Book Review: The Book Thief

Background Information

Full Title:  The Book Thief

Publisher and Date:  Knopf, 2005

Author:  Markus Zusak Death asked Life

Plot Summary

1939 is not a pleasant time in Germany.  Adolf Hitler is constructing his empire, and death has never been busier.  Liesel Meminger becomes very acquainted with death, who will steal many things from her over the course of her life. Liesel is a Jewish child living under foster care just outside the limits of Munich, Germany. She acquires a habit for book thievery after her foster father teaches her to read.  While living in foster care, Liesel meets many people who shape her life, including a Jewish refugee and a boy with hair the color of lemons, who becomes her best friend as well as partner in crime.

Thoughts on Style

This book is narrated from the perspective of death, a very fitting story deliverer given the time period.  Having read many reviews on this book, it has become clear to me that readers either love or hate this style.  Personally, I loved it. Death is authentically artistic, and his commentary rings with truth.  Death makes himself very present throughout the book, and his narration adds a certain aspect of reality to the entire story.  Death does not attempt to moderate the horror as it is happening, but merely tells it with a touch and humor that makes it almost bearable.

Another fascinating aspect of this book can be found in Zusak’s wondrous discussion of words.  Liesel’s foster father teaches her to read and afterwards she  begins to steal books. She also reads the books written by Max, the Jew who stays in the home of her foster parents.  Max’s books show her how Hitler used words to start his takeover causing  Liesel to question whether words are good or bad.  As more and more horrible events begin to unfold for Liesel, she comes to the conclusion that without words, none of this would have happened.  Leisel struggles with this idea throughout the book, and finally comes to peace with words, believing that they in and of themselves are incredibly powerful, and it is how we use them that determines whether they are good or bad.  Liesel writes her own story near the end of the book, and death later collects it.  The final sentence of Liesel’s writing is, as we are told by death: “I have hated words and I have loved them, and in the end I hope I have made them right.”

Worldview 

The worldview of death is one of the most fascinating I have come across in my literary travels. Death claims to take the soul of someone once they die, but does not say where he takes these souls.  He does, however, describe the variable types of souls he meets and how willing they are to come with him.

Death views humanity in a very fair and unbiased manner, a view that is tragically rare in both literature and the outside world today. Death particularly comments on how beautiful humanity is, yet how ugly at the same time. This fact confounds him, and his final words to the reader are that he is “haunted by humans.”

Age Appropriate/ Content

The topic of this book is the second World War, and there is no attempt made on Death’s part to tone down the violence.  There are a fair amount of deaths within this book, and while they are not described in a large amount of detail,  there are a fair amount of them.  Many loved characters are killed, and there are also beatings, whippings, fist fights, and a suicide.  The book’s intensity and poignancy  may make it a less pleasurable read for younger children.

cursing is quite common throughout the book, mostly in German,  S–t, however, is used in English, as well as numerous religious exclamations, such as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  Otherwise, swearing is quite frequent, but in German.

Age Recommendation  13+(This is based mainly on the intensity level of the book; some children may be able to handle this book at an earlier age.)

Final Thoughts    

This book was amazing.  The writing was beautiful, and the story was handled by the perfect narrator for it.

A strong statement on humanity’s self destructive force, the power of words, and how we deal with tragedy, the Book Thief is a highly informative and incredibly powerful book, which will leave the reader thinking long after the last page.

Final Rating 4.6  of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Challenger Deep

Background Information

Full Title:  Challenger Deep

Publisher and year:  Harper Collins, 2015

Author :  Neal Shusterman 

Plot Summary 

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student, whose behavior is beginning to concern his friends and family.  His previously wondrous artistry is becoming more and more abstract and wandering, and his grades are beginning to slip.  

Caden’s world inwardly begins to split, between two worlds.  One side of him is still rooted in reality, but a reality in which  he thinks everyone around him is plotting how to best destroy him. The second version of Caden’s world exists merely in his mind, where he is on board a ship headed for Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the ocean, located somewhere inside the Marianas Trench.  

In reality, Caden pretends to join a track team, but instead spends his days wandering for miles, haunted by the thoughts inside his head.  

