I have my rules about reading and in reading The Book Thief, I broke one of them. I don't usually read YA books and it's likely that as a woman of a certain vintage, vampires, werewolves and teenage dystopias just don't appeal to me. Factor in that my time is limited to read the good adult books that are out there and I don't often pick up a YA novel.
A confession: another reading rule I believe in, is that no movie ever compares favourably with the book. It can be a wonderful film but the experience is never as good. I stumbled onto The Book Thief by seeing the trailer for its movie on tv. It hooked me like a clever book trailer so I put a hold in at the local library.
I have to say I loved Markus Zusak's characters. The setting is Molching, a small town near Dachau, the Nazi death camp. Death is the narrator and as the story unfolds, he becomes more and more sympathetic. Liesle Memeniger is the protagonist, an 11 year-old girl who is sent to live with foster parents for safety. She never sees her mother again. Her foster father is a delightful man who is an accordianst, not the best musician but because he plays from the heart as he does everything, his playing is popular. Liesle doesn't find her foster mother sympathetic until she comes to realize the softness beneath her hard exterior. And then there is Rudy, the boy her age who becomes her best friend. There is an innocent attraction that she never acknowledges and that is one of her great regrets.
For ordinary Germans in WW11, there were many hardships. This is one of the few books that shows that the war killed and starved the common German people. They were abused by the Nazis, too. There is even a Jewish runaway who is hidden by Liesle's new family. Markus Zusak's book is sad and yet affirms the strength of the human spirit. There is hatred and horror in the world but there are good, resilient people, too.
The Book Thief was first published in 2005. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. If you know a young person who hasn't read it yet, it would make a great gift.
Runemarks by Joanne Harris
I’m always on the lookout for “new” authors and Joanne Harris is someone I was delighted to find. She writes from England and is half French and half British. Her earlier books include Chocolat, Gentlemen and Players
and Holy Fools. All of her works are quite distinct from one another so she cannot be neatly pegged as an historical or mystery novelist. Her writing includes elegant elements of these genres and in Runemarks Ms. Harris expands her scope.
Runemarks is a fantasy based on the legends of Norse Gods and Harris has created a world where Order rules
but where there are rumblings of change from Chaos and Hel. Maddy Smith is the odd daughter of villagers inthe Stron dValley and as a misfit she spends long hours by herself. She has a runemark on the palm of her hand that her family would like to disappear along with her far too active imagination. In a society where Order is valued and change suspect they want to keep their daughter’s talents hidden and she has little idea of her own powers until at the age of seven she is befriended by a One-eyed Journeyer. He helps her to a partial understanding of her abilities and the part they will play in the war that is coming.
Each year One-Eye leaves and each year he returns to tantalize her with half truths and hints of her
When she is fourteen, One-Eye tells her that the legendary riches hidden
under Red Horse Hill are not gold but something worth far more.
The Whisperer. He has given her a glimpse of what she can do with her runes, cantrips, glamours and other
magic and sends her on a quest for the treasure. One-Eye shares little knowledge of what the Whisperer is or what dangers she will face. In the labyrinth that lies under the Hill, Maddy finds the Whisperer trapped andheld in a web of magic and runes. Retrieving it seems impossible and she follows Sugar, the Goblin she had forced to guide her in the World Below deeper and deeper underground. He escapes leaving Maddy on her own in the darkness and maze of tunnels where she meets Loki. He is really the Trickster, disguised as a youth but he helps her because he knows she has found the Whisperer.
Runemarks unfolds from this point. Motives of the Gods and One-Eye are as twisted as the tunnels in the World Below. Half-truths and almost forgotten feuds resurface as the heroic battle between Chaos and Order begins. The stability of the world depends on a balance between these opposing forces and should one world bleed into another Maddy and her Seer-folk kin will face extinction.
If an epic war of Norse Gods is not your taste, other Joanne Harris novels include Gentlemen and Players – a contemporary tale of revenge in an English private school and Holy Fools– a story of 1610 intrigue in Sainte Marie-de-la Mer Abbey on a small French island. I recommend any of them and am planning to include some of her other books for my winter reading list.
I am an avid reader and like to share some of my "finds" with others.