Monthly Archives: February 2011

‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a young adult novel, but I haven’t met an adult yet who hasn’t found it profound. It is a highly readable,  unusual story, narrated by ‘death’. The writing is so good, it is probably the best and most creative book on the Holocaust that I have ever read.

Liesel Meminger is a little girl in Germany who goes to live with foster parents and is the one who steals books and uses them to feed souls. There can be beautiful moments in ugly times and Zusak captures these well. Some of the passages where death is narrating are oddly captivating. But there is also humour in this book and a life affirming lightness which uplifts and restores faith in humanity. It is no surprise to me that this book  has won many awards.

Some have said that the book has a slow start, probably because of the unusual narration and the metaphorical language. Give these passages at the beginning some careful attention and savour them, they are well worth it; the action does pick up soon after, and will not let you go.

This interview with the author captures the creative process the author went through in writing The Book Thief. It is worth watching.

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson

For me this book was not as thrilling as I thought it would be, given the widespread popularity of this series right now.  I’ve seen this book everywhere. Perhaps it is the fact that they were all published posthumously that caused widespread attention, or else it was the catchy titles in English. Some people absolutely love the series, others not so much.

Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander find themselves unlikely partners in solving the mystery of a serial murderer and financial fraud. The story line is intriguing but the book didn’t hold my attention consistently.  It did pull me in at times, but I was also pushing myself through other parts.  Having said that, I did enjoy the characters of Blomkvist and Salander enough to read another book in the series, only to see what adventures they find themselves in next. I saw the movie trailer for this story and I think it might be one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book.

The book is a translation from Swedish and the title in the original is ‘Men Who Hate Women’. Larsson was himself disgusted by sexual violence against women because of a horrific crime he witnessed when he was young. He never forgave himself for not helping the victim whose name was Lisbeth. Violence against women was definitely an underlying theme in this book, especially in the small prefaces to each chapter. Incidentally, Larsson himself had a magazine which suffered financial difficulties, so there is definitely an autobiographical element from the author in a number of ways.

The controversy surrounding Larsson’s life and death and the story of his partner’s struggle for compensation, makes for more interesting reading than the book itself. Here is a link to the article:
Daily Mail Article

Book Club Suggestions

We need each other to find good books. None of us can possible read extensively enough to know what is all out there. And there are so many different choices in various genres and styles. One of the things that I hear people say that they enjoy about being in a book club, is that they end up reading things they never would have picked up  or found on their own.

So it is your turn to weigh in. If your book club was asking for suggestions of what to put on next year’s list, what would you recommend? Leave a comment to add just one suggestion, you must choose! 🙂

‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett

Oprah Winfrey tells the story about her grandmother telling her that perhaps someday, if she was lucky and things went well, she might be able to work for a nice white woman. Oprah says, I wish my grandmother knew that now I have a whole lot of nice white women working for me!

This is a great read. Pure and simple. A powerful story, well told, easy to read, and makes you think. A good book always leaves you with at least one niggling question and here is the one I was left with after reading this one. Can we ever explain away how we behave or what we believe in, based on the time we lived in?

Set in the south during the civil rights movement, three women share their struggles and stories in a way that is unsettling and endearing. The characters of Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter will stay with you for a long time. Though highly entertaining, this is at its very essence not a happy story. Race relations during this era when white families had black help were troublesome and the tensions were real, but if we are honest,  are these issues really in the past? When small steps occur to overcome hate and fear in our world, we should rejoice and applaud authors who take on challenging topics in such  a readable fashion.

‘The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection’ by Robert Farrar Capon

“The greatest meals, like the greatest musical performances, must always seem simple, no matter how complex the execution of them really is.  Strive for the good rather than the fancy…cook to please your guests, not to edify or amaze them.  Your dinner party is an act of love, not a lecture on gourmandise.”

