Thursday, August 12, 2010

"The Book" by Vangie (poem from Scholastic)

I received a tweet from Scholastic inviting people to read and blog about the poem “The Book” that they had been sent. You can read the poem here: http://onourmindsatscholastic.blogspot.com/2010/08/book-poem.html
This poem struck a chord within me as a person who has enjoyed reading since I was a child. This poem latches onto, and successfully describes, that feeling that a reader gets when they find something new to read.  I really liked the line that said, “It was my day because I found a book!” I think that line sums up the excitement of the whole poem. There’s a feeling of anticipation and excitement that bubbles up in a person when they find a brand new piece of literature to jump into. That’s a feeling that can not be replicated by any other experience.  Just like reading itself is an experience that is unlike any other activity we might participate in.
The poem’s author Vangie goes on to say that, “I do not have it any more. I miss my book.” That book, for as long as it was in the author’s possession filled a void, the space in a person’s heart and soul that can only be filled by literature, by gaining insight and experience through reading. There is fulfillment to be gained by simply taking part in the experience of reading. 
The author has wrote in her last line, “Now I have no more books.” I think there is something very important to be understood from this line. I take it for granted that if I want to buy a book, I have the resources to go and simply buy it from the bookstore or borrow it from the library. Not everyone is in the position to have the access to literature that others do. This line really reveals that, for some people, when one book is gone there might not be others on the bookshelf to replace it.
The poem is really touching and really captures the emotions that accompany reading a book, really being enthralled by a piece of literature, as well as the practical circumstances that sometimes don’t allow people to read as much as they would like.
Thanks to Scholastic for posting the poem as it struck a chord inside me as a reader who knows she takes her own personal circumstances for granted too often.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Stars☆☆☆☆☆

Summary:
Spanning the years of World War II, this story highlights the experiences of one young German girl named Liesel Meminger during this tumultuous era in Germany. The story is narrated by Death who, as he mentions many times, is very busy during this time. Liesel Meminger at age nine is taken to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family. They live in a poor neighborhood where she meets many of the supporting characters in the novel. Liesel is the book thief, an exploit that begins when she steals The Gravediggers Handbook from the graveyard where she watches as young brother is buried. Death becomes intrigued by Liesel’s own personal story, a story she eventually pens herself. Liesel collects more books from many other people including her friend Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayor’s traumatized wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and her foster parents.
What I Think:
Some books grab you the moment you start to read them and just won’t let go. “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak was one such book. The moment I started reading it, I was hooked. World War II era books have always been interesting to me, so I was hopeful about this book, but it far exceeded any expectations I had.
Making the narrator Death, who is unsentimental and yet not callous, is an ambitious feat that Zusak pulls off wonderfully. It provides a dark tone, which is appropriate for the troubling time period in which the story takes place. Death also provides insight into what’s going on in Liesel’s life (and the lives of her friends and family) as well as what’s going on in the greater world around her. Who would know better than Death himself about the murder of Jews and the death of the soldiers on the battlefield?
One thing that really pulled me into this book is the many different relationships that Liesel has with the people in her life - and the strong bonds that she develops with all of them. Her friend, and protector, Rudy has lemon yellow hair and tries in small ways to rebel against the Nazi regime he’s trapped in. He’s a good friend to Liesel. It is a relationship that is more important to both of them than either of them truly realize. Liesel also bonds with Max, the Jewish refugee that her family harbours in the basement. They share their fears of their terrible nightmares and both understand the power of words. There are many more powerful relationships, including Liesel’s foster mother Rosa Hubermann. Liesel forms a unique and strong bond with each other these characters. Her relationship with each of these characters reveals something about her own character traits. With Rudy, we see her  playful, childlike self. The good friend, the partner in crime. With Max, we see the caring, self-sacrificing, vulnerable side of Liesel; with Max, she is the Liesel is desperate to look after the people she cares about. With Rosa, we see the strong Liesel, the Liesel who learns to do what she has to do and endure the pain that might accompany it.
The most important relationship, and one of my favourite parts, in the novel is Liesel’s relationship with her “Papa” (also known as Hans Hubermann). He’s her foster father and he quickly becomes the centre of her world. He’s kind, gentle, thoughtful and willing to sacrifice himself for the people he loves. He is exactly what the vulnerable and broken Liesel needs when she arrives at his house having just suffered the death of her brother and separation from her real mother. I could not read this book without feeling a great sense of love for this amazing man and father. Not that he’s perfect - he’s a man with flaws like everyone else. But he’s a man with an overwhelming amount of love to give, love that he’s more than happy to share with anyone willing to accept it.
As a aspiring writer and an avid reader, another aspect of the book that I really liked was the emphasis on words. Words are powerful; Liesel and Max both see that in the words of Hitler that are controlling the country. Words give people unspeakable power. They can be a source of heartbreak, but also a source of joy. It is in each person to make the choice how their words are going to be used. The power that words have can be channeled into something positive, as Max emphasizes through the words he uses when he “rewrites” Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” It is in each of to decide what kind of impact our words are going to have.
This book is a treasure. It’s heartbreaking in many parts but it also contains a thread of hope about the resilience and goodness of humans like Liesel and Hans Hubermann and Max. There are so many things I could say about this book, but the most important is this: I feel like my life is different since reading this book. What more recommendation could I give?

