Well, wow!

I had forgotten I even owned this blog! In fact, over the past few years I have forgotten quite a few things; how much I love reading, how reading keeps me sane, how much I miss reading and how much I enjoy reviewing books and talking about them – even if I am talking to myself.

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Since I wrote my last entry, I have had another child, my eldest has started school, I have changed jobs and I’ve also read a lot of books!

My youngest little man is now 19 weeks old and I’ve finally got over the tiredness from the night wakings and the illness from surgery and I’m finally full of  enough energy to get stuck into another great book, although I don’t get enough time to complete them as quickly as I would like!

I’m currently reading ‘The Life She Was Given’ by Ellen Marie Wiseman, one of my favourite authors. If you love historical fiction I would highly recommend her writing. I first discovered Ellen’s work when I read ‘The Plum Tree’ a number of years ago now. I would love to share my thoughts on both of these novels and hopefully will get around to it.

Hopefully, I won’t find myself leaving it so long to wrote another review! Let me know in the comments if you have recently read anything great, I always love a recommendation.

 

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The Book Thief : Thoughts

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World War II is a very interesting subject for me, living in Britain this is a subject which I have heard about, read about and spoken about for as long as I can remember.  I have visited museums, read books and written essays about World War II, about the brave men who fought for our independence, the ones who returned and the ones who did not.  We have celebrated the anniversary of VE Day by way of street parties and barbecues all of my life.  My Nan, my paternal grandmother, who was just a young girl at the time, has told me of her experiences living in the City of Liverpool at the time war broke out, about buildings exploding in her neighbourhood and the competitions she would have with her friends to see who would be first to find the shell.  She has spoken fondly of her memories of being a young evacuee in the Welsh countryside and about the people she met and the wonderful experiences she had.  I have learned about the struggles on The Home Front, the women bringing up the babies and looking after the home, driving buses and ambulances, building weapons and ammunition in our factories whilst desperately waiting to hear news of their sweetheart.

Every November 11th I proudly place my money in the tins that line the checkout of every supermarket and street corner and I pin a blood red poppy to my lapel.  At 11am this day, the nation falls silent.  So silent you could hear a pin drop.  Everybody, whether or old or young takes two minutes to reflect on the events of all those years ago.  Young children who catch a glimpse of their friends, eyes twinkling with nervous laughter and feel the corners of their own mouths twitching as they desperately try to stifle the bubble of inappropriate laughter threatening to escape too young and innocent yet to truly understand what this moment stands for.  Old men, with weathered faces and hands, hands that worked hard and eyes that have known love, laughter and tragedy, silent tears streaking down their ragged faces as they remember their experiences, their comrades who made it home and those who will remain forever young on the battlefields of war.  These men are like my Grandfather, a man whose experiences from 1939 to 1945 were so harrowing that, although the pain and memories were etched all over his face, he never spoke of them for the rest of his life.

But what about that one forbidden question?  The one our history teacher would rebuke and would refuse to enter into discussion about.  What of the enemy, the Germans?  By this I don’t mean Hitler and his Nazis, we all know what happened to them.  I mean the the regular working class Germans, and their children, living under Hitlers regime.  Innocent victims of the Nazis, other than those who died in the concentration camps.

I studied a poem many years ago when I was working towards my GCSE in English, it was about an English lady working away in her kitchen one peaceful afternoon listening to the merry chirp of birdsong, the sounds of war seeming a million miles away, when she hears an almighty crash coming from the woods behind her home.  She throws down her apron and takes off to investigate.  What she comes across is an enemy plane lying wrecked among the bluebells, with the Swastika glaring out at her from among the wreckage she turns to walk away when a hand reaches out to grab hers.  She looks into the eyes of the soldier who is no older than her own son, as the life ebbs away from him he takes a ragged breath and clings to her hand as he whispers “Muta”, the German word for mother.  I remember clearly, the tears pooling in my eyes as I thought about that young man, dying scared and alone in a strange country, fighting for a cause he most likely never believed in in the first place.  What was it about him that was really any different from our own young men, dying scared and alone all over the world?  Now, I could talk about this forever the brutalities of war, the politics, the rights, wrongs, ins and outs but this not a history paper or a political discussion and I am not the kind of person who looks at things like that anyway.  I like to think of people, of how intrinsically we are all the same.  I wish I could remember the name of that poem, such was the profound effect it had on me at that time.

Marketed as Children’s Fiction”, The Book Thief is much more than that.  This is a clever book.  An important book.  The subject matter is one I have been interested in for a long time; the Nazification of Germany.  I believe that as human beings, to truly understand our history and more importantly, to learn from it, we need to hear both sides of the story and sometimes, a fictional interpretation is exactly what we need to gain a true understanding of historical events and the human emotion surrounding those events.

