Review – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

the book thief by markus zusak

Title: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Published: Jan 2007

Publisher: Bodley Head

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction

Source: Library

My Rating: 5/5

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Told by Death, The Book Thief is the story of a young girl, Liesel, during the Second World War. Death first sees Liesel when her younger brother dies on the train to Germany. He follows her to her brother’s burial, where Liesel picks up a book – the first of what will become a collection of stolen words. This book ‘The Gravedigger’s Handbook’ inspires Liesel to read and understand the world around her, especially as it gets ever more dangerous when her foster family takes in, and hides, a Jew.

I’ll be honest, when I first picked up The Book Thief it was because of the writer’s name as I needed a ‘Z’ for my A-Z 2014 challenge. Unfortunately it took months to borrow it from the library so it was January before I got the chance to read it. Even though I no longer ‘needed’ to read it, I did, and I am so glad I did as this book is amazing.

Not only is it set during one of my favourite times in history, World War II (and by favourite, I mean, most interested in), but the book is about Liesel’s love affair with words. I, obviously, love words and reading, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how incredible the right book can be. For me, The Book Thief rekindled my love of reading, and desire to write about what I read.

I enjoyed every aspect of this book, from the unusual way sections are introduced (giving you a list of what is included), the way it is written from Death’s point of view, and that is shows a unique viewpoint of the start of the war, and how regular people in Germany were affected.  While I’m not sure I would say I liked all the characters, they were well-written and they all played a vital role in Liesel’s life. They all had their own histories which made them who they were, just as everyone in the world has.

I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone and everyone, no matter their skill in reading. I think a book like this could make a huge difference in young people’s lives, both in understanding the Second World War, and in creating a love of words, learning, and thinking of all sides of the argument.

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Review – The Girl Under the Olive Tree by Leah Fleming

TGirl under the olive tree by leah  flemingitle: The Girl Under the Olive Tree

Author: Leah Fleming

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Published: Dec 2012

Genre: Women’s Fiction; Historical Fiction

Source: Library

My Rating: 3.5/5

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Penny has many memories kept locked up in her mind and heart, but when she is invited to go to Crete with her family, she is forced to once again remember a life of war, lived long ago.

I have to admit I mainly chose this book due to the author’s name beginning with an ‘f’ which I needed for my A-Z author challenge I am doing this year with a penpal group on Goodreads. I was also drawn to it as I find books, both fictional and non-fiction about either of the world wars, very interesting.

The book is written in two points of view; that of Penny’s who was a Red Cross nurse during the war, and later, the view of a German soldier who was sent to Greece. There is also a flicking between two time periods – the time of the war, and the time when Penny is remembering.  To begin with this was very annoying as many of the ‘chapters’ of the present literally stated that Penny was remembering and therefore simply slowed the story down. However, in the second half of the book, the actions in the present are important to the discovery of the story, and give a greater understanding of the characters.

Personally I enjoyed having the two conflicting points of view, and seeing how the two main characters are linked with one another, even though they are on opposing sides. It is not a love story, though feels as though it could have been and the attraction between the two characters are played on a lot throughout the story.

Of course, when writing about any time in history, it can be difficult with hindsight, especially regarding the opinions of the main characters. There was a strong Jewish community in Crete which also played a main part in the story; however I feel the author has succeeded in not showing bias beyond the character’s own actions, which I was grateful for. Obviously the holocaust was horrific, but it can be easy to forget that the individuals all had their own reasons and motivations for their actions, regardless which side they fought on.

The Girl Under the Olive Tree is fictional, but it is clear the author has done her research and has created a cast of supporting characters that each have their own story; to the point of the reader wanting to know more about each of them.  I felt the book ended in a slightly strange way, almost as if there were to be a sequel. Part of me enjoys this open ending as it leaves it up to the reader to decide what they think happens next, though this kind of ending didn’t quite fit with the style of the rest of the story in my opinion.

Overall I enjoyed the story, though felt the second half of the book was written much better than the first half which is a shame as I feel a lot of people will likely give up before the story truly comes into its own because of the trudging speed of the narrative.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Second World War, especially how it affected individuals in a German-occupied country, or those specifically interested in the history of Crete.

