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The gist of The Book Thief is that it's the story of Liesel Meminger, a German orphan in the 1940s who is sent to live with foster parents in a small German town. Her foster family (the Hubermans) take in a Jewish man and hide him in their basement. The "Germanness" of the plot is significant because the action takes place before and during World War II. I've read lots of Holocaust books, but none quite like this.
For example...
1. It is written from Death's point of view. Death was quite busy during World War II, and I found it odd and abstract to think of it all in this way. The personification of Death makes me uneasy, yet I do feel like it is a very real way to communicate all the loss of life during that time period.
2. Though written in narrative-style, it's not your typical, smooth flowing narrative. The parts and chapters are choppy and skip from one time period to another with no explanation. This is weird because it leaves the reader floundering to re-orient to the plot, yet that feeling also does serve the purpose of enabling the reader to get an idea of just how choppy and unsure and unsecure life was in Germany during that time.
3. Max, who is the Jewish man hiding in Liesel's basement, is interesting because he shows the guilty-feeling side of Jewish people who hid to escape Adolf Hitler's rage. He hurts constantly for the danger he puts them in, and he is tormented by the fact that Liesel and her family could be punished or killed just for hiding him.
4. The Book Thief is named so because Liesel falls so deeply in love with reading and with literature that she steals them. I'm no proponent of petty larceny, but is worth considering the reason for Liesel's thievery. She was a young girl in a hate-filled country in an era that paid little attention to the worth of a woman's brain. I found myself being proud of Liesel, not for what she did, but for having the courage to do it.
5. There is SO much sadness and death and dying and fear and anger in this book. It is hard to chew and even harder to swallow. However, it also has tiny little "ray of sunshine" moments that remind you of the complexity of human nature.
6. It is written about the German point of view of the Holocaust, and it does a good job of showing that not all Germans were Nazis and not all Germans were supporters of the murders of those millions of Jewish citizens.
7. If you like literary devices, this piece will impress you. There is an enormous amount of allusion to future events, which would make it seem like there are no real surprises in the text...yet there are twists and turns at every step.
The Book Thief is one of those rare books that picks and stretches your mind. It's scary and sad and hopeful and unique, and it isn't a book that fits any sort of mold...which is why I like it so much! The complexity makes it a nice choice for a book club or literature study, and would easily lend itself to some deep response writing.
The Book Thief is a 2007 Printz Honor book, a prestigious literary award given to works of excellence in young adult (teen) literature.

Marie-Laure is a blind girl whose father works for a French museum. Werner is an orphaned boy growing up in a German children's home struggling between a way out and the right way o

*Image from http://www.oprah.com/book/All-The-Light-We-Cannot-See?editors_pick_id=54870
*Image from http://www.oprah.com/book/All-The-Light-We-Cannot-See?editors_pick_id=54870

ut. The problem is, it's World War II and their stories are destined to intertwine in the most surprising of ways.

Doerr brilliantly moves these two in concentric, ever-revolving, and eventually overlapping circles. He cleverly interweaves Marie-Laure, Werner, and several other fantastically intriguing protagonists while also providing us a painful glimpse into the German-occupied France of the 1940s.

 All the Light We Cannot See is a novel with words and phrases written so beautifully, so masterfully, reading it is...simply delicious. 

*Image from https://www.nosegraze.com/review-giveaway-stung-by-bethany-wiggins/
*Image from https://www.nosegraze.com/review-giveaway-stung-by-bethany-wiggins/

Imagine waking up one morning, only to realize that your house is destroyed, your family has vanished, and a beastlike human is trying to kill you. No matter how hard you try, you cannot figure out how the entire world has fallen to pieces seemingly overnight.

This is Fiona’s story. Helped along by others living underground, she is rescued time and again from animalistic humans who are out to murder her. Bit by bit, she learns the new rules of this strange society to which she has awakened, all of which spell utter disaster for her. Perhaps the strangest piece of it all is a strange tattoo on Fiona’s hand…a tattoo that she cannot remember getting, but seems to be the key that unlocks everything about Fiona’s past as well as her future.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Stung is the single most compelling piece of dystopian lit I’ve read all year. An impressive first novel for this author, this is the kind of book that snatches you in on the first line and leaves you totally exhausted from the constant action by the last page’s turn. What sets Stungapart in this genre is that it’s all based on an environmental disaster…one that we aren’t necessarily all that for from in our world today. Trust me, folks. Once this really catches on, this one is going to be the next big thing in young adult literature!

