As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

October 29, 2011


Laura Madsen, mom, veterinarian and writer

Halloween is my favorite holiday and I’ve been collecting Halloween children’s books for eight years. (This year, I broke out the stash on September 2 to allow a full two months’ of spooky entertainment!) All of the picture books below have fun stories and intriguing illustrations, and are entertaining even for the parent who has to read them aloud a few (dozen) times.

THE HALLO-WIENER, by Dav Pilkey (1995), is my all-time-favorite children’s book of any genre. I’ve bought this book for a number of friends with small children, and will soon need to replace my own bedraggled copy. Oscar is a wiener dog who is “half-a-dog tall and one-and-a-half dogs long.” All the other dogs tease him, and the teasing gets even worse when his mom makes him a hotdog costume for Halloween. He tags along behind his friends on Halloween night, embarrassed by his costume. The other dogs are spooked by a monster—but Oscar realizes that the monster is just a couple of cats and saves the day. The illustrations have hidden treasures for adults (at obedience school one dog is writing on the blackboard, I will not sniff my neighbor).

GOODNIGHT GOON, by Michael Rex (2008), is a spooky parody of the classic GOODNIGHT MOON. It begins:
In the cold gray tomb
There was a gravestone
And a black lagoon
And a picture of—
Martians taking over the moon
The little werewolf who lives in the tomb says goodnight to all his possessions and puts the Goon to bed. The illustrations are entertaining, showing various monsters interacting (Goon, vampire, witch, mummy, and the Martians which have escaped from their picture).

Each page of WHEN A MONSTER IS BORN, written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Nick Sharratt (2006), features two possibilities that propel the story. When a chartreuse monster sets out to seek his fortune and hides behind a restaurant, “there are two possibilities—either a kitchen-girl comes out and tips a saucepan of porridge over the monster’s head, or… the kitchen girl notices the monster and stops in her tracks.” And so on with possibilities as the girl turns into a lavender monster, they fall in love, get married, and have a little orange baby monster.

T. REX TRICK-OR-TREATS, written by Lois G. Grambling and illustrated by Jack E. Davis (2005), is a cute story for dino-loving kids. (And what kid doesn’t love dinos?) T. Rex ponders what to wear for trick-or-treating. His friends, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus and Iguanodon, convince him to go as himself because his pointy teeth are much scarier than any costume. The text is fun for reading out loud because of repetitive phrases like Eeeek! and Scary!

In BIG PUMPKIN, written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by S.D. Schindler (1992), a witch plants a pumpkin. Come harvest time, the pumpkin has grown much too large. One after another, a ghost, a vampire, and a mummy—each bigger and stronger than the last—offer to help but none can budge it. Finally a bat, tiny but clever, solves the problem. The witch makes pumpkin pie for her new monster friends.

Do you or your kids collect Halloween books? Which are your favorites? Share in the comments section!

October 24, 2011

TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, by Jessica Day George, 2011

Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie's favorite days. That's because on Tuesdays the castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the castle will do next, and no one—other than Celie, that is—takes the time to map out the new additions. But when King and Queen Glower are ambushed and their fate is unknown, it's up to Celie, with her secret knowledge of the castle's never-ending twists and turns, to protect their home and save their kingdom. This delightful book from a fan—and bookseller—favorite kicks off a brand-new series sure to become a modern classic. (Amazon)