On board the ship, Caden begins to be split between the captain and his parrot.  The captain offers him riches and power, while the parrot offers him something the captain never can: freedom.  

Caden’s world begins to  fall apart, as he must choose between the promise of power and safety, and the allure of the mutiny that means his freedom.

Thoughts on Style   

The book has a dual narrative.  Much of the story is narrated directly from Caden, describing what is happening to him in first person.  Alternately, Caden describes himself in second person.  Since Caden is mentally ill, these narratives make sense. Caden’s adventures at sea are paralleled to his real experiences.  Shusterman does this in stunning fashion and also has a rare gift with words, leaving the reader both enchanted and haunted.

Worldview

Because Caden has mental health problems, his worldview is somewhat skewed. In the hospital, he generally does not trust or listen to those in authority over him.  At one point, once he has healed, he reveals that he stopped taking his medication.  The doctor in charge of him tells him this was a wise choice, although, at the time, a disobedient one. The kids in the hospital generally have little respect for authority.

On the ship, Caden has a little more respect for the captain than he does for his doctors, but doesn’t follow even the captain’s instructions much of the time. Caden is much more respectful to his fellow patients/crewmates, than he is to those in authority.  Indeed, the reader begins to see that Caden can help his fellow patients much better than the doctors over him can.

Age Appropriate/ Content

There is no major language in this book, but ass is used numerous times.  Also, rape and suicide (both attempted and successful) are discussed.

Other than this, the book is rather intense.  After all, the author is describing the very mind of someone who is mentally ill. Caden uses images that may disturb younger readers,e.g., a worm devouring him from the inside out.

Overall, I don’t think this book would really trouble a reader of any age who would have the will to read a book discussing this particular subject.

Age Recommendation:  14+

Final Thoughts

I really loved this book, and I guess I say that about lot of books.  This one really stood out for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, Shusterman’s very unique use of words and his ability to communicate his ideas powerfully.  And secondly, Shustman’s powerful parallels between Caden’s voyage and his real experiences.  This became more and more clear as the book went on.  Overall, I was really struck by this book, and would certainly recommend it.

Overall Rating:  4.6 Stars 

Book Review: Divergent

Background Information

Full Title:  Divergent

Author:  Veronica Roth

Publisher and date: Harper Collins, 2011

Plot

       Beatrice Prior lives in a society where there are five ways of life, and only five ways.  Amity, which emphasizes peace, Abnegation, which emphasizes selflessness, Candor, which emphasizes honesty, Dauntless, which emphasizes bravery, and Erudite, which emphasizes knowledge.  These are the five futures available to all students when they reach the age of sixteen, the age they choose the paths their lives will take.  These five futures take the label of factions, and each student takes an aptitude test to determine which faction they are best suited for.  The day after this test, they participate in a choosing ceremony to officially decide which faction they will join  Many choose to stay in the faction they were born in, with their family and loved ones. 

Beatrice is born into Abnegation.  But she’s not sure she’s selfless enough.  She wants more than simply serving others for her whole life.  She wants freedom.   But getting that freedom means changing factions, a betrayal of her family,  one that could irreversibly tear it apart. 

When most students take the test, they get one result.  But when Beatrice takes the test, she gets three:  Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. Her instructor tells her that getting more than one faction as a result of the test makes her “Divergent,” a special but dangerous result to receive, and that she should tell no one of her unusual result.  After some internal debate, Beatrice chooses Dauntless and changes her name to Tris.  

Tris is then bombarded with an incredibly challenging initiation process, knowing that only a fraction of those who enter the initiation will remain in Dauntless.  The rest will become factionless and live on the streets, begging for food. During her initiation, Tris’s instructor, who goes by the name of Four, starts to fall in love with Tris and, for reasons she can’t understand, Tris finds herself falling for him too. Surviving initiation would have been enough to occupy Tris,  but during her initiation,  she becomes aware that her old faction my be the target of a well planned attack, an attack that not only threatens those she loves, but endangers the fragile peace that currently exists between the factions.