Madeline Whittier is an immunocompromised teen who is allergic to basically everything. She leads a sterile life in which every single factor is controlled, from the food she eats to the air she breathes to the people with whom she interacts.img_8815

Everything changes, though, the day Olly moves in next door. Skilled in the art of interpretive spying, Madeline sticks like glue to her bedroom window until she figures out that A) this Olly guy has one jacked up family, B) he’s awfully intriguing, and C) she has to know him.

This leads to a cyber relationship which evolves into a real relationship which becomes the thing that Madeline never dreamed she would be able to experience: love. And love, as it turns out, is a very dangerous thing indeed.

To find out more about Madeline and Olly, check out a copy of Everything Everything today!

*Image from https://www.amazon.com/Maria-Florida-Trilogy-Book-1/dp/1577361520

We meet her as Maria Evans Fenwick and in a rather bedraggled state as the wife of a very sick British officer. She quickly gains her footing among the influential in changing community as the city transitions from being a Spanish colony over to British control. Early on in her St. Augustine adventure, Maria Evans proves her capacity for resourcefulness and strength, two key traits on which she would lean heavily throughout her life.

As much as Maria Evans was a woman of strength and dignity, she also quickly became a prominent member of St. Augustine society. Her position in marriage (well, to two of her three husbands - Fenwick and Peavett) and in her skill as a midwife brought her high favor among the elite.

By the time she had taken her third husband (Hudson), however, the once-ambitious Maria Evans would face tragedy from which there simply would be no coming back, so far as St. Augustine was concerned.

It was so very intriguing to read about everything from 18th century British military life and customs to the transition between governments (from Spanish to British and back again to Spanish during Maria's time) to the influence of Spanish spies during the American Revolution. As for the book as a whole, I found Maria Evans fascinating, but could take or leave Eugenia Price's style. Many scenes are far too overdone, and still others too meek in detail. There is an interesting thread of spirituality, none of which is communicated clearly or well.

From what I understand, this is Eugenia Price's first in a three-part series on Florida history. Mariawas good, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the settlement and revolutionary period of American history, but...I think her first book is enough for me.

Resources about Maria Evans:

http://staugustine.com/news/local-news/2011-03-12/colonial-st-augustine-midwives-played-unique-role
http://www.staugustinehistoricalsociety.org/mariatourflyer3.pdf
http://staugustine.com/news/local-news/2013-10-28/eugenia-prices-novel-maria-introduced-colorful-history-st-augustine-1700s

Resources about St. Augustine:
http://www.floridashistoriccoast.com/
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/st-augustine.html
http://www.oldcity.com/

selection-the-elite
*Image from http://madbutmagicya.blogspot.com/2013/08/review-of-elite-by-kiera-cass-or-why.html

The second book in The Selection series, The Elite tells the second-phase story of America Singer and the rest of the remaining girls in their quest to be chosen as the next princess of Ilea.

One day America is madly in love with Prince Maxon, ready to fight to the death for his affection...the next, she swears him a lying dog and turns to her lifelong friend and former secret boyfriend, Aspen, for consolation.

It's so very teenagery (love and angst and indecision and all the feelings and such), but also incorporates some interesting history of their nation and brings out some Big Ideas about how to fix the maddeningly sad caste system in which so many are trapped. Author Kiera Cass gets kinda political in this installment...which makes me even more interested in the next book of the series: The One.  

Ever have those books that have been sitting on your "To-Read" list for, like, forever? The classics, that book everybody was talking about two years ago but now it feels like you're the only one that hasn't read it? For me, Fahrenheit 451 was that book.

I mean, I went to library school for crying out loud. There is literally no excuse for my not having read this novel. I am surprised they gave me an MLIS without this on my list, as a matter of fact.

So what's it all about? Well, it's a book about books...the role of books and knowledge and freedom of information in society. It's a book about drastic censorship and how that works out for the world. It's about a dude named Guy Montag.

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Guy Montag is Fireman #451, just an ordinary fireman in futuristic American society. The thing is, in this time period that means firemen set fires instead of putting them out. More specifically, he sets fire to books. For that is what the firemen do in the year 2300-whatever...they exist to seek out and burn books. Books, they are told, make people unhappy because they make people think, and thinking makes people unhappy. Therefore, to preserve happiness and for the betterment of society, the books are banned and then burned.

