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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - A Book Review

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – A Book Review
     I bought this book based on a recommendation from a Christian fiction author.  I had high hopes for this book, but it far exceeded my expectations.  The story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief, is one that will linger in my memory for time upon time.  Her tragedy filled story is also filled with the appreciation of small blessings, appreciation amid great struggles.  As a retired reading specialist and classroom teacher, I was especially touched by Leisel’s struggle to learn how to read and her foster father’s patience and heroic efforts to help her.  The bond that grew between them as they worked together through The Grave Diggers’ Handbook, her first stolen book, as Leisel painstakingly painted words on the basement wall, and as Papa read to her following her many nightmares was stronger than most between biological parents and children.  Their love became bound up in a love of words, but also in a hate of words; words that healed, words that rendered. 
     Liesel also had intense relationships with her foster mom who loved deeply and showed it badly, with a neighborhood boy who longed for greatness and for one special kiss, with a wounded soul who shared her library and received a mended soul in return, and with one lonely Jew who also knew the power of words.  Relationships documented by an unusual narrator, Death, a connoisseur of flavors, flavors the color of the sky as souls are collected, Death who vacations in moments of distraction.
     My brain loves to look for patterns, to put things in categories.  The Book Thief fits into a very small category of books, books whose language pulls me back to reread over and over just to enjoy the beauty of the words, words carefully selected and creatively used, words that are used unexpectedly, and words that paint vivid mental images, engaging all of my senses, pulling at my heart strings.  If joins The Secret Life of Bees and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter among a very few other special books, books that celebrate the beauty of language. 

     I could not recommend this book any more highly.  Yes, its setting in Germany at the time of the holocaust makes for difficult reading, and the losses in this book accumulate like piles of ash posing as snow, but the love and the blessings far outweigh the sorrow.  They will leave you counting your life’s blessings, taking nothing for granted.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Summer of Joy by Ann H. Gabhart - A Book Review
     When I was working time to read for pleasure was in short supply, so I tended to play it safe with authors I knew and loved. One of the best things about retirement is having the time to meet and spend time with authors that are new to me.  I was thrilled to spend time with Ann Gabhart in the pages of her book, Summer of Joy.  Now I was a little concerned about reading book three of The Heart of Hollyhill series without having read books one and two, but there was no need to be.  The story was easy to follow and enjoy, with just enough references to the previous books to provide necessary information and to motivate me to read those books in the future. 
     Hollyhill, Kentucky, the setting of this story, is a small town where everyone knows what is going on with everyone else.  In the 1960s it is still a town where children can safely roam free (well most of the time).  It is also a town where emotions and secrets run deep, and where they can be brought to the surface by a returning former resident as well as some new characters in  town.  It is a town that protects and nurtures its own, and those it adopts as its own.  It is peopled by those who know how to forgive, and those who don’t, and by some who don’t even realize the need.  It is a town slowly changing as the world around it changes, beginning to see the similarities more than the differences among its people, but also experiencing the accompanying growing pains.  It is a town where people are working to get a right and accurate view of themselves and of God. 
     Character development is one of the things that Ann Gabhart does best.  She fills Hollyhill with a cast of quirky characters: those that are down to earth, those that have been earthed (You’ll have to read the book to understand that one.), those with their heads in the heavens, and those whose heads may be just a bit scrambled.  As I read the thought kept coming to mind that fans of Jan Karon’s Mitford series would love Summer of Joy. David, pastor of Mt. Pleasant church, and Leigh’s romance is reminiscent of Father Tim and Cynthia’s.  Wesley Green’s stories of life on Jupiter made me want to return to Mitford and visit with Uncle Billy and some of the other eccentric characters who reside there.  They also made me want to get the first two books in Gabhart’s Hollyhill series so that I could join Wes and his young friend and surrogate granddaughter, Josie, David’s teenage daughter, on their adventures.
     I believe that Summer of Joy will appeal to a wide audience.  Young adult readers will identify with Jocie and her coming of age story.  Young wives and mothers will be touched by Tabitha and Leigh’s stories, and the love they have for those they nurture along with the insecurities they feel.  Older readers will enjoy reminiscing about a time gone by, and will be touched by the wisdom as well as the frailties that come with age.  All will enjoy the ebb and flow as Gabhart builds and releases tension as her story unfolds.  Tensions are bound to be present when the first wife, who abandoned her husband and young daughter, is headed back to town, as her former husband and his fiancĂ© make plans.  They are bound to be present when a teacher takes an immediate dislike to one of his students, and when that same teacher sets his sights on her father’s fiancĂ©.  Tensions mount when someone oversteps her bounds and sets off a series of events related to a past her co-worker prefers to forget.  Tensions will mount as you read this book, the kind that readers love, the kind that keep them reading. 
Thank you to Revell, the publisher, for sending me a copy of Summer Joy for my honest opinion of the book.