Thoughts on Style 

The book is narrated from the first person perspective of Beatrice.  This style often goes hand-in-hand with supreme character development, since you are seeing right into the very thoughts and feelings of the narrator, and Roth does not disappoint in this area.  Beatrice and Tobias(Four) are both very well-developed characters, although their backgrounds are very similar.

Disclaimer: The following sections contain spoilers, I attempted to edit them out as best I could, but to truly understand the worldview and content of this book, it is necessary to discuss some sections of the book in more detail than I normally would.  

Worldview

Roth is a Christian author, but this does not really show through in her books.  The worldview expressed in the book is through Tris’s eyes, and she, having grown up her whole life in the factioned system, naturally judges the world around her through this system.   The Bible would obviously say we should not try to single out one moral and try to follow it,  disregarding all others, but there is little danger of readers attempting to follow this path, as the story-line follows this method to humanity collapsing on itself.

Tris and Tobias also become sexually involved with each other in this series, without any real sense of commitment.  In the first book this merely accounts for a few exploratory kissing scenes, but as the series progresses, the relationship continues to progress in this direction.

Appropriate Age/Content

There is a fair amount of violence in the story.  Many people are killed, a boy’s eye is gouged out, and part of the Dauntless initiation process  pits initiates against each other in rough fist fights, which don’t end until one of the students is unable to rise from the ground . There is also some sexual content, but nothing severe. There are a few scenes in which Tris and Tobias kiss in an exploratory manner, and in one scene two of the male initiates start groping a girl, but are stopped quickly.  Tris becomes panicky at one point about Tobias’s possible expectations of pre-marital intimacy.

As the books continue to progress, the sexual content continues to increase. For those interested to see the content of the final two books, I would refer to Common Sense Media‘s review of these books.

Age Recommendation:  13+ 

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, but I had one qualm.  I never figured out why  Tris and Tobias’s relationship had to be as sexual as it was.   They didn’t trust each other, listen to each other, or really show any sort of affections for each other out side of sensuality.It made their relationship feel rather fake, because their “relationship” never went beyond touching.   They would be having a shouting fit or having a petty argument one minute, and then be passionately kissing the next. It just didn’t make sense.  It’s not that I thought it was such a horror to include kissing in the book, or even to include some of the things Roth does in later books, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate given Tris and Tobias’s relationship.   I did enjoy these books otherwise, though.

Final Rating:  3.8 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Jekyll and Hyde

Background Information

Full Title:  Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Publisher and date:  Longmans, Green and Co., 1886

Summary

Dr. Henry Jekyll is a well-respected London business man who creates a serum enabling him to change every night into a much younger, darker self, lacking of conscience and morals.  This character, Mr. Hyde, feels no guilt for committing crimes that would horrify Jekyll.  Jekyll enjoys possessing the ability to slip in and out of his darker self and begins to do so every night, changing back to himself come morning.  However, as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder for Jekyll to return to himself.  Jekyll knows that he must stop turning to his dark side, or eventually he will remain there forever…

Thoughts on Style

The book is written as a mystery, and Stevenson does a great job of making readers feel part of the story , even though most readers who go into this story already know the ending.  The bulk of the book is narrated in third person from the perspective of Mr. Utterson, a well-respected London lawyer. Utterson is fascinated by Hyde’s  behavior, not knowing his connection to Jekyll, and continues to try and decipher the mystery of a man who does such extreme evil without the slightest apparent guilt.  The last two chapters of the book are narratives from Dr. Lanyon, a friend of Mr. Utterson’s who was murdered by Hyde, and a narrative from Jekyll explaining everything.

Themes

Stevenson uses strong symbolism.  Hyde and Jekyll demonstrate the two sides of man, the evil desires we all struggle with,  and our striving to conquer these desires and live lives of moral goodness.  Stevenson has Hyde prowl the night with his acts of evil, while Jekyll lives in the light of day.

Worldview

Because Stevenson was not a Christian when he wrote Jekyll and Hyde, it is interesting to see the concepts of right and wrong displayed in his story.   Although we know he is not writing a Christian novel, we can look at his work and see what almost looks like spiritual warfare.