The Book Thief is not a gory story about the atrocities of war, quite the contrary.  It is a story that follows the day to day lives of the inhabitants of a small German town from a time when war seems to be a million miles away until the very moment it arrives, unannounced and deeply unwelcome, to their front doors.  Narrated by Death, we follow the story of Liesel, a young girl who has been placed with foster parents in Munich following the death of her younger brother.  Throughout the course of the story we are introduced to a myriad of characters, including Liesels foster family The Hubermanns.  Mr. Hubermann is a wonderful character, a man of great strength and unwavering kindness who displays the kind of bravery and integrity that most of us could only ever dream of possessing.  His wife Rosa, we come to learn is much softer than she first appears.  For me, the character I most fell in love with was Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s friend.  We first meet Rudy as an impetuous young boy, painting his face black and taking off around the local running track pretending to be Jesse Owens, when his father drags him home and warns him not to pretend to be black or Jewish because of the Nazis.  It is made clear to us that whilst Mr. Steiner is a member of the Nazi Party, he is not a racist, just a man who is prepared to do anything in order to protect and provide for his family.  Throughout the novel we see Rudy’s character grow up and become more hardened toward the cold realities of death and war.

However, it is with the introduction of Max Vanderburg, a 23 year old Jew who takes shelter from the Nazis in the Hubermann’s basement, that we witness some truly harrowing scenes.  As we see the friendship between Max and Liesel grow, Max is forced to leave the safety of the Hubermann’s basement and is later seen by Liesel among a procession of Jews being marched to Dachau Concentration Camp.  What the author achieves is to give us a gut wrenching empathy for these characters, struggling with the dilemma as to whether they should help the Jews, as they know they should, or to turn their backs in order to protect themselves and their children from the wrath of the Nazis.  We witness also, the reluctance of the Jewish characters to accept help from their friends and neighbours for a fear of endangering their lives.  Mr. Hubermann, witnessing a procession of malnourished Jews, throws them a scrap of bread, as a Jewish prisoner falls at Mr. Hubermann’s feet crying and thanking him, he and Mr. Hubermann are whipped by the soldiers.  We witness the heartbreaking account of a mother, woken in the middle of the night by the Nazis banging down her front door in order to recruit her young son and finding herself powerless to stop them.

The novel plods along at something of a meandering pace at first, much like the lives of its characters at a time when you they would have been hard pressed to believe that there was a raging battle taking place not far from your own, comfortable little world.  Until, with the arrival of Max and the Nazis on their front doorsteps, we begin to understand a little about the people struggling through the Nazi regime and striving to hold their lives together.

“Did they deserve any better, these people? How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?”

Whilst all of the characters we meet are citizens of a nation in the process of killing millions of innocent people, Death and the readers alike, wonder just how culpable our characters are for the ongoing Holocaust when some, like Hans and Rosa, have quietly defied Hitler by protecting a Jew, and others, only children who could not possibly be held responsible for crimes planned by Hitler, before they were even born.

Marcus Zusak was born to an Austrian father and a German mother, and as such grew up hearing stories of wartime Munich and Vienna and it was these stories that inspired him to write The Book Thief.  His writing is fluid and his characters strong and likable and what results is a book which made me cry, ponder and debate with myself.  This is an eloquently written novel which tells of how our lives can alter in merely the blink of an eye.  This is a portrait of resilience, of hope and of the strength of the human spirit and I would implore you to read it.

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My Top 5

Welcome to my blog, I’m glad you stopped by!  I was always a keen reader, according to my mum before I could even speak I was picking up books and babbling to myself. But it wasn’t until I was 10 years old and lying in a hospital bed when my Nan came to visit me bearing the greatest gift I have ever received – Matilda by Roald Dahl. I was enthralled and devoured it page by page, I was lost and my life would never be the same again. From that day on I was a bona fide book worm! My love of books has been the subject of everything from admiration to ridicule but I cannot be swayed, with my books I have travelled deserts, climbed mountains and sailed the seven seas. I have fallen in love, out of love and made friends that will last a lifetime. As any true reader will know, a good book needs talking about. It needs to be discussed, pulled apart and analysed by other book lovers. That is why I have started this page, so I can meet other book lovers from anywhere in the world, no matter what language you speak the language of a really great book will transcend any space and time!