Review by Kim Harris Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk Host
First of all, I want you to know that I just rubbed my hands together in delight, because I am so, so excited to review TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, by Bookshop Talk’s own Jessica Day George!  This is such a marvelous book, by such a marvelous author.  Jessica’s books are always so vivid and utterly gobble-worthy...but there’s just something extra-special about this first title in her new middle grade series.  Maybe it’s the setting...
The Land of Sleyne sounds picturesque, with its mountains and bowl-shaped valleys, but it’s the castle that serves as the home for Sleyne’s king (Glower the Seventy-Ninth) and his family that thrills me.  After all, what child (or young-hearted adult, for that matter) doesn’t long for secret passages and magic?  The layout of Castle Glower is in a constant state of flux, so it’s like one gargantuan maze of secret passages, built through magic.  Now that is my idea of a fantastic setting—a castle that can alter its form at will.  And yes, I said at will, because Castle Glower has a will.  The castle is a key character in TUESDAYS, and come to think of it, maybe it’s the array of characters that has me gushing over this book.
Let’s keep talking about Castle Glower as a character, shall we?  The castle is like a human in so many ways, even suffering from boredom!  But unlike humans, who tend to eat potato chips and watch movies when bored, Castle Glower “stretches,” resulting in an added turret here, a room there, and sometimes even a whole new wing.  This seems rather whimsical of the castle, but don’t be fooled.  Castle Glower is not a character to be trifled with.  Those who visit the castle had better mind their Ps and Qs, or they could end up like the Ambassador of Bendeswe, who found himself walled into his bedroom once the castle found out he was a spy.
Another character to love is Princess Celie, who is spunky, courageous, and smart.  She also possesses an atlas of the changing castle, and it is for this reason, perhaps, that the castle pays special attention to Celie’s needs, even growing escape routes when she needs them, and boy, does she need them!  This is a girl who attracts adventure, for sure.  I can’t wait to read more about her in the other books in this series!
There are also lots of other wonderful characters in TUESDAYS, such as the handsome Pogue Parry, the odd-but-loveable Prince Lulath of Grath (and his doggies), the spine tinglingly evil Prince Khelsh of Vhervhine, and, of course, Celie’s family.  I love the relationships between Celie and her siblings, in particular.  Her older brother, Rolf, is the second son of the king and queen, but the castle “chose” him to be King Glower’s heir, by moving his suite of rooms next to the Throne Room.  Celie’s older sister, Lilah, is capable and a bit bossy, but proves her worth many times over in TUESDAYS.  Celie’s oldest brother, Bran, was sent to a college for wizards after the castle kept furnishing his rooms with books and astrolabes.  It is, in fact, on the journey to witness Bran’s graduation that Celie’s parents (who sound like the best king and queen ever) are ambushed and...well, you’ll just have to read the book if you want to know what happens to them and to Celie and her siblings as a result.
I do love the setting and the characters in TUESDAYS, but there is so much more to love, too!  Jessica’s writing is simple, but vivid.  The story moves quickly—there is never a dull moment.  There is so much to love, and every element of the book works with every other element, creating a tight adventure story that any reader will enjoy.
And now for a bit of good news:  TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE came out today, so you don’t have to wait to pick up your own copy!  Yahoo!
Market:  This is being marketed as a middle grade fantasy, but I think younger (8-ish) and older readers would certainly enjoy it, too.  I gobbled it up, and I’m...uh...much older than 8.
Language:  none
Sensuality:  none
Violence:  mild (rumors of death, plotted assassinations, chase scenes—all appropriate to middle grade fiction)
Mature Themes:  political rebellion, disloyalty, family crises

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit:

Happy Launch Day, Jessica!!!! 

October 22, 2011

The Golden Age by John C. Wright, 2002

The Golden Age is 10,000 years in the future in our solar system, an interplanetary utopian society filled with immortal humans. Phaethon, of Radamanthus House, is attending a glorious party at his family mansion celebrating the thousand-year anniversary of the High Transcendence. There he meets an old man who accuses him of being an imposter, and then a being from Neptune who claims to be an old friend. The Neptunian tells him that essential parts of his memory were removed and stored by the very government that Phaethon believes to be wholly honorable. It shakes his faith. Is he indeed an exile from himself? He can’t resist investigating, even though to do so could mean the loss of his inheritance, his very place in society. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Megan Hutchins

I've read a number of science fiction books that feel like a Frankenstein of the genre. A little bit of this, a little bit of that -- but all concepts I've seen before. The Golden Age is not that book. My favorite thing about it was the wealth of new ideas, bombarding my brain at high velocity. At first, I was confused; there's a learning curve here. John C. Wright created a far-future world that actually feels like the far-future. Humanity has changed. Much of it is unrecognizable, dwelling in machines or mass-minds or bodies of their own design. Once I had a grasp on events, I was mesmerized. Once I finished, my brain felt like it had been pulled into taffy by black holes on either side of my ears, and I wanted more.

Our protagonist is Phaethon, a young man in this new age of immortality. The Solar System is alight with its year-long, millennial celebration, but Phaethon steps away from the festivities when he discovers a two-hundred year gap in his memory. Finding where the memories are stored isn't difficult. The difficulty lies in deciding whether or not to open them. He's told he agreed to lose them, and if he opens the memories, he'll face exile from society -- the most peaceful, prosperous society the Solar System has ever seen.