Appropriate Age/ Content

The acts Hyde commits at night are very violent.  Hyde attacks a young girl within the first few chapters, but the incident is not described in any depth.  Hyde also attacks an elderly man one night, which is described rather vividly.  Near the end of the book, Hyde murders a young gentlemen who comes to see him.  Because the book is written as a mystery, it is rather suspenseful throughout.  This is one of the most appreciable aspects of Stevenson’s work, that although readers already know the ending to the story, he still manages to make you feel the mystery and suspense keenly.  However, this book may feel a bit too suspenseful for younger children.  Also, the theme of good and evil is very strong in the book, and the battle between the two is very present.

Age Recommendation: 12+

Final thoughts

Jekyll and Hyde is truly one of the great classics.  I loved this book, and Stevenson creates a brilliant image of the two sides of man that are constantly warring against each other inside us all.

Rating:  4.3 out of 5 stars

Book Review: Holes

Background info

Full Title:  Holes

Author:  Louis Sachar

Publisher and date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998

Plot

Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake to improve his behavior, but all he does there is dig holes five feet deep and five feet around.  After doing this for days on end, Stanley becomes used to this exercise, but he begins to wonder if there’s more of a purpose to digging the holes than the camp counselors are letting on.  While all of this is going on, Stanley meets a mysterious boy named “Zero.”  Zero begins to take a strange interest in Stanley. Stanley learns that Zero cannot read or write.  The two boys slowly forge a friendship, and they both have more impact on each other’s future’s than they ever could have predicted….

Thoughts on style

The book is narrated in third person, and most of it is about Stanley.  However, the author does sprinkle stories from the history of Camp Green Lake.  I originally found this confusing, but the author ties it in at the end of the book nicely.

Worldview

Stanley is sent to camp when he is found in possession of a pair of shoes stolen from a charity event.  It becomes clear throughout the book that the boys at the camp have almost no respect for the authority around them and will do what it takes to get out of the work they are told to do.  The boys also have a rather strict pecking order, and they tend to push each other around

Appropriate Age/ Content

There is a fair bit of violence in the books.  As aforementioned, the boys are rather rough with another.  Also, when the author references the history of Camp Green Lake, he talks a good deal about a famous outlaw, who murders a numerous people.  The murders are not described in any detail, but it may be disturbing for younger children.  The boys also insult each other fairly frequently, but no vulgar language is used.

Age Recommendation: 11+

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, but the plot was not overly developed, and there were brief times at which it seemed to stall.  The narration was creative, and I loved how Sachar tied it all together at the end of the book, but it did slow the book down.  The book on the whole is not overly fast-paced, so I would not suggest it for slower readers.

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

 

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Trenton Lee Stewart

Little, Brown and Company, 2007

Plot Overview

When hundreds of children respond to an advertisement in the paper, seeking gifted or talented children, almost all who respond are turned aside by a series of brain-numbing tests. Four of these children, though, emerge victorious.  The children who pass these tests are:  Reynie Muldoon, an orphanage child with amazing problem-solving ability.  George “Sticky” Washington, who has incredible brain power and a near-perfect photographic memory. Kate Wetherall an  athletic, resourceful, and fast-thinking twelve-year-old, and Constance Contraire, an incredibly stubborn and rather moody girl.

After completing the tests, these four orphans are introduced to Mr. Benedict, a bright and pleasurable person. He tells the children of  Ledroptha Curtain, his twin brother and the principal of the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened or L.I.V.E.

Mr. Benedict tells the children that Mr. Curtain is using L.I.V.E. as a cover to send secret messages into the brains of their city’s residents.  He uses children from his institute to send these messages through the television and radio.  When someone hears a message they become confused and panicky, causing what is known in the city simply as “the emergency”.  Ledroptha’s plan is to begin blasting these messages around the entire world using a machine known as “the whisperer”.   This would have an astronomical impact, making those afflicted by the messages desperate to do whatever it takes to stop the them. Ledrophta’s ultimate goal is to become dictator of the world.

Mr. Benedict sends the children to thwart this plan, and the children learn many other shocking and not altogether good secrets while there.

