Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, 10/10

The Book Thief is a typical Holocaust themed book about a character who must overcome struggles put in place due to the historical setting of the book, in this case Nazi-Germany. What differentiates this book from other historical fiction books about the Holocaust I believe is the way this book is written. The interesting narration, the unique character development, and even the way the book is formatted, all make this book a must-read.

Nine year old Liesel Meminger has been abandoned by her mom and is now living with adoptive parents. Having lost her younger brother and mother on the same day Liesel finds herself a tough position adjusting to her new surroundings. Liesel’s mother, Rosa, a bitter hardheaded woman makes clear to her new daughter that she will accept any silly antics. Her new father, Hans, a gifted accordionist and painter, treats Liesel like his own daughter and helps Liesel to become no longer illiterate.  As Liesel is subjected to the horrors of WW2 she finds solace through her new skill of reading books. Soon she finds herself stealing books from various places to fulfill her constant hunger to read. Liesel soon is asked to keep the most important secret of her life. Her family is harboring a Jew in their basement. As the months go on Liesel develops a friendship with Max, the Jew. Many nights are filled with sirens alerting the town of Molching that bombs are about to be dropped and to get to a shelter immediately. Every day in Liesel’s household is filled with anxiety and stress from house inspections by Nazi officers, and the fear of Max being discovered.

The most interesting factor in The Book Thief for me was Zusak’s choice of the narration. Liesel’s story is told through the eyes of Death himself. Not described as a human but more of a mystical force, Death tells the story of Liesel, the little book thief, and carries with him the many lost lives of WW2. Though the narrator being Death adds a dark, gloomy, and sometimes depressing element throughout the story, it was very refreshing to read a book written in that particular format.

 The target audience for this book would definitely be young adults and up. Zusak sugarcoats nothing and tells every event, a lot of the time tragic, with complete honesty and with no filter. That being said, that’s why it might be slightly intense for younger children.

The Book Thief was an amazing book I definitely will find myself reading again in the future and absolutely earns 10/10 stars.

 

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 4/10

When one imagines the bustling city of New York, it’s almost considered standard for the words ‘diversity’ and ‘freedom’ to tag along. In Betty Smith’s “classic” coming of age novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the story follows a young girl by the name of Francie Nolan as she matures from a naïve dreamer into a sophisticated young woman. The novel depicts the harshness and contrast between the unforgiving city of New York filled with hopeless American Dreamers, and the magic of life itself.  Francie’s high strung mother and alcoholic father are constantly reminding her that she will only succeed in the future if she has a better education than her ancestors. But, the uneducated immigrants living in her tenement show her that there is more depth to life than just that of the materialism she is exposed to.

When I began reading, I was first enchanted by Smith’s gripping use of imagery. She describes Brooklyn in such an interesting way that I thought the novel would be one that I was sure to look back upon and think “that book made me rethink my whole life”, or something epiphanic of the sort. Only later on did I realize that the imagery wasn’t even great or amazing, but in comparison to the slow plot-line, it was the only aspect of the book I found somewhat enjoyable to read. Needless to say, I will not be re-reading it any time soon. For one reason, this novel is very much character based. So, if you’re looking for a thriller or anything with a slew of shocking plot twists, this book is DEFINITELY not your cup of tea. The main character is extremely dynamic therefore the focus of the story is watching a young girl transition into adulthood through the unfair experiences life throws at her. I can’t say that I despised this book while reading, but I can definitely say that I don’t understand why it’s dubbed a “classic”.  The story was centered around the necessity of perseverance through difficult times, and knowing the difference of morals versus trends. Although this book can be read by anyone due to its universal underlying themes, I think teenage girls specifically may appreciate A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. 

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The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas – Rating 9/10

Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 historical novel The Three Musketeers is a classic for good reason. Filled to the brim with swordfights, duels, and political intrigue, all described in fantastic and captivating detail, this book elegantly records the exploits of young Frenchman d’Artagnan and his three friends, the musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, as they go on various swashbuckling adventures in 17th-century France.  It is, save for a few minor flaws, most certainly fiction of the highest caliber and a worthy addition to any book collection. I had very high expectations for the work upon starting it, as I had seen and greatly enjoyed multiple film adaptations of it, and suffice to say Dumas’ work did not disappoint in the slightest.