The Supper of the Lamb is a cookbook (first written in 1967 and recently republished),  but also a glorious literary treat. No fast food here!  There is one whole chapter devoted to the peeling and chopping of an onion!  When I was re-reading it, I went to write down a recipe from it (for pan frying fish), and found the recipe was already word for word in my recipe book! I had put it in 10 years ago when I read it the first time. I use the recipe all the time, but had forgotten where it came from.

His directions are simple, but with a flourish so you are motivated to follow them. He celebrates the everyday and common, but points you to eternity and the heavenly realms. Like watching Julie & Julia, you just want to go to the kitchen and cook and eat and when you do, it is a spiritual experience! You learn how to shop for knives, not to fear fat, to be smug if you cook on gas instead of electric, and with this cookbook there will be no need to run out for a can of Campbells or a block of Philadelphia. The ingredients are wholesome and basic, and likely something you already have in the house. And I love what he says about wine:

“Wine. . .the way it complements food and enhances conversation; and its sovereign power to turn evenings into occasions, to lift eating beyond nourishment to conviviality, and to bring the race, for a few hours at least, to that happy state where men are wise and women beautiful, and even one’s children begin to look promising.”

One reviewer said reading Capon’s book feels like you are sitting on a bar stool in his kitchen, listening while he cooks. How true! Bon appetit!

’61 Hours’ by Lee Child

My husband is a busy man. He loves to read, and even though he reads non-fiction quite steadily, he does feel he has to have a little ‘down time’ to enjoy some fiction. After seeing 61 Hours on book lists and in airport bookstores, I thought I would pick this one up for him – he loves action/thrillers. Well, he never got to reading it yet, … too busy, so I decided to give it a try myself. Action/thriller is usually not my genre of choice, so take a seat ladies and gentleman, you are in for a ride!

61 hours counting down, one chapter at a time…I found the plot good, and the scene and story well set up, but the action was a bit lacking, until the very end. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I had expected and I actually had the culprit in mind long before Reacher did!

Having said that,  the character of Jack Reacher is totally intriguing and I would read another Lee Child book, just to catch a glimpse of this nomad in another situation, somewhere, somehow.  Reacher is observant in a detailed Sherlock Holmes sort of way. As an ex-military cop he is smart and decisive, but also a wanderer, a drifter, and a large loner of a man. Jack Reacher is a maverick, but does  not go looking for trouble. Trouble seems to find him. He carries nothing with him, not even clothes, which he just buys new every three days or so.  He  gets involved and becomes the hero for no other reason than  to do good, and then he moves on. Very slick, like his website. I’ve never seen a website so smooth.

This severely dates me, but the Jack Reacher character made me think of the theme song for The Littlest Hobo. Sorry Jack (and Lee)! I couldn’t resist.

‘House Rules’ by Jodi Picoult

‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get’…

There are lots of movie quotes in Jodi Picoult’s new novel ‘House Rules’, but this one would not describe her novels. With Picoult novels you do know what you will get, to a certain degree. There is often a medical condition or a moral issue, a court case, and a family drama.  The book is often written from the perspective of several different characters in the story, and explores relationships and emotions in real depth and intricacy. There are usually a  few twists and turns in the story, sometimes ones that make you gasp. One thing is absolutely sure, Picoult always keeps you guessing till the very end.

I’ve read more than a dozen of Picoult’s novels and if I’m honest, some I’ve enjoyed more than others. My favourite so far has always been My Sister’s Keeper, but I would have to now say that House Rules may have challenged that. I found Picoult’s writing clean and less cluttered in this book and the ending made good sense.

In House Rules, Asperger’s Syndrome is featured and in the process of reading you learn alot about it. One review I read written by someone with Asperger’s herself, commented that Picoult’s research may have been too good and she wanted to include too much. The reviewer felt that the poor character of Jacob displayed ALL the possible characteristics of the condition, which is not realistic.  There are two other books written about this topic which are probably better written – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.

Having said all that, there is nothing quite like settling in with a Jodi Picoult novel. You know you are in for the duration and it will be enjoyable!

Scottish Interview with Jodi Picoult