Worldview

The worldview in this book is not significant, but it is secular.  The children at numerous times do many things without evaluating them on a moral basis first.  However, I do not think that children of any age would have problems when reading this book.

Christian Analyzation/ Age Appropriateness/Readability

This is a great book for all ages.  There are no aspects of this book that would raise questions or make it a difficult read for children of any age.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book, the plot wasn’t overly original, but it was fun to read and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Book Review: The Bad Beginning (Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1)

The Bad Beginning

Lemony Snicket

Scholastic Inc, 1999

Plot Summary

The Bad Beginning is about the three young Baudelaire children:  Sunny, an aggressive two year-old, Klaus, a well-read eleven year-old, and Violet, an inventive fourteen year-old.  Although the children are intelligent and clever, they find that unfortunate things continuously happen to them.  At the beginning of the book, they are told by their family’s lawyer, Mr. Poe, that their parents have tragically died in a terrible fire and that they must be relocated to a relative who will watch over them.  Unfortunately, the relative they are relocated with, Count Olaf, is a very cruel man and only after a large fortune they were left when their parents died. The children are not allowed access to this fortune until Violet is of age.  After being forced to do many strenuous tasks by Count Olaf, and realizing that he is evil, the orphans visit Mr. Poe. Poe offers them no help and refuses to acknowledge the fact that Count Olaf is evil, and out to get their fortune.

The day after they visit Mr. Poe, Count Olaf tells the orphans they will participate in a play with his theater troupe.  Using the pretense that the orphans will settle in with him, they are forced to participate in his work.   Klaus,  reading  law books provided by their kind neighbor, Justice Strauss, realizes that Count Olaf has very sneaky intentions and tries to stop him.  But it is too late, for Count Olaf has taken Sunny captive in his personal chambers,  and refuses to free her till the orphans carry through with his plans.  With their sister’s safety on the line, it seems evident that Klaus and Violet will be forced to go through with Count Olaf’s scheme.

Worldview

I found all of the adults in this series, at least for the first 11 books, to be wicked or idiotic.  This forces the Baudelaire children to fend for themselves more often than not, and can lead to a mindset with younger children that adults are incapable and not to be trusted which contradicts a Biblical view of authority.

 

Christian Analyzation/ Age Appropriateness/Readability

I would recommend this book to anyone older than 11 years old because of a poor attitude toward authoritative characters in the series, as well as some maltreatment of the orphans and the rather disheartening nature of the series.

 Final Thoughts

I did not enjoy this book as much as I hoped I would, mainly because of how completely senseless all of the adults in the series are.  As the series progresses, the orphans begin to fend for themselves, which I enjoyed slightly more. I thought this book was wittingly written, but I  won’t be reading it again anytime soon.

Book Review: The 39 Clues: Book 1: The Maze of Bones

The Maze Of Bones

Rick Riordan

Scholastic Publishing, 2008

Plot Summary

      Amy and Dan are two poor siblings living in the care of their cruel aunt until their rich grandmother dies.  While at the reading of her will, they learn of a great secret that  changes their lives forever.   They are part of the Cahill family, the most powerful family in history.  They are then faced with a choice, take a million dollars from their grandmother’s will, or take a clue-hunt leading to an unknown treasure that was created by the very first Cahills.   Despite their poor state, they choose the quest.  Then launches a desperate search, with numerous teams composed of various relatives competing for the prize, and more than just the treasure at stake.

The Clue hunt takes them all over their hometown of Philadelphia, and eventually, as the series progresses, all over the world!  As the race heats up in progressive books, things get very competitive between the teams, who, although they are relatives, are not overly friendly, and become rather violent with one another.  Dan and Amy find themselves not only racing to find the clues, but racing to escape their relatives and their savage ways.  They also learn of another group racing for the clues, the madrigals, a very mysterious group, and they find themselves followed by a very strange man clad entirely in black.  Constantly racing for their lives, will Dan and Amy survive?

