Book Review – The Book Thief

The book thiefI don’t write blog post book reviews for every book I read.  (Follow me on Goodreads if you want an update for everything I’m reading.)  But when I read something that stands out to me as a writer and not just as a reader, I think it warrants a book review.

This is a book that stole my heart, shattered it, and handed me back the broken pieces.

Germany, WWII.  A girl who steals books.  Darkness and hatred and hope and the power of words to change to world.

It’s amazing and earth-shaking and quiet and huge, and THE WAY THAT THIS AUTHOR USES WORDS IS MY FAVORITE.  I laughed, I cried, I sat on the edge of my seat.

Where do I start? The characters. They were so real and raw and funny and I feel like I’ve acquired new friends from these pages.  They were flawed and scared and brave and I just wanted to give them all hugs and a new chance at life.

The writing. Okay, so the book is narrated by Death. Sounds weird, but works brilliantly. He’s the perfect narrator.  He’s not harsh and evil, he’s sad and weary and terrified of how humans are killing each other faster than ever before.  It terms of the writing itself, Markus Zusak’s command of words is chilling and beautiful and soul-wrenching at times. The way that he molds images and sentences makes you feel like you’re reading something written by Someone Other-worldy, which is perfect because Death is our unfailing narrator.

Final Thoughts: I can’t believe that it took me so long to pick up this book, and I’m so glad I finally did. It left an imprint on my soul.  I want to write books like this – ones that will haunt my readers for years after they put the book down.

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My Favorite Beginnings

In honor of my Beginnings Workshop, I thought I’d look at some of my favorite story beginnings and see if I can analyze why I love them so much.

Let’s start with the ones I can do by memory.

In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.

(Wait, what comes after that?  *looks it up*)

Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

One of my favorites.  Why?  Those are the first words I ever read by Tolkien.  They are also very curious.  It takes everything we assume about holes and chucks it out the window.  Who keeps chairs and food in a hole?  So many questions.

How about another?  (I can also do this one by memory.)

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Not quite as much going on, but still a lot.  Why would they brag about being normal?  Unless (as you soon find out) they have something abnormal they are trying to hide.  (Wizard relatives!)  Plus, the voice established in just the first sentence is brilliant: “thank you very much” is a touch I would never have thought to add.  And I love the descriptions in the next few sentences – I aspire to write character descriptions this beautifully one day.

They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large moustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blond and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours. The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere.

How about another?  The next that comes to mind Divergent.  The book itself doesn’t make the shelf of favorites, but the beginning totally enthralled me.  I was standing in Barnes and Nobels one day and read the first two pages.  I didn’t buy the book, but soon wished I had – those two pages rattled around in my head for the next two weeks, until I finally had to go buy the book.

There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.

I sit on the stool and my mother stands behind me with the scissors, trimming. The strands fall on the floor in a dull, blond ring.

When she finishes, she pulls my hair away from my face and twists it into a knot. I note how calm she looks and how focused she is. She is well-practiced in the art of losing herself. I can’t say the same of myself.

I sneak a look at my reflection when she isn’t paying attention—not for the sake of vanity, but out of curiosity. A lot can happen to a person’s appearance in three months. In my reflection, I see a narrow face, wide, round eyes, and a long, thin nose—I still look like a little girl, though sometime in the last few months I turned sixteen. The other factions celebrate birthdays, but we don’t. It would be self-indulgent.

So.  Many.  Questions.  Why weren’t they allowed to look in mirrors?  What is it about the art of loosing oneself that was so important?  Like Tolkien, Veronica Roth had taken something so familiar to daily life – a mirror – and given it a new and deceptive quality.

But is the beginning everything?

No.

One of my all time favorite books, Sundancer by Shelley Peterson, doesn’t play with our perception of reality.  It doesn’t put hidden meaning into an object, or ask a bunch of questions.

Alone in the paddock, the sleek chestnut gelding grazed.  He methodically trimmed the blades of grass close to the ground, left to right, right to left, as far as his neck could reach.  He took a step and began again.  Row after row.  Step after step.

Yet this book goes on to be a delightful tale about a girl who only talks to animals, a horse with a troubled past, and a broken family that comes together again.

I’m sure there was a point to all this.

Maybe it’s this: a great beginning doesn’t always equal a great story, and a mediocre beginning doesn’t always mean a mediocre story.  While your beginning should be the best you can make it, it doesn’t have to define you.

MEETING ALLY CARTER

I’ve raved about Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl series here.  They are some of my favorite books, and Ally is one of my favorite authors.

Yesterday, I got to meet her.

And get my picture with her.

It was the Gaithersburg Book Festival.  In a tent, in the 85-degree, 95% humidity.  Ally got up and wowed us all by talking about her books, her writing process, and her life in general.  We were transfixed.  When she was done, she opened it up to questions, and then professionally and enthusiastically answered each one.

Then my mom ran and bought me her newest book, All Fall Down.  (Book review coming soon!)

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Look at how beautiful it is!

And then…. ALLY SIGNED IT FOR ME!

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BEST.  DAY.  EVER!

While she was signing it, I gathered the courage to say, “Hey, I really enjoy your website for writers.  It’s been very helpful to me.”  She replied, “Oh cool!  I haven’t updated that in a while.  Maybe I should look at it again.”

Me: AHHHH OH MY GOSH I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.

Me: Leaves book fair

Me: Goes home and starts reading All Fall Down

Three bonuses of the Gaithersburg Book Festival:

1) I met a friend from school, who was ALSO there to see Ally.  We didn’t plan on meeting up, it just happened that way.  I had no idea she like Ally’s books.  Kinda a God thing? Yeah.

IMAG0497_12) THERE WAS A NANOWRIMO TABLE!  WOOT WOOT!  I got a NaNoWriMo sticker and bookmark, and introduced said friend to the epicness that is NaNoWriMo.

3) I got to attend an awesome workshop on Crafting the Killer Beginning, that I think was put on by the NaNoWriMo peeps.  Not super sure about that.  It might have been The Writer’s Center.  Anywho, it was SUPER awesome, and there will be details about that coming soon.  Edit: details here.

For all of you that live within two hours of Gaithersburg, MD, YOU’D BETTER BE THERE NEXT YEAR!