The "happiness" of society looks something like this: absurdly frequent suicide rates, immense depression, children killing their siblings, widespread substance abuse, a government that lies to its citizens about war, global nuclear anarchy, mothers who say their kids would just as soon kick them as kiss them, rampant abuse of animals, and people who refer to "the walls" (large TVs) as "the family."

But then one night Guy Montag meets someone who somehow challenges him to think beyond the sad little box this dystopia has put him in. Eventually he transforms from Guy the book-burning fireman to a reading rebel who finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime, becoming the great defender of the very things he once had sought to destroy.

Fahrenheit 451 is officially on my list of favorite novels, and wow it would be exciting to teach this work to a high school literature class. Also, Ray Bradbury? He must have been an actual, bonafide genius for penning this work way back in the yesteryear of 1953.

Image result for go set a watchman*Image from http://www.salon.com/topic/go_set_a_watchman/.

*Written in July of 2015.

12:01am - Go Set a Watchman automatically downloads to my Kindle.

12:02am - Harper Lee begins the hasty process of dismantling all I thought I knew and loved about my favorite book in the world.

I am going to boldly state here that the release of Harper Lee's second book is most likely the literary event of my lifetime. There is no story more beloved than To Kill a Mockingbird, no characters more revered than Atticus Finch and his children. There has been an abundance of criticism over why Lee has chosen now to publish a second book, widely described as what was actually her first book and published today in first-draft form. Thick are the questions and mistrust over whether or nor Ms. Lee is in full enough possession of her mental faculties to even have truly given permission for this work to have been published. There are accusations about greedy caretakers and cunning attorneys. The release of the story is wrought with controversy.

To that, all of that, I say...none of it matters.

What does matter? Three things.

1. The story. Watchman isn't the first book to be published under a cloud of suspicion, nor is it the first publication to be met with controversy. It'll really earn its wings when it gets banned somewhere. It's probably just the only time the general public has been aware of it, given the immense popularity of the author's first novel. This dabbles in the actual review portion of this post, but Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird are now mutually symbiotic. The complexity of Watchman shovels layers ontoMockingbird's characters who were previously accepted as without flaw.

2. The author. Folks, I have read some bios and some legal briefs and have conducted some personal interviews concerning Ms. Nelle Harper Lee, and there is one thing I know beyond all faintest fog of doubt. The woman is brilliant. She's observant, she's keenly aware of how twisted the nature of human beings can be, and she has never - not in 50+ years - ever not known how to protect her book. She has sued individuals, the city of Monroeville, organizations...she has fervently defended her personal rights, her personal privacy, her rights as an author, and the rights to her Mockingbird for decades, and she has done so very well. I have lots of theories about why she chose NOW to publish, but the most important part of this point is that Nelle Lee has proven a thousand times over that legally, she knows exactly what she is doing. How odd for the world to have begged this woman for years to pleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease let us read more of her work, she gives it to us, and we question her for it! And honestly, the controversy has only drawn more attention and sales for her, so I wouldn't at all be surprised if she purposely orchestrated it that way. Read a little about her and you'll see that option is not so far-fetched.

3. The legacy. It's interesting the number of people who keep saying they won't read it because of what they've heard or reviews they have read, but we are talking about the most widely anticipated novel of the 21st century. In as little as two years, the publication drama won't even be remembered because it will be entirely swallowed up by the hugeness of the actual story. By the time my girls are old enough to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman will be widely accepted not simply as the sequel but also as the true complementary companion to Lee's first book. It enables readers to consider the characters and plot more deeply. To refuse that now is just...not understandable to me.

So what of it, then? Well, I'll tell you what Go Set a Watchman was for me.

*Semi-spoiler alert. I didn't read a single review before I read it, and advise that same course. I won't come right out and mess up anything for you, but I would prefer you NOT read this part before you read the book for your own little self.

Go Set a Watchman is set about 25 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Some things are exactly the same in Maycomb, and some things are wildly different. Little Scout in all grown up but she's still Ms. Jean Louise to most people. She has a suitor who's crazy for her and rather a good match, someone Jem or Atticus would have chosen for her should she ever have allowed it. We get a bigger, more complete picture of the Finch family from Calpurnia and Atticus to Aunty Alexandra and Uncle Jack. Those who were absolute pains in little Scout Finch's neck are those she depends on most as Ms. Jean Louise.