Review – The Skin of Water by G. S. Johnston

ImageTitle: The Skin of Water

Author: G. S. Johnston

Publisher: Amazon

Published: Jan 2012

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Author

My Rating: 3/5

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When Zeno follows wealthy Catherine Steiner one evening his whole world changes. After following her to Budapest, they embark on a love affair which escalates beyond what either of them imagined. The struggle they have only becomes more dangerous when the Nazis come to Hungary and they have to face a country of people whose views have changed. Friends become enemies with anti-Semitism, and no one can be trusted.

At its heart, this is a love story, though definitely not easy-reading or relaxing. Reading this brought my attention to many little details that are often forgotten when we view large events such as WWII, breaking it down into individual lives and the struggles against changing perceptions. I don’t have any knowledge of Hungary which I felt did diminish the story for me a little as a lot of it felt like the author expects the reader to recognize the places.  This is unfortunate as this particular story is tied very strongly to the country and the characters’ attachment to it which simply wasn’t shown as much as, I feel, it could have been.

While there is the backdrop of WWII, the majority of the story happens before major political changes suddenly happen. For me this was very important, as while WWII interests me, that isn’t why I chose to read this book. Honestly I wasn’t sure what I was expecting other than a detailed vision of a character or two which was definitely provided.

My main issue with this novel is the languid pace of the story-telling itself. I can see how this style complements this particular story; however I often found myself not wanting to return to the book due to its slowness and lack of excitement. I feel it would have benefited from including a few sections where the speed of the story picks up a little, as, while it is definitely a bonus to take time reading a book, I feel The Skin of Water took it to an extreme that most people will struggle with.

In particular I loved how the main character, Zeno, sees the world through filming it and how this clearly came across in the story. For me, it added interest and allows the reader to see certain scenes as he sees it when watching back over his edited films. In a way this means that the most important scenes are ‘seen’ twice by the reader which allows us to really get to know Zeno from seeing his creative reaction to what is happening to him.

This isn’t a book for those looking for a quick read or a happily-ever-after romance. I think that people who love to explore characters and countries would likely enjoy reading The Skin of Water, as well as those who really want to slow down and experience another time and place.

[Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Review: Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George

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What’s It About?

This is a historical novel about the last 45 years of Elizabeth I’s life and reign over England.  Told from the perspectives of Elizabeth herself and Laetitia (Lettice) Knollys, Elizabeth’s rival and cousin once removed, the two women must each face their own battles and feelings – one to reign, and one to forever struggle to get back to court.  This is a highly researched novel, which brings life to some of the more mundane aspects of the ‘Golden Age’ of monarchy, love, and politics.

My Thoughts:

It is only recently that I have started becoming interested in reading historical fiction.  I have always liked history; not the remembering of names and dates, but discovering how people lived, and historical fiction is a doorway for my mind.  Unfortunately this novel, in some ways, felt like reading a textbook with plenty of names that seemed almost familiar and dates of battles, although most of this information was portrayed through dialogue which made it easier to follow.  Nethertheless, in my opinion, the detail to facts was almost clinical throughout most of the book, which made the book a lot less pleasurable to read.

The book is told in split first person.  Personally I found the ‘Lettice’ character much easier to understand and follow, and therefore more relatable to.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, was too much like reading facts with no life behind them.  I realise this is probably due in large part to the fact that no one really knows how Elizabeth felt about anything, but it did make reading from her point of view almost nothing more than a series of events, and I found it impossible to empathise with her.  However, the book starts with a few scenes to set the time, and I didn’t realise that Elizabeth wasn’t the only perspective the book would be told from until quite late in as the novel isn’t evenly spread between the two.

The research that has gone into the book, however, has to be mentioned.  At 662 pages it is far from a short read, and every page is filled with the details of the women’s lives, as well as the many key men in their lives, which I can only imagine must have taken years to research.

Personally this wasn’t my favourite historical read ever, but I did feel I was learning (seriously, my history knowledge is truly appalling), and feel this book has a unique perspective in not only using first person, but telling it from two points of view.  Of course, due to the nature of the book, there isn’t really a plot to follow and I think that may have made reading a little arduous for me at times; however I wanted to read more for the majority of it.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and isn’t afraid to dedicate a decent block of time to reading it (it took me 2 weeks to read).

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

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