Phaethon sets about to deduce what happened during those two hundred years by the facts around him, rather than open the memories and face exile. What could he have been planning that would merit such harsh treatment? He is, after all, only an engineer...

There's ten thousand other things I want to gush about the plot, but they all scream "spoiler!" The story flips itself on its head more than once. In a world where changing one's memory and personality is easy, sometimes what I suspect is real isn't, and what I doubt, is. One of the characters says that the only predictable man is an honest man, and Phaethon fits that description. He's a hero worth cheering for, and his story makes this strange, distant future an accessible one.

I'm happy to say that the remaining books in the trilogy, The Phoenix Exultant and The Golden Transcendence, exceeded expectations. The science fiction never gets old and the plot never dulls. What more could I want?

Market: Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Identity, philosophy

Book formats:

October 19, 2011

WITCH WEEK, by Diana Wynne Jones, 1993

There are good witches and bad witches, but the law says that all witches must be burned at the stake. So when an anonymous note warns, "Someone in this class is a witch," the students in 6B are nervous -- especially the boy who's just discovered that he can cast spells and the girl who was named after the most famous witch of all. (Amazon)

Review by Kim Harris Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk Host

I love Diana Wynne Jones’s quirky wit! I think of it as “British wit,” because it’s shared by some of my favorite British writers: Diana, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, and Neil Gaiman. I’m hoping my British ancestry means I can tap into that wit at some point.

WITCH WEEK is one of the Chrestomanci novels, which means the character, Chrestomanci, shows up. And I do love Chrestomanci. He’s charming, to say the least. But WITCH WEEK stands very well on its own, too. The writing is positively delightful. It feels like a conversation rather than a reading. I love the setting (a slightly run-down boarding school for witch-orphans), and I love the variety of characters. Each character is fully realized, which is wildly tough to accomplish in a short middle grade novel. The reader dives right in and gets to know the witch-orphan characters by reading their journals in the first few pages of the book. I want to be best friends with Nan Pilgrim (what a great name for a witch!), and I think that I, like the unfortunate Miss Hodge, might have a bit of a crush (literary, of course) on kindly and harried Mr. Wentworth.

Try the Chrestomanci novels if you enjoy the Harry Potter books!

Market: middle grade fiction, magical realism/fantasy
Language: mild (the characters say “magic” and “magicking” as swear-words)
Sensuality: none
Violence: mild (some references to “bone-fires,” or witch-burnings
Mature Themes: witchcraft, witch-burnings (nothing comes across as scary)

October 16, 2011

Memoir: Self-Indulgent Voyeurism or Courageous Truth-Telling?

Guest Blogger, Katie Langston

As an avid reader of memoirs, I was intrigued by this ten-month old article I discovered in The New York Times recently, called “The Problem with Memoirs.”
According to the article, the problem with memoirs is that there are too many of them.  That these days, anyone with a sob story or an axe to grind can air their dirty laundry to the world in a self-indulgent splatter of overshare and TMI.  Back when memoir was a “real” art form, only people with exceptional lives or exceptional writing skills attempted it; now, anyone who’s willing to spill the beans on tantalizing personal secrets can get a 6-figure publishing advance in a culture that loves voyeurism, trashy reality TV, and narcissistic personalities.

I feel conflicted about the issue.  On the one hand, I’ve been personally helped by memoirs that have articulated struggles I’ve experienced in ways I wouldn’t have been able to express on my own.  It’s nice to hear the perspective of someone who has walked where you’re walking, and has made it through to the other side.  It’s helpful to know you’re not alone.  Even in situations where I don’t relate directly, a well-written memoir can provide deeply moving insights into how real people make sense of a world that is, in many ways, incomprehensible — and that is a wonderful thing.

On the other hand, I’ve read memoirs that are little more than thinly-veiled self-aggrandizement and sensationalism.  I confess, I found them alarming and distasteful — even more alarming and distasteful than objectionable fiction I’ve encountered.  It’s like watching a live stage production versus a film.  You can get away with a lot more in film without shocking your audience because there is something about knowing that the actors are in the same room with you, breathing the same air, that makes the experience more visceral.  When you know what you’re reading is a “true story,” it hits closer to home.

