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A Blogging Good Read - December

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Slightly later than normal this month due to epic amounts of giveawayage going on last week, but it's now Good Read time! Joining me this month is Kezzie from KezzieAG.  Unfortunately the other blogger lined up for this month hasn't been able to join in, but we've read her choice of book so we'll review that as well, especially as it was so good!

She picked The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Did Kezzie like it?

The Book Thief for me was an utter joy to read: in a bittersweet way.  It tells the tale of a young girl, Liesl Meminger who is fostered by a family in Molching, Nazi Germany in 1939, after her Mother cannot afford to keep her (and though we don’t learn of her fate, we suspect she gives her up partially because the Nazis have something against her and she ends up dead, ‘off-stage’ as it were) and how the power of words in a book ultimately saves and nurtures her life.   

I consider a good sign that a book evokes strong emotions in me, one that engages your emotions and makes you care about the fate of the characters deeply. I confess to crying several times reading this book (3 times embarrassingly in a single Tube journey!) - I fretted over the ending of this book before I reached it, I was that drawn into the story and I cared about each and every character deeply! The story constantly kept up the sense of suspense as to their fate. The Narrator as Death was clever and he was a witty raconteur.  A really special part of the book is the relationship development between Liesl and the various characters she meets, her foster father, her best friend Rudy, a hidden Jew, the latter particularly beautifully develops.   The stories within the story (the books which are thieved!) are rather poignant too.

The description and vocabulary was something striking for me about this book, the imagery used- it was clever, witty and highly original- phrases like bullet-proof eyes,  and the shop was white and cold and bloodless (p51) had me laughing in delight at the originality as did the creative and unusual verb choices.  The story was just the right length- despite its 580 pages, the pace was constantly moving and there was always something to learn or something happening.  Honestly, I know I say this about most books I read, but you really have to read this - it is utterly beautiful and though a multitude of tales exist written about this era, this really is something Other with that capital O!  There is nothing I can say that I did not like about it apart from the fact I wish things ended differently for certain characters!

As for my thoughts on it, well I'm a contrary creature.  People have been telling me to read this book for years and I've been ignoring them (ditto The Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas etc, although I did read a whole two chapters of the latter before passing out due to extreme boredom).   As such, I did perhaps start reading this in a bit of a stubborn mood, wanting it to really make me love it.  To start with, I didn't.  That's not due to my mardiness, it's because there are a lot of stylistic tricks in this book that could be really annoying.  Omniscient narrators, fragmented story telling, telling you at the start of the book what happens at the end: none of these are things that I like.   And yet, once I'd given it a little time, these things completely ceased to annoy me and actually worked perfectly in context.  It's hard to carry on being cross and irritated with things like the little interludes that broke up the general narration when one of them - just two simple sentences - managed to break my heart.

I liked the omniscience of the narrator.  Death always makes a good character in fiction, doesn't he? Usually it would be classed as a complete spoiler if the fate of a key character was revealed early on, but here it just doesn't matter.  It  makes sense for him to tell you about Liesl in the way that he does and you read on because you want to know how her story is written, not what the end result is.  Kezzie has given you a brief plot overview and I really don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it but it turns out that the way it unfolds is enthralling, uplifiting, fascinating and quite desperately heartbreaking in parts.  

Oh, and I'm a moron for not reading it sooner.

My choice was A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones

I've loved this book for years and years.  Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite authors and this book, to me, is the perfect example of her inventiveness, sense of humour and amazing skill.  Her books may technically be for children but there's never the slightest hint of pandering to her audience. They're quite often deeply steeped in mythology and folk literature (try Fire & Hemlock or The Homeward Bounders for two of her best) - this one isn't quite so much, but the concept behind it is just as fascinating. It starts in Britain in 1939 where Vivian Smith is being evacuated from London.  Only she never quite makes it to the safety of the countryside, because she's promptly kidnapped from the train station by Jonathan and Sam (two boys who are under the impression she's a different Vivian Smith) who then whisk her off to Time City.  The city is set in a patch of space and time outside history - the people there observe and maintain history and stop it from going wrong.  But now the city itself is now starting to crumble, the Time Ghosts are behaving in unexpected ways and history is going critical. 

It's complicated to explain why this is happening and even more complicated to explain why Vivian, Jonathan and Sam start venturing into the Unstable Eras of history in search of missing polarities, so I suggest you read it yourself! DWJ's writing is an absolute treat and Time City is practically a character in its own right, with the most intriguing mixture of technology and traditions.  I think perhaps you're meant to feel a bit sorry for Vivian, having been hauled out of her normal life into this exotic and baffling place, but I mostly just wanted to be her, having lessons with Dr Wilander, wearing one of Elio's favourite outfits, joining in with the mayhem of running around to find Sempitern Walker's ceremonial clothes and trying the thing that I think everyone remembers this book for.  BUTTERPIES!  If you don't want to eat one of those, there's no hope for you.