The story begins in the south of France, near Gascony, and initially focuses not on one of the eponymous musketeers but on the young farmboy d’Artagnan, who is en route to Paris with his father’s sword and a recommendation letter to give to the head of the King’s Musketeers, Monsieur de Treville. After he rather rashly enters into a fight with a mysterious nobleman in the town of Meung his letter is stolen, and he by extent loses his chance to quickly become a musketeer. D’Artagnan does not forget this, and attempts to track down his new nemesis once in Paris. Unfortunately, his frantic efforts to find the man result in him getting involved in a duel with three of the musketeers, namely Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, which oddly enough leads to the four of them coming into conflict with some of the men of Cardinal Richelieu, a scheming official who wields more power in France than the king himself. The three musketeers and d’Artagnan are victorious and come out of the incident as friends. Soon afterwards, d’Artagnan and his friends get involved in some court intrigue involving the cardinal’s attempt to instigate a war with England by exposing an affair between the French queen and the Duke of Buckingham. The cardinal intends to effect that goal by revealing the queen’s gift of twelve diamonds to the duke, and it is up to d’Artagnan and his friends to fight their way past hostile agents all the way to London and recover the diamonds before the king can notice their absence. They accomplish this successfully and thwart the Cardinal’s schemes, only shortly afterwards be called to military duty at the siege of the Protestant stronghold La Rochelle. Here. d’Artagnan is made an honorary musketeer but also becomes the target of one of the cardinal’s spies, the English noblewoman Milady, and has to dodge assassination attempts as well as enemy bullets. The final portion of the book is spent focusing on the protagonists’ attempt to track down Milady before she can assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, a goal which she unfortunately succeeds in through cunning and manipulation. Just before she can escape, however, the musketeers catch up with her and bring her to justice. Right after defeating the main villain, d’Artagnan is awarded the prestigious position of lieutenant in the musketeers, and Athos, Porthos, and Aramis each go their separate ways.

There were several attributes pf particular interest in The Three Musketeers, many of them related to the historical setting. For starters, the integration of historical events and personages, such as the Siege of La Rochelle, the Duke of Buckingham, Cardinal Richelieu, and others with the more fictional aspects of the story was absolutely flawless. Also, the attention to detail in the 17th-century setting was impeccable and greatly added to the overall experience when reading. In addition, the plot is very sophisticated and is developed  at a steady pace through the course of the novel. The author’s choice of a third-person omniscient storytelling perspective, which regularly alternates between various characters, allowed that plot to be developed in a much more intricate fashion than would otherwise be possible. On the other hand, there were a few attributes that hurt the overall enjoyability of the book somewhat, such as its great length and rather complicated plot. The Three Musketeers is over 540 pages long, which meant that each day it was necessary to read through 90 pages in order to finish before school started, and even though the book’s exciting plot and well-developed characters made reading rather bearable it could still get tedious. Overall, I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoys old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure and doesn’t mind a complicated plot or 540 pages of reading. A basic knowledge of 17th-century France would be helpful too, as Dumas does not go into a whole lot of detail into the historical background. If one does decide to read The Three Musketeers  it will definitely prove to be worth the time invested in it, as it is well-written, engaging, and a tremendous book overall.

Review by Nic Quattromani

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 9/10

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a powerful book about a boy learning to stand up for himself.  The main character, Amir, deals with guilt from his childhood.  Amir desperately tries to bury his past, but he soon discovers that the past always finds its way back.  After living with guilt for twenty years, Amir decides it is time to take action.  By the time Amir has mustered up all his courage to take the responsibility for what he has done, most of his family has passed away.  Amir begins to feel like there is no hope left.  He takes a risk by going on a journey back to Kabul to save his nephew, whose parents have also died.  At the time, the Afghanistan government was unstable, and Kabul was ruled by the Taliban.  Amir fights the corrupt leaders of Kabul, which begins a major turning point in his life.  Through this journey, Amir finally learns the meaning of forgiveness, and he learns to face the truth. 

The author’s tone in The Kite Runner is serious, and though The Kite Runner is a dark book, it has uplifting and encouraging themes.  Khaled Hosseini’s use of imagery and personification was marvelous.  The setting of The Kite Runner is in the middle east, and the war in Afghanistan made The Kite Runner an exciting book full of action.  I would recommend The Kite Runner to anyone who wants to read a good book about friendship or anyone who loves history and warfare.  The Kite Runner has lessons to be learned that should be shared with everyone.  It is the kind of book one would never forget.

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Unbroken, By Lauren Hillenbrand, 9/10

Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand is a story of survival, human will, and forgiveness. This novel is a true story set during World War II. Louie Zamperini is a olympic runner turned air pilot. Zamperini is known for his cunning and his ability to be able to get out of any situation. His talents will be very useful to his survival later in the book. Louie and his crew crash into the desolate pacific ocean. Three of the twelve survive the terrible crash. Now, these three deal with impending doom, either eaten by sharks, or captured by the Japanese. Both of these outcomes prove almost likely death. Despite these deathly paths, Louie and his copilot survive the ocean, whilst the other crew member dies. Louie and his friend now must survive the deathly Japanese POW camps.  Now, the story gets interesting! To find out how Louie beats the odds, you will have to read Unbroken. 

I recommend this book to anyone who likes history and a hero. There is violence and graphic images mentioned, but nothing too bad. I am very happy with myself for reading this book, and I hope everyone eventually can. This is a true story of the human resilience. Not only was I amazed that Louie survived these brutal beatings and circumstances, but that he forgave the Japanese. The forgiveness that came from Louie amazed me, for how could one forgive someone else for torturing them? Laura Hillenbrand weaves a terrific story, and this book was for sure a 9/10.