Or does it?

Have I created a double-standard in my mind?   Is there really something worse about bad memoir than bad fiction?  Is it less literary? Is it more dangerous to tell a story about yourself as opposed to a story about a character you’ve created (and if that’s true, are the rewards potentially greater)?  Does the entire genre deserve suspicion and derision, or is it like any form of artistic expression — there are good and bad novels, good and bad paintings, good and bad theatre, good and bad sculpture — and we should honor the good and avoid the bad?

I’d love to have a great discussion about this, so sound off in the comments below!

Also . . . any memoirs that you've LOVED, or didn't like at all?

Read Katie's review of the memoir, LIMBO, here.

October 13, 2011

The Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, 2004

He had always wanted to be a warrior. The Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways, made him nervous. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now fifteen year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t realize yet is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. (Amazon)

Review by Megan :)

I have to say that I have always loved Robin Hood. Loved loved LOVED Robin Hood. The adventure, the archery, it's all just awesome. And then I discovered Lord of the Rings. And fell in love with it. I love LOTR for many reasons, but one of them is Aragorn and his Ranger buddies. Mysterious people skulking around, one is never sure just who's side they're on and then it turns out that they are good guys and there's sword-fighting and archery and overall excitement. I love this! So when I discovered a series called Ranger's Apprentice that had a picture of a boy in a cloak with a bow in his hands and a summary full of promise, I went straight to my local library and checked Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan. And quickly checked out books 2 and 3. And 4 and 5, and then the rest of them (there are currently 10, the 11th is coming out and contains only short stories).

Ranger's Apprentice is a delightful series about an orphan boy, Will, who is chosen by the mysterious and grim Ranger Halt to become his apprentice. Will possesses many of the talents a ranger needs: stealth, curiosity, and the ability to keep his mouth shut. Also a tendency to ask lots (and lots) of questions, which Halt pretends to be annoyed by. Will's talents need honing, but he may not have time. The evil Lord Morgarath has risen in his domain of The Mountains of Rain and Night, and trouble is beginning to spread through the land of Araluen. They say the Kalkara are hunting, the Kalkara, those primeval creatures who can stop a man's heart just by looking him in the eyes. Those evil creatures whom only the best hunters might have a chance to stop. And who are the best hunters but Rangers?

This series is one of those rare and wonderful gender-line-crossers: the main character is male, but with strong female supporting characters, and is one of the few series adored by the anti-book males in my family.

Market: Middle Grade to YA
Language: Mild to moderate (some d--- or hell-o, maybe occasional 'what the devil' but nothing more)
Sensuality: None (there is a quick kiss in the first one)
Violence: Your typical action/adventure stuff
Mature Themes: bullying, finding one's identity, a touch of romance. Books 3 and 4: slavery (captives taken in war)

Book formats:

October 10, 2011

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. (Amazon)

Review by Jessica Day George, Middle Grade and Young Adult Author, and Bookshop Talk Host

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE or THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE is not only one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, it is possibly one of the greatest anti-war novels of all time.  It’s also written in the style of the novels of the planet Trafalmadore, which at first seems like pure silliness.

But it isn’t.

On the distant planet of Trafalmadore, to which we are introduced during the course of the novel, they know that time is not linear.  All that ever was, is, and will be is around us all the time.  Their novels are a series of pictures, taken in at once, which gives the reader an overall view of a scene or event of great beauty.  Vonnegut essentially achieves the same effect with his novel.  Written in small episodes that cover the life of Billy Pilgrim, World War II veteran, optometrist, son, husband, father, and briefly an exhibit in a zoo on Trafalmadore, SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE jumps forward and backward in time and place, but when you are done with it, your brain is left with an complete picture of the novel that will stay with you forever. 

The first chapter is essentially an introduction, in which Vonnegut describes his own experiences after the war, and hints at things he saw during his service in Germany.  It’s the first chapter, though, and not an introduction, because it is an integral part of the book and not something that should be skipped to save time.  He talks about meeting with an old friend from the war, and the anger of the friend’s wife, who fears that his book will glorify war and steer society toward more wars, all of which are fought by children, in the end.  Thus his promise to name his novel THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE, and to not glorify war.  And he doesn’t.  Vonnegut witnessed the destruction of Dresden, which had been one of the most glorious cities in Europe.  It had no tactical significance, and he never could discover why it was bombed, but when the dust settled the destruction was more widespread and the body count far higher than that of Hiroshima.  A thing of great beauty was destroyed, and countless civilians: old men, women, and children were dead.  (So it goes.)