The book spans the few weeks Jean Louise is in Maycomb, come home for a short vacation from her busy life in New York. We follow her as she makes some disturbing discoveries about Atticus, combined with perfectly familiar reminiscent tales about what she, Jem, and little Charles Baker Harris were up to for their adolescent years. We get to see how Jem continued to look out for his baby sister and how Atticus's parenting shaped both his children. We get so many questions answered..such as what Scout's teenage years were like for Atticus as a single father, or what had actually happened to Scout's and Jem's mother.

There's so much reference back to Mockingbird that you are tempted to feel safe with these characters, because in To Kill a Mockingbird, everything was somewhat okay, because at least Atticus is honest. At least Scout has Jem. At least Scout has Dill. At least Scout has Calpurnia. At least Scout can have her questions answered clearly, because at least Scout has Atticus.

But what if she didn't? In Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee answers that bigger question and shows us what happens to Jean Louise Finch when the man she once worshiped isn't who she thought he was. Harper Lee answers that question and she scars the hearts of readers in unexpected ways as she writes about race relations, daddy issues, segregation, privilege (racial and socioeconomic), and love.

That makes us as readers, as Mockingbird fans, really uncomfortable. Because all that is good and right with Mockingbird is wrapped up in Atticus Finch.

I think I might know why Harper Lee waited so long to publish this book. Maybe she couldn't bear the thought of destroying the Atticus we all thought he was. Of taking a man we admired as simple and wholesome and good and just, and complicating him all up so that nobody can figure out what he is anymore. Or shoot, maybe she just put a timer on it and was like, Imma just publish this in 2015 if we aren't all teleporting to Mars by then. Because, really, who knows?

I do know that Go Set a Watchman does exactly what I was hoping her second publication would do, which is to prove she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Rumored nastily to have been a total fraud, Harper Lee convinced me the very moment I finished Mockingbird in the 9th grade that this lady is not just an author but a writer, and that writers have to write...they can't not write. I have believed for all this time that Harper Lee had piles of written work, she just didn't want to publish yet. I believe the first-draft claims, because there is some looseness to the work as a whole, a few scenes we could do without. But the writing style, the literary patterns are so similar in Watchman that I found myself smiling and highlighting like crazy just because I recognized the cadence of her work.

And it is beautiful.

Don't you think?

cover_ravenboys_300
http://www.maggiestiefvater.com/the-raven-boys/the-raven-boys/

The only thing weirder than growing up in a family of psychics is being the only non-psychic in the group. Blue Sargent is that girl, and she happens to (or is destined to?) cross paths with a group of boys from the local prep school; just the type of boys she always loved to hate. Her “Raven Boys” each come with a set of mysterious characteristics that she finds irresistible yet also hates to love. Gansey, the boy who has too much and is too much; Noah, the one who is most comfortable on the fringe; Ronan, the fiercely angry yet tenaciously loyal boy who always seems to be looking for a fight; and Adam, the one who wants only to be his own man.

First in a series of three (so far), The Raven Boys contains an adventurous coming-of-age sort of story but seems to mostly serve a foundational purpose for the full series. There are many notable moments that are presented as important yet never fully explained. Gansey’s obsession with discovering magical ley lines drives the plot, as well as the firmly repeated prophecy by Blue’s psychic family that she will kill her first love. These aspects, in addition to scenes of murder and abuse, make this story darker than some may prefer.

The Raven Boys is a solidly compelling tale, though the emotional tone of the characters varies wildly. Just when it seems Adam has found his stride as a strong, independent boy, he takes a turn that indicates entirely the opposite. On one page, Gansey is in the clear leader of the tribe, tinted only by the angst that comes from unintentionally offending his friends; on another, he arrogantly seeks to do as he pleases regardless of the consequences. Blue is the most constant of the five and it’s no small irony that as the one who came from the family of psychics, she’s the most reasonable of them all.

I’d recommend The Raven Boys for 7th graders and up, given the harshness of the domestic violence contained therein. There is no explicit content and very few curse words, but the concept of ley lines, magic, and witchcraft will be off-putting to some. Stiefvater definitely does something right with this book, however, because the characters are fantastically intriguing. Since its conclusion I have wondered incessantly what ever happened to Ronan, Noah, Gansey, Adam, and Blue...good thing I know where to find these and other great YA lit!