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Downsiders by Neal Shusterman 7/10

As an intriguing urban fantasy,  Downsiders brings a fascinating twist to the idea of living underground. The curious and unique city known to its residents as Downside, is a well-kept secret resting just below New York City. The Downsiders live off of the scraps left from the Topsiders and have managed to thrive in their unusual environment. The book zeros in on Talon Angler, a a fourteen-year-old boy who cannot help but dream of the mysterious world just outside of Downsides boundaries. According to Downsider law, it is forbidden to explore the brutal, ruthless land of Topside. Unfortunately, Talon’s little sister Pidge catches a persistent sickness that causes him to worry that she may not survive. He does know however, that there may be medicine in the Topside that can cure Pidge, prompting him to take the risk of journeying to Topside. During is search for Pidge’s medicine, he runs into a Topside girl named Lindsey. Overtime, they become close, despite the many factors that should have kept them apart.  Talon’s risky actions have a monumental impact on both Topside and Downside and irrevocably alters the Downsider lifestyle.

Neal Shusterman creates a delightful book with creative ideas, a well-developed setting, and a variety of symbols. When I first started reading Downsiders, I read “underground city” and all I could think of was fetid, dismal sewers and miserable people. However, Shusterman manages to completely turn around that idea. Stunning art made from junk and peculiar baubles fills underground chambers, electric fans blow the worst of the smell away, and the people themselves are clean from water drawn from the pipes surrounding them. The Downsider culture itself is fascinating with a different educational process and particular rituals. Many of these ideas are new and uncommon, bringing the story to life and keeping the reader captivated to every word.  The author manages to describes the unique qualities of the Downsider culture and home so vividly that it almost seems plausible to the reader for such a city to exist. Many parts of the book refer back to certain simple symbols that are developed throughout the book. By the end, those same symbols hold complex meanings, extensive ideas, and a multitude of thematic topics. Shusterman’s writing style of using interesting ideas, developing symbols, and building a detailed setting definitely makes the book original and enchanting.

This book was a bit too predictable for my taste and missed the complexity that is usually in the books I read, but was not too bad regardless. In my opinion, Downsiders is probably meant for a younger audience, but I feel it could be enjoyed as a quick read for any age. Many of the symbols and what they imply of human nature will likely be better understood by older readers.

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Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, 9/10

It’s best to be careful with one’s reputation. Once you have one, it’s hard to break out of it.

Josie Moraine knows all about reputations. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s been teased and whispered about behind her back, forcing to endure the snickers and criticizing looks every time she walks by. And what’s most unfair is that it isn’t even her fault.

Her mother, a rather ditzy, irresponsible woman, works at the local brothel, which isn’t exactly the best occupation for “Bring Your Child to Work” Day.

Despite the disadvantages she faces, Josie is determined to attend Smith, a prestige college located (thankfully) outside of the French Quarter where she lives. Though self-taught and exceptionally bright, Josie does not hold the impressive resume of extracurricular activities other candidates for the school possess, besides the fact that she works part-time at the local bookshop and cleans the brothel her mother is employed at, but those, especially the last, are hardly things worth noting in a college application.

Throughout the book, we follow Josie’s struggle to achieve her dreams amidst the chaos in her life. It doesn’t help when she’s constantly watching her back for Cincinnati, a patron of her mother who threatens to seek revenge for a previous encounter he and Josie had. Intertwined in the plot are the confusions of young love and a murder case that only adds to life’s maneuvers at snatching Smith away.

Out of the Easy evokes a slew of strong emotions with every chapter. Whether you’re smiling in mirth, clutching your chest after a particularly tragic turn of events, or cringing in revulsion, you don’t want to stop reading. Sepetys flawlessly imitates the raw, sarcastic voice of a teenage heroine trying to find her place in the unforgiving world of 1950s New Orleans. The cast is marvelous, with distinct and memorable characters like Willie Woodley, the brusque owner of the brothel with a dry sense of humor, or Jesse Thiery, the dreamy, mysterious leather-jacket-wearing boy who takes an interest in Josie. A common inside joke throughout the novel is the phrase “salted peanuts”, which is used to describe Josie when compared to the rich Uptown folk (much like the people at Smith) who are called “petit fours”.

One trait about Out of the Easy that stands out and makes it such a joy to read are the ovation-worthy quotes Sepetys writes.  One of my favorites is: “We all laced together-a brothel madam, an English professor, a mute cook, a quadroon cabbie, and me, the girl carrying a bucket of lies and throwing them like confetti” (Sepetys 242).

Sepetys uses an extensive range of allegory, one example being when Josie describes an event where she tries to clean a stain on the floor, but fails: “Some things just won’t go away, no matter how hard you scrub” (Sepetys 35). The author also uses forms of similes and foreshadowing, such as comparing Josie to salted peanuts and hinting at Cincinnati’s return. Out of the Easy is a great book for anyone, adolescents and adults alike, male and female. For anyone who can relate to self-discovery and the journey of pursuing one’s dreams, or simply anyone who is looking for a fun, meaningful book to read, I would definitely and most surely recommend Out of the Easy. 

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