By way of introduction, I thought I would introduce you to my Top 5 – the 5 best books I have ever read!  Let me know what you think and tell me what your favourite books are, I would love to hear from you ❤

5.  Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

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I remember clearly the day I came across this book, it was dark and miserable and I was in the middle of a thoroughly horrible day in work.  To cheer myself up I decided to take a lunchtime stroll to Waterstones, one of my favourite places in the whole world!  The branch I was visiting was new and houses a Costa Coffee, so armed with my steaming Caramel Latte I set about trawling through the shelves to find something just to make my mind off the office politics and complaining clients that had so far blighted my day.  I remember catching sight of the title staring out at me from the shelf and thinking to myself how unusual it was, nestled in between so many other generic and uninspiring offerings along the lines of “Millie’s Mistake” and “Forever Love”.  I reached over and took the book off the shelf and as soon as I set eyes on the gorgeous cover (anything with a hint of glamour and sparkle will always catch my eye!), I was a goner!

The book is set during The Great Depression and being a history geek as well as a book lover the time period appealed to me immediately.  The story centres around our main character and romantic hero Jacob Janowski, a veterinary student studying for his final exams when he is delivered the devastating news that both of his parents have been killed leaving him in dire straits.  He finds himself wandering, lonely and confused he by chance jumps onto a circus train and so begins his journey with The Benzini Brothers Circus  – the greatest show on Earth!  Sara Gruen really has done a wonderful job of creating a world that is so believable you can almost smell the menagerie, I was so lost in the world of The Benzini Brother Circus that I could almost feel the rocking of the train and hear the roar of the circus animals.  Ms. Gruen has created a world of characters that will enthrall you, you will love to hate the eccentric Walter aka Kinko the Clown, August is truly terrifying and of course you will adore the beautiful Marlena and her Elephant, Rosie.  This is a truly rare and special read which is almost a modern fairy story.  Essentially it is a love story between Marlena and Jacob, but not only does this book show us how love can be found in the most unusual places, it shows us what animals can teach us about love, friendship and tenderness.  This is an enthralling read which should really not be missed.

4. The Hunger Games (Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins

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I was something of a late starter when it comes to The Hunger Games, many of my book loving friends and relatives were asking me over and over if I had read it yet, but I resisted.  Let me explain; many a time I have fallen victim to a “craze”, diving head first into something because everybody else was telling me how great it was, only to be left disappointed, deflated and feeling as though I had lost valuable reading time (50 Shades anybody…!!!) so I was determined I wasn’t going to be falling for that one again.  It was only when my 11 year old cousin came to visit with her trilogy in tow, eager to discuss it with me (was I team Peeta or Team Gale? Peeta by the way), that I caved in.  How glad I am that I gave it a chance!

The Hunger Games (if you didn’t know about it by now!) is set in the fictional city of Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation where the countries of North America once stood, and its surrounding districts.  As a punishment  for a past rebellion, District 13 has been destroyed.  As a reminder to all residents of the remaining 12 districts of the power The Capitol holds over them, every year they are required to sacrifice one boy and one girl as tributes to participate in The Hunger Games – a televised game show in which tributes must fight to the death.  The story is narrated in the voice of 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, who has volunteered as a tribute to save her younger sister, Prim.  In some ways, the premise of this trilogy is brutal and horrific so much so that I have wondered about its suitability for anybody under the age of 15 but what it also shows us is the strength of human nature, our ability to fight back against atrocities, to fight for and protect for those we love and to form friendships and fall in love in the most unusual of circumstances.  The human heart is a strong one and the instincts of human nature are first and foremost to love, protect and be peaceful and happy.  To some these books can be taken as shallow, adventurous reads about something that sounds as though it could be a sci-fi movie or a computer game but they are so much more than that.   The author, Suzanne Collins explains that she wrote this book as a condemnation of reality TV and the Iraq War and I do believe that she has succeeded.  More than that, these novels illustrate how governments can control the lives of their people, about the excesses of the rich whilst the poor are in need, how the powers that be can shape and rule our existences and how we as the people should always be prepared to pull together and fight back.

3. Matilda by Roald Dahl

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For me, Roald Dahl is truly the greatest story teller of all time.  His books often involve difficult and cruel situations faced by a child at the hands of adults, possibly a reference to the abuse the author is said to have suffered in boarding school.  Many adults feel that his books promote rebellion and a disrespect for adults but to put it bluntly, this is rubbish!  Roald Dahl is one of the only children’s authors who treats his young readers with the respect and understanding they deserve, he teaches them about the bad in the world and that there are always going to be adults who will not treat you as you should be treated and that it is always important to stand up to them.   In turn, the worlds he creates with his writing may sometimes be daunting and scary but are at the same time utterly magical.

This particular book revolves around a little girl whose intelligence goes unnoticed by her parents.

