Originally published 26/01/13
It’s been quite a while since I posted a book review. The reason was that the first book that I read this year, “The Book Thief”, was my deliberate attempt to read at least one chunkster this year and it took me nearly three weeks to complete. As a result, I fell behind very quickly on on my 2013 Book Challenge of forty books for this year.
As a result, I am going to give you my mini-reviews for the first three books that I have read for this year that I previously wrote for Goodreads. (Sorry for the apparent laziness, but I will try to do better for you loyal readers).
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany.
The country is holding its breath.
Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when, by her brother’s graveside, she picks up an object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever these books are to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is a story about the power of words and the ability of books to feed the soul.
Award-winning author MARKUS ZUSAK has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
I had attempted to read this book a few years ago and bearing in mind that I wanted to read one “chunkster”, I decided to give this one a second try.
I was intrigued by it because of its reputation as “The book narrated by Death”.
For those who haven’t read it, The Book Thief tells the story of Leisel Meminger through various episodes of her life during the Second World War living in the town of Molding.
I had problems with the pacing of this book with some of the episodes moving all too rapidly, whilst some plod on.
However, The Book Thief really scored on the level of characterisation.
Death is written as an affable fellow, but under his own admission he’s never nice. He’s very much a bystander in the novel connecting incidents and characters with colours.
Leisel is the central character and the book’s emotional core throughout. It’s her relationships with the various supporting characters that drive this story – from her arrival as a frightened young girl on Himmel Street, her career of thievery – both as the eponymous book thief of the title and thievery in other forms, her insights into how the War impacts on her and her family, through to the book’s inevitable conclusion.
Leisel’s adoptive parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, provide a realistic sense of family within the storyline with Hans being the caring father and Rosa being the no-nonsense disciplinarian. However, as you find during the course of the book, both characters have a hidden depth to them that unfolds during one of the book’s key plotlines.
Comic relief, which is both a surprise and helpful given the subject matter, comes in the form of Leisel’s best friend, Rudy Steiner. The pair have a love/hate relationship which makes for some funny and uplifting escapades including fruit theft, athletics and Rudy’s persistence in wanting a kiss from Leisel.
There are other characters who have a key influence on the direction to the storyline, but to reveal them could be seen as spoilers.
It is the characterisation that kept me coming back for more and would have packed a real emotional punch had it not been for the uneven storyline which made me labour through this book.
I can understand why this is a great book that is so beloved by its loyal readership. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my great book, but a good read nonetheless.
“Doctor Who: Devil In The Smoke” by Justin Richards
Madame Vastra, the fabled Lizard Woman of Paternoster Row, knew death in many shapes and forms. But perhaps one of the most bizarre of these was death by snow…
On a cold day in December, two young boys, tired of sweeping snow from the workhouse yard, decide to build a snowman – and are confronted with a strange and grisly mystery. In horrified fascination, they watch as their snowman begins to bleed…
The search for answers to this impossible event will plunge Harry into the most hazardous – and exhilarating – adventure of his life. He will encounter a hideous troll. He will dine with a mysterious parlour maid. And he will help the Great Detective, Madame Vastra, save the world from the terrifying Devil in the Smoke.
This is the second in the latest range of e-novellas by BBC Books which serve as loose prequels to specific episodes of “Doctor Who” – in the case of this novella, the latest Christmas Special “The Snowmen”.
Like the previous novella in this range, “The Angel’s Kiss”, The Doctor himself doesn’t feature and the focus falls on notable characters in the current version of the Who universe with the main characters being Madame Vastra, her housemaid/wife Jenny Flint and their faithful servant/heavy Strax. (All of whom featured in “The Snowmen” and “A Good Man Goes To War”.
Where “The Angel’s Kiss” used books like those of Raymond Chandler as the inspiration, this novella is an homage the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with its Victorian setting and use of language.
Justin Richards manages a great balancing act of writing a novel of this style whilst featuring characters from the current version of the Whoniverse AND, rather appropriately for the 50th anniversary, including references to classic episodes of “Doctor Who” (if you’re a full-on Whovian, you’ll spot blink and you miss them references to “The Time Warrior” and “The Talons Of Weng-Chiang”).
The lead characters are pretty much as they are on screen. Vastra is the enigmatic detective, Jenny is the faithful sidekick – even though the romantic aspects of the relationship is toned down in comparison with that seen on screen – and Strax is very much the comic relief with his military rigidity and over-eagerness to use military might as the default solution to any problem. The only thing that is lacking in this interpretation of Strax is the sarcastic banter that he displayed in “The Snowmen”. (Yes, I’m talking about his banter with The Doctor, specifically the Sherlock Holmes scene).
As with “The Angel’s Kiss”, there are red herrings as to the identity of the villain. Suffice it to say, it’s extraterrestrial in origin.
The only real downside to this e-novella was the lack of checking in the syntax and spelling departments with sentences melding together, numerical figures being included in words and Jenny’s name being written numerous times with a lower case j.
That said, it is an entertaining novella and I hope this range continues.
“Mila 2.0 – Origins: The Fire” by Debra Driza
Heart-stopping and electric, MILA 2.0: Origins: The Fire contains a short prequel story and an excerpt to MILA 2.0, the first book in a riveting Bourne Identity–style trilogy by Debra Driza.
Mila can’t remember anything before the fire that took her father’s life. It’s normal to have some memory loss after traumatic events, but Mila doesn’t remember if she’s ever learned to ride a bike, or if she’s ever been in love. Nothing.
What she doesn’t know is that she isn’t supposed to remember—that she was built in a computer science lab and programmed to forget. Because if she remembers, she might discover her true identity.
The question is: If she relived the fire, what would she see?
This e-book is a primer for the first book in a trilogy that has been billed as a Bourne Identity style thriller.
With this book, you get a very short “Origins” chapter focusing on the fire that claims the life of Mila’s father and for fifteen pages, you remain gripped throughout as you are thrown into the thick of things. The first person perspective adds an element of fear and desperation to the reading experience as you get the sensations of the colours, smells, heat and pain that Mila experiences. The only downside for me is that the very end of this “Origins” chapter gives too much away if, like me, you haven’t read the first “Mila 2.0” book.
The remainder of the book is devoted to providing a preview of the first seven chapters of “Mila 2.0” and as a primer, in a lot of ways, works better than the “Origins” chapter. My reasons for saying this are that the story draws you in by having the feel of your typical Young Adult fare complete with mysterious new girl arrived in town – in this case, the lead character Mila along with her mother, a best friend who has taken her under her wing as a pity project and the obligatory love interest, but adds little things that hints at Mila’s unusual nature – the fact that she can hear things that others can’t, the fact that she notices little details like the shape of moles, the colour of food stains on shirts, the amount of time that she stares at people and the fact that she has problems with certain areas of her memories.
But the way that this part of the book really works is the shocking cliffhanger that leaves you wanting more.
A great start by Ms Driza and, yes, I am looking forward to “Mila 2.0” when it’s released in March in the UK.