What did Kezzie think?

Interestingly, when I started this, I noticed that all 3 books we read were written or set in 1938-9! On the whole I liked this book.  It had a great Dr Who-esque sense of adventure in the quest to find who was causing Time City to become Unstable and unhinged from time with interesting and creative ideas of what might happen in future Earth history and the type of technological advancements.

The plot took a while to get going, there were moments of hiatus where we had some more description of Time City (or at least that was my impression) and then it got moving again. I wanted it to keep up the pace!   I liked the main character Vivian although I find the two leading boys rather annoying.   It had an Enid Blytonesque element, which seems ubiquitous to most children’s stories, with lots of talk of food which I found strangely annoying, unusual for me.  I usually love a bit of food description!

 The ending was a bit abrupt, confused and unresolved- I wasn’t quite sure exactly what was happening to Vivian - and the final denouement was a bit of a let-down: I thought, “Oh is that it?”   I may have raised some negative points but on the whole though, I enjoyed this tale- I always enjoy a quest and I would certainly recommend this to some of my kids at school to read (I think I’ll donate my copy of this to the school library)  because I think it has all the ingredients that boys and girls alike would alike. 

Kezzie's pick was Out of the Silent Planet by C.S Lewis

She chose it because:

I think it is an extraordinary book that more people should know about. I first read it about 6 years ago, (not read it since), and I don’t know anyone personally who has read it, so I really wanted to hear what other people think of it!  For me, I was most excited at views of what space, planets, space-ships and extra-terrestial life-forms in an author pre-space travel, pre-Moon landing!  This was the first book I had read in which the author has not been saturated by a myriad of different films, TV programmes and books with their images and thoughts of alien-life, so it was refreshing and beautiful.  I adored hearing about a spherical space ship with its own centre of gravity and the strange landscape and life-forms on the beautiful planet of Malacandra. C.S. Lewis has a beautiful method of description and the second book in this trilogy has the same delightfully original description.  I like the subtle allegorical message involved- it’s not too in your face!

I liked this book for very much the same reasons.  It was really different to read a pre-space travel interpretation of space travel - it felt so much fresher and innovative than other books I've read that are set in roughly the same time period.  Whether that's due to the author's ability or the time he wrote it, I'm not entirely sure, but it works for me!  It's not overly technical (except for the linguistic sections which I do admit to speed reading slightly) and it was thoroughly entertaining to be taken on the adventure through space to Malacandra and then to explore the planet through the eyes of Dr Ransom.

The writing is, unsurprisingly, excellent and perfectly brings to life this strange world and the creatures that inhabit it.  I adore the Chronicles of Narnia but for some reason I'd never even looked at the author's backlist before this.  This book was very different but shared a lot of the things I like best about the Narnia books - namely the creation of a fantasy world that seems so amazingly real and vivid that you believe in it totally.  I don't know that I'd necessarily rush out and track down books 2 and 3 - my tolerance for sci-fi isn't huge - but it definitely works as a standalone book and it was very much worth reading.

Thanks for joining in, Kezzie, and for expanding my book horizons!

If anyone fancies picking up a book over the Christmas hols, I'll be back at the start of January with two new contributors and we'll be reading Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, Letters from a Lost Generation edited by Alan Bishop & Mark Bostridge and If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor.


  1. More books for my must-read pile... Green Metropolis is regularly hit up for the books you've reviewed!

  2. I've heard good things about The Book Thief, will definitely be snagging it from my mum's bookshelf! xx

  3. I loved the CSLewis SF trilogy when I first read it [oh horrors- before you and Kezzie were born!] I must get it off the shelf, dust it down and read it again

  4. I read The Book Thief four years ago last August. I remember, as I was on holiday was my whole family, apart from my parents, and my dad had quite literally just died of cancer while we were on holiday. I stole this book from my aunt and it proved the greatest distraction during what was a horrific time for me - the book was so well written that I was pulled in to the story and managed to forget the real world for a little while, which really was remarkable to me. I really must pick it up again... Xo

  5. How I love Diana Wynne Jones, I started reading her books in about 1975 and will never stop. I find it impossible to choose a favourite, they are all brilliant - and you can't say that about many authors.

  6. I read The Book Thief a few years back on my brother's recommendation and loved it. Read it cover to cover on a Glasgow to London train journey which was ideal as no interruption to the story. Will check out the one you selected. Have bought Code Name Verity as presents for a couple of friends so far with great success. I read the Jon McGregor and quite enjoyed it, although didn't think it was quite as good as I'd been lead to believe. xx

  7. The Book Thief is one of my favourite books! Ditto the boyfriend's. We both laughed and cried while reading it (and yes, on the train home from work). I absolutely love the story and the characters, but also the language. Oh, the language. I'm thinking of re-reading it in the new year. ~ Sara


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