“I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Matilda finds her escape in books and eventually learns to exact her mishevious revenge against the adults who treat her badly including her parents and her evil headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull.  For example, lining her fathers hat with superglue and lacing her fathers hair styling tonic with her mothers peroxide!  It is not until she attends school and meets the wonderful Miss Honey that her brilliance is noticed and her mind nurtured.  Before long, Matilda realises that she has magical powers.  We follow Matilda as she learns how to cope with loneliness and cruelty and discovers how to use her powers to exact revenge on the adults in her life.  Every time I pick up this book I am transported back to my childhood.  Matilda really is Roald Dahl at his best and quite simply, this book changed my life.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”

I first discovered this book when I was 15 and studying for my GCSE in English Literature.  Whilst the rest of the class moaned and groaned about having to spend their weekends and evenings analysing something so “boring” I just could not wait to get it home and get started!

Set in Alambama during the Great Depression, the story is narrated by 6 year old Scout whose father, Atticus is a lawyer and is defending a black man accused of raping a white woman; much to the consternation of the racist white community of Maycomb. Atticus is a single father, struggling to raise his children with the correct morals and values in a society where racism and prejudice is so deeply ingrained.  This book really shows a dark side to human nature; prejudice and mob rule, but among the darkness and evil shines the innocence of children.

This book has so many levels it really could be talked about and dissected all day, the most important theme being the exploration of the moral nature of human beings and the raising of the question, are people essentially good or essentially evil?  Harper Lee explores this question with the dramatisation of Scout and her brother Jems’ transition from childhood to adulthood and the evils they encounter along the way.  As children, Jem and Scout assume that all people are good as they have not yet seen or experienced evil.  That all changes as the book progress through the trial and the victimisation of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, driven by hatred, ignorance and prejudice.  Jem is disgusted by the outcome of the Tom Robinson trial and loses all his faith in human nature whereas Scout, despite her experiences still maintains the basic faith that all people are essentially good.

This book addresses so many themes that are still prevalent in society today and addresses the prejudices that we all have inside of us, it literally left me so angry and emotional that I wanted to hurl it across the room in sheer frustration with the characters.  Most importantly, this novel reminds us of the importance of moral education in our children and I believe it is as relevant today as it was the day that Harper Lee put pen to paper.  It is little wonder that To Kill a Mockingbird is the only book that Harper Lee ever wrote as I doubt she could ever have topped it!  For me, I truly believe this book has altered my view of the world, changed the way I view people and has played a definite part in shaping the adult I have become.  It really is THAT important and should be read by everyone for generations to come.

1. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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Whenever I am asked by somebody to recommend a book, my first suggestion is always Gone With The Wind.  The reaction is always depressingly similar, normally a groan and a roll of the eyes.  As much as I love the film adaptation I honestly don’t think it did the book any favours at all, it is viewed as a Mills and Boon throw away romance with a spoiled and thoroughly unlikable heroine.  The star of the story is without a doubt the fabulously strong and determined Scarlett O’Hara.  Margaret Mitchell paints her female lead as spoiled, selfish, immature and at times undoubtedly cruel but as the story progresses we see Scarlett become a strong, courageous and utterly engaging heroine.

Gone With The Wind is set in Georgia during the American Civil War and depicts the experiences of a wealthy plantation owners daughter who find herself plunged into poverty at the outbreak of Civil War.  Scarlett is madly in love with her neighbour Ashley Wilkes,  and on discovering at a party that he is engaged to his cousin Melanie, Scarlett is heartbroken and accepts a proposal of marriage from Melanies brother, Charles Hamilton.  Before long, the menfolk are called up to fight for the Confederate Army and take off on horseback to the battlefields of war.

Two weeks after they are married, Scarlett’s husband dies of measles and Melanie invites Scarlett to live with her and Aunt Pitty Pat in Atlanta.  It is here that we see her form a deeper relationship with blockade runner, Rhett Butler.  The war is not going well for the Confederacy and we soon see the city of Atlanta come under siege, Melanie without her husband Ashley gives birth to a baby boy.  With the city in tatters and soldiers lying dead or wounded in the street it is up to Scarlett to get Melanie and her baby back to the relative safety of her fathers plantation, Tara.  She enlists the help of Rhett Butler but half way there he has a change of heart and decides to sign up to the war effort, leaving Scarlett alone.  On arriving back at Tara, Scarlett is welcomed back by her father Gerald who, it soon becomes clear, has lost his mind.  It is from Tara that we see Scarlett begin to pick up the pieces and feed her hungry family on little or no food.  Just as we think Scarlett is surviving a new threat appears in the form of taxes on Tara and Scarlett knows only one man with enough money to help her –  Rhett Butler.

The book undoubtedly centres around Scarlett but also deals with many other important themes such as racism and slavery and the effect it has on people and their behaviour when power is taken away.  This is not a Mills and Boon style “bodice ripper” as it is so often portrayed but is a deep and insightful story which can be enjoyed by anybody, male or female.  I would not describe Gone With The Wind as romance at all but as historical fiction full of action and passion.  This is truly a ripping yarn, one that I have enjoyed many times and will continue to read over and over again.