 Worldview

The worldview expressed throughout the book is not at all Christian.  The way violence is treated could be said to be rather flippant.  Although the teams are composed of relatives, they find no difficulty in brutally attacking each other.  That said, there are no godly role models in this book.  Before allowing their child to read this book, parents may want to judge if their child can handle some frequent violence.

 Age Appropriateness/Readability

The title Maze of Bones originally kept me from reading this series because it makes the book sound somewhat like a graveyard thriller. Upon reading the book I found very little in this book about a maze of bones. It is titled in  this way because Amy and Dan spend some  time in the catacombs near the end of the book, where they find the most valuable lead to the first clue.   All that aside, this book is a great read for kids between the ages of 10-12, especially those who enjoy mystery or adventure.  Those who have trouble reading longer books may find it easy to finish this fast-paced, 190 page novel.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed this book.   The plot was a little predictable, but the writing was very smooth.  Although I was originally deterred from this series because it is written by a number different authors, I found that the books all ran very well together.  To find out more about the series, click here

The Thief Lord: Book Review

The Thief Lordthief lord

Cornelia Funke

Scholastic Publishing, 2000

Overview
Every year, over Memorial Day weekend, my family goes to our cities’ garage sales. I quite enjoy this and usually I find a number of books while searching garage sale tables. This year one book I found was called  The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke. I had previously read some of Funke’s works, and enjoyed the story-lines immensely. I had read her Inkheart series, but ended up putting it down before finishing because there was much unnecessary swearing. I had also read Dragon Rider and had a much more favorable experience with it. All this aside, a few days after I brought the book home, I ended up picking it up one afternoon, and found the plot rather enchanting, I finished quickly and enjoyed it very much.
Plot Overview
The plot revolves around a group of five orphans, living in Venice. Two of the orphans, Prosper and Bo, are running away from a cruel aunt and uncle, who have been housing them since their parents died. The thief lord steals for these orphans to feed and clothe them. As the book progresses, Prosper and Bo’s aunt and uncle send a detective to find them, and a secret of the thief lord is suddenly unveiled.

Worldview

The orphans tend to have a rather flippant view of theft, and take it as a run of the line event.  This is not overly present within the book, and would not raise questions with readers of any age.

Christian Analyzation/ Age Appropriateness/Readability
The orphans’ main supply of food comes from stealing; swearing is not used but slang such as darn and heck appear frequently, especially toward the end of the book..

Final Thoughts
This book is a great read for all ages and has a wonderful story-line, a good read for those who love adventure, literature, or Venice.

Book Review: Artemis Fowl

artemisBackground Information

Full title:  Artemis Fowl

Author:  Eoin Colfer

Publisher and date:  Hyperion Books, 2001

Plot 
Artemis Fowl is a 12 year-old genius millionaire.  He lives in a large manor, and has everything any average 12 year-old would want.  But Artemis is no average 12 year-old, and what he wants is fairy gold.  Artemis hatches a brilliant plan to capture a pixie and ransom her for fairy gold, but gets more than he expect when the fairies fight back, with technology light years ahead of anything humanity has ever seen.  In a high-scale battle between fairies and humans, who wins?

Thoughts on Style

The book is narrated from third person, and Colfer’s voice is very witty and humorous.  I really enjoyed the narrative style Colfer employs.

Worldview 

The narration of the book is very matter of fact, not really expressing a worldview from Colfer.  He never stops to say whether any action is wrong, but instead uses his characters to parcel out those thoughts.   During the first book, Artemis has no real moral guidelines, and will really do anything to get what he wants. It is enjoyable to watch him progress throughout the series in his moral purpose.

Appropriate Age/ Content
Artemis’ approach to life in the first several installments of the series is very dishonest, and has quite an apparent lack of morals from the start. An element of enjoyment in the series is viewing Artemis’ progression of integrity throughout. Also, the idea of the book is a kidnapping, and Holly’s commander attacks rather viciously in attempts to save her. The book’s descriptions, especially near the end, become rather vivid, and may disturb younger audiences.

Age Recommendation:  10+
Final Thoughts
I loved this book, and would strongly recommend it.  Readers will feel immediately pulled into the story, and will love Colfer’s creative and complicated characters.

 Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars