how I was drawn into the story.  I don't know that I would necessarily recommend this book, especially to anyone beyond high school age, but I have already put myself on the library waiting list for the third book which will be released in October.  To my semi-annoyance, that won't be the final installment.  A fourth book (as yet untitled) is scheduled for release sometime in 2012.  It's not the best series I've ever read, but I will likely stick with it. 

Have you read it?  What do you think?

From Bogus to Bubbly by Scott Westerfeld

After finishing the Uglies series, I stumbled upon this book in the library's online catalog.  Bogus to Bubbly by Scott Westerfeld is a wonderful companion to the series.  When an author creates the kind of complex world that Westerfeld brought to life in Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras, he or she likely writes pages upon pages of backstory that cannot practically be included in the final work.  Bogus to Bubbly reveals much of that backstory to the lovers of the series.  How did he conceive the story?  Where does he get ideas for all the technology that is supposedly five or six hundred years in the future?  What happened to our current society in the five or six hundred years before the beginning of the series?  So much of this is explained and it is such a fun little read.