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Water For Elephants" by Sara Gruen

Stars: ☆☆☆☆

Summary: This book revolves around the life of Jacob Jankowski. The book vacillates between his life in a nursing home (in his 90s) and his memories of his life as a young man. As a young man, Jacob's life is pretty great. He's about to graduate from veterinary school and he fancies himself in love with one of his classmates. Then, one event changes his life - his parents are killed in a car crash. This is the middle of the Great Depression and he finds out after his parents’ deaths that they have left him with no home or money. He is completely desolate, financially and emotionally. Jacob, in a serendipitous turn of events, joins the circus. There he falls in love with the beautiful performer Marlena. Marlena, however, is married to the circus' animal trainer (who also happens to be pretty psychotic). As part of the circus he also meets the other important lady in his life - the elephant Rosie.
What I Think: I’m not a fan of the circus. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always felt that there was an almost sinister undertone to the circus. I have no idea where that thought comes from (probably just a figment of my very active imagination). Due to this dislike of the circus, I was somewhat reluctant to pick up “Water for Elephants.” When I did finally decide to read this book, it definitely exceeded my expectations.
Jacob is one of those characters that I found it impossible to dislike. He almost immediately grabbed ahold of my attention (and my heartstrings) and he didn’t let go until the very end of the book. I rooted for him during all of his crazy exploits as part of the circus crew. There’s something innately likable and relatable about Jacob. He’s a good person working towards a good life, and the tragic events that occur to him make him only more open to sympathy. I think that goodness in Jacob is one of the things I admired the most about this character. No matter what he faced, it was his genuine goodness that helped him survive.
The story itself is full of intrigue and a series of very interesting and unexpected events that Jacob is a part of. I never knew what to expect, much like Jacob himself, and that feeling had me gripping the book in anticipation of the next calamitous road block Jacob was going to have to deal with. I could almost physically feel the tension building throughout the novel, and the reader certainly obtains a satisfying conclusion to that tension.

The circus element, which I anticipated I would not like, actually added a quirkiness that was appropriate, and necessary to this book. The "freaks" that Jacob encounters and interacts with add depth and interest to the subplots going on in this book.
His relationships with Marlena and Rosie were the high points of this novel for me. These are the relationships were Jacob really took risks came into himself as the novel’s protagonist. His interactions with Rosie and Marlena revealed his heart and his passion as a man and a human being. These relationships also further revealed the type of man he was, in direct comparison to that of Marlena's crazy, abusive husband.
This is an extremely smart, well-crafted book that I would recommend to anyone. Even if you don’t like the circus. :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

YA Books You NEED to Check Out!

I will admit that, at one time, I was prejudiced when it came to books. As soon as I aged past about 16 or 17 years old I got it into my head somehow that it wasn't okay to read Young Adult books anymore. Where this idea came from, I have no idea. So, a few years ago when someone suggested to me that I read Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments books, I ignored her at first, dismissing the books as too young for me. After this person persisted in telling me how wonderful these books were, I finally caved and borrowed the first book, "City of Bones" from my local library.

Boy was I in for a surprise. It was so good I literally read almost all of it in one sitting. I knew then that I'd misjudged these books, and most like the whole genre of YA. No matter what the age Young Adult books have something for people of all ages.

These are some of my favourite YA books right now (there are a lot more I'm sure that I'm forgetting as well).

  • Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments Trilogy. Pure brilliance.
  • Becca Fitzpatrick's "Hush Hush" (and "Crescendo" when it's out!).
  • Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy. So suspenseful and intriguing. I literally could no put it down!
  • Madeleine L'Engle's "Wrinkle in Time"
  • C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. These are some of my favourite books of all time
  • Anne Brashare's Sisterhood Series. So endearing and heartfelt.
  • Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
  • All of Meg Cabots YA books, including the Princess Diaries series 


As I mentioned, these are just SOME of my favourite YA but it's a good start of a list.

On another topic, if you want to vote on your favourite male character, check out the poll on the left side. They're just waiting for your votes!

~Steph

Welcome!

So, I decide to start a book blog.

This might be the silliest thing I've decided to do, considering the many other things I have on the go. BUT... I really want to do it! I want to share my thoughts on books I read and get YOUR feedback about the books as well. I want to start genuine conversation about the books I read and love (or don't love!).

Anyway, I hope you'll bear with me as I begin to wade through all the things that go with starting a blog and balancing the rest of my life too!

The first book I will be reviewing is... Water for Elephants. Watch for it!

Until next time,
--Steph