Vonnegut could have told about this in a straight memoir.  He could have presented it as fiction, but done so in a linear fashion, without Billy Pilgrim’s travels through space and time.  But to do so would have lessened the impact, in my opinion, and would have given the world a completely bland novel about WWII.  Instead what he’s done is taken all the heartbreak, all the pain and senselessness, and added just a dash of absurdity, which elevates this book to sheer art.

So.  Why is this book banned quite so much?  I really don’t know.  Yes, there is a brief sex scene.  Yes, there are a couple of swear words.  Oh, and a line drawing of a pair of breasts, which aren’t important.  What’s important is the necklace hanging above them, and the saying on it.  But is that really a reason to take this book away from an entire school?  An entire library?  To say that no one in our town should read this book?  No.  To ban this book is to deny teens and adults the experience of reading not just a great work of literature, but to say that Vonnegut’s message, formed from his experience in the war, is worthless.

LANGUAGE: 2-3 uses of the F-word.  Scattered mild profanity.
SENSUALITY: a PG-13 sex scene, nudity (nonsexual), a description of a pornographic picture.
VIOLENCE: Bombings (it’s a war book), shootings, someone is beaten.  None of it is graphic.
MATURE THEMES: War, mental illness, sexuality, one character is a former porn star (this is mostly hinted at).

Book formats:

October 8, 2011

Does TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD deserve to be Banned?

Guest Blogger, Laura Madsen - mom, veterinarian and writer
Last year to celebrate Banned Books Week I reread TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Like another classic, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, it’s been challenged numerous times because of racism and the word “nigger.” (Read an example here).

Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.” The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.”

To those people I say: Trying to cover up our country’s painful race problems, both past and present, puts you in the same class as the Holocaust deniers—those people who, despite ample evidence to the contrary, deny that six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany. Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it.

I want my daughters to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD—to feel the oppression and pain and cruelty of racism, to understand why the scars of slavery are still raw in this country. I would also point out that the book, if anything, promotes unity and racial understanding. Atticus Finch is a white attorney defending a wrongfully accused black man, Tom Robinson. (Sound like something that could happen in 2011?) He knows that the jury will find the accused guilty, and knows that taking the case may be a career-ending move, but he defends Tom anyway, because it is the right and just thing to do. When he suspects that a lynch mob may come for his client, he camps out in front of the jail, alone and unarmed. Atticus is a hero.

Consider this conversation, between Atticus, his son Jem, and his sister Alexandra, at home after the guilty verdict is handed down:

“It ain’t right, Atticus,” said Jem.
“No son, it’s not right.”
Aunt Alexandra was waiting up. […] “I didn’t think it wise in the first place to let them—”
“This is their home, sister,” said Atticus. “We’ve made it this way for them, they might as well learn to cope with it.”
“But they don’t have to go to the courthouse and wallow in it—”
“It’s just as much Maycomb County as missionary teas.” […]
“Atticus—” said Jem bleakly.
He turned in the doorway. “What, son?”
“How could they do it, how could they?”
“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep.”

It’s like Harper Lee is addressing her critics in this passage. She reminds us that racism is part of the history of this country; that our children need to know about its terrible legacy; and that children understand the moral wrongness when adults might have grown complacent.

Continuing our coversation from Banned Book Week, please let us know what you think of Laura's thoughts on schools or libraries banning TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

October 6, 2011

The Time-Traveling Fashionista, by Bianca Turetsky, 2011

What if a beautiful vintage dress could take you back in time? Louise Lambert has always dreamed of movie starlets and exquisite gowns and longs for the day when she can fill the closet of her normal suburban home with stylish treasures. But when she receives a mysterious invitation to a vintage fashion sale in the mail, her once painfully average life is magically transformed into a time-travel adventure. (Amazon)

Review by Emily Sonderegger, Book Addict

Let me just start by saying that I adore books where fashion (and especially high fashion) is incorporated. When I saw a giveaway on Goodreads for this one, I just knew I was destined to have it.

Well, I didn't win it from Goodreads. I was terribly bummed, because seriously, this book was written for me. Luckily, a blogger friend of mine had some books that she wasn't able to get to for reviews and asked me to take them on, which of course, I was happy to do. Hello, books! Anyway, this was one of them, and a total treasure!

I loved it. It was one of those books that I finished in a couple of hours because I couldn't put it down. It was just so well done. Even though our heroine is a mere twelve years old, I adored her (not to say that I don't like 12-year olds in general, but I usually steer clear of young characters like that in literature). She was well-developed, had a killer fashion sense (she recognized Lucile!! LUCILE!! I would almost literally kill for a Lucile piece, not that I could ever afford one), and is just plain fun. Besides that, she tries her hardest to rewrite history (which, granted, she didn't know much about because she has the worst stereotype of a history teacher EVER) by saving the Titanic. All in all, makes for a sweet read.

Now let's talk about the physical book: it's GORGEOUS. I can't tell you this enough times. The book itself is literally one of the most beautiful books I've ever laid my hands on. It's illustrated with the most fantastic fashion designs ever. It was eye-candy, I tell you. I LOVED going back over and over and over the illustrations. I also loved the inclusion of quotations from noted fashion personalities.

I just really really really liked this book. I'm giving it my 'pick me' rating, and I think you should pick it too!

Market: Middle Grade
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Mature themes: None to speak of

Book formats:

October 2, 2011

THE BOOK THIEF, by Markus Zusak, 2005

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . . Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. (Amazon)

Review by Amy Finnegan — Writer, Reader, Bookshop Talk Host

It’s difficult to find the words to describe THE BOOK THIEF. The New York Times called it “Brilliant and hugely ambitious.” A few words that come to my own mind are beautiful, enlightening, heart-warming, heart-wrenching, joyful, courageous, and devastating.

The story of Liesel Meminger, and her supporting cast of unforgettable friends, is narrated by Death himself. Yes, I said Death. And what an interesting narrator he is—watching, ever watching, as the smallest details of human existence play out before him. Death is not as cruel as one might think. And he is certainly not as frightening. As Death puts it, he is the one who is actually “haunted by humans.”

The story takes place in the late 1930’s through the end of World War II. I had already known that many in Nazi Germany not only strongly opposed Hitler, but downright hated him, yet I had never read such an amazing account of characters who risked their lives daily to try to right the wrongs this horrible (!!!!) man was doing to millions of innocent people around the world. Citizens of Hitler’s own country hid Jews in their homes, cursed his name, refused to believe his poisonous propaganda, and . . . paid for it dearly.

Our heroine, Liesel (just nine-years-old when the story begins), is a front and center witness to the horrors of the Third Reich. Placed as a foster child into the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, she is comforted by her devoted “Papa” (Hans), who among other wonderful things, plays his accordion for her, and most importantly, teaches her how to READ!

And oh, what a wonderful world Liesel discovers through reading. Having already stolen her first book after her brother’s funeral (an abandoned Gravedigger’s Handbook), she steals again out of a pile at one of Hitler’s infamous book burnings. And thus, the pillaging continues, all for the sake of her insatiable desire to read more and more and more.

One book in particular actually saves the life of a Jewish man, Max Vandenburg, when along his journey to the Hubermann’s home (to be hidden in their basement).

And then there’s the adorable Rudy Steiner, so head-over-heels in love with Liesel that for the longest time, the only way he knows how to show his affection is to call her horrible names, then in the following sentence, beg her for a kiss. The two not only steal books together, but apples for their very hungry stomachs. And their adventures grow more serious as the war progresses. 

Even with all the moments of awful sadness, I still smiled through the larger portion of this book. In the remaining parts of the story, I sobbed so hard I could no longer see the words. But through ALL of it, I marveled with wide eyes at the beauty of the writing.

In short, THE BOOK THIEF is a masterpiece. I’ve never read anything else quite like it. And I will certainly never forget it.

Market: Young Adult/Adult Fiction
Language:  Moderate
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: war, death, tyranny, the holocaust and everything ugly that went along with it.

Book formats:

PS. To hear Markus Zusak discuss his inspiration for this book, and why he chose Death as the narrator, follow the link here (scroll down the page a bit, and you’ll see the video).

PPS. Hitler was the biggest a** in history!! Just sayin’.