Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Storyteller By Jodi Picoult

The Storyteller By Jodi Picoult

I take this break from the regularly scheduled 100 books in order to write this review. I read my first Jodi Picoult book when I was 13 years old, My Sisters Keeper was on the summer reading list going into 9th grade and I remember sitting on my lounge chair outback and sobbing over the ending. Since that day I have read each of Picoult's 20 books and when I heard that another one was out yesterday I took a break from my 100 book project and had to read this. I am so very glad that I did.

The Storyteller is about a girl named Sage Singer, she lives in a small town in New Hampshire and works at the local bakery as their bread and pastry chef. At the very young age of 25 she has lost both of her parents and is attending a grief group every week to come to peace with the loss. While some people have scars on the inside of their mourning, Sage is left with a long vertical scar from her eyebrow through her cheek, a remnant of the car accident that took her mothers life and stole her vanity. Sage was never an outgoing people person, but since the accident she has taken to staying in her home and baking the bread for the bakery throughout the night.

Then one week, her friendless situation changes, a man from grief group named Josef comes into the bakery one night right before closing. She tells him that he must stay and finish his coffee while he waits for the bus to come and collect him. Even though it is after business hours Sage finds herself letting Josef stay each and every night and date by date Sage finds herself getting into a sort of friendship with this 95 year old man. He is beloved by the entire town, was the German teacher at the high school, reffed little league, she finds him to be harmless and for the first time since the accident feels like someone likes her for her company and isnt nervous about her scars.

That is, until Josef tells her that he must confess something and he must ask the biggest favor of his entire life. Sage hesitantly agrees and is shocked to learn that Josef was a Nazi in the second world war and he has come to her to ask for help in dying. Sage has never considered herself religious, but her parents were both extremely jewish, both sisters had bat mitzvahed, and although it was rarely talked about, her grandmother Minka was a survivor of the holocaust. Josef has come to her seeking forgiveness and The Storyteller makes the reader question whether several years of horrible crimes can be over-shined by years of atonement and good deeds. Sage now has to make the decision of what to do with this information while contemplating the fine line between mercy and murder.

Let me say this now... This is by no means a typical Picoult novel. Her books, as far as I can remember, always involve chapters and chapters of court litigation, that is not the case when it comes to this novel. Instead we are given heart breaking stories of the concentration camps and how Minka suffered during the war. We are given chapters and chapters of Sage coming to terms with the grief of losing both of her parents at such a young age and feeling like with her scar no one can truly love her. We are also faced with chapters and chapters of tender moments between people in Sage's life who have overlooked her scars, both physical and mental..

I felt a real person connection to this book because I am a practicing Jew. I found myself humming along when Sage would talk about Shabbat services. I found my mouth watering as she talked about making the challah with her grandmother that had been passed down for generations, and most of all I felt myself crying along while reading the horrors of what had happened to Jewish people during the war.

This was not an easy read by any means, but I found myself devouring every single word and staying up until almost 3 am needing to finish it. I suggest this read to anyone who can understand the ache in your gut that comes with missing someone and the thrill in your heart when you realize that you will live and love again. This is a fantastically heart wrenching book and I am very grateful to Picoult for writing it. I shall say an extra prayer at Shabbat services on Friday, because these characters have now stolen a place in my heart that is not likely to fade away anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

#75- If I Stay By Gayle Forman

#75- If I Stay

Rating- 8.5/10

I had read this book before (in fact I lost my copy, bought another one for the project and then came across my other copy so now I have two books in my bookshelf.) and knew that I enjoyed it so I was happy to pick this one up again for the re-read.

If I Stay is a book about a girl named Mia who is in a terrible car accident that kills her entire family. We are introduced to her family, her boyfriend, her friends, and her life through a state of sub-concious. She lets us know about them through first person story telling and we dont get much interaction from others. After the accident Mia is in a coma and the story follows her in a trance like state watching everyone around her at the hospital and seeing how this tradegy is affecting everyone else in her life. As somewhat evident by the title, Mia the soul/spirit/ghost/however you choose to look at what she is, must now decide whether she wants to stay on Earth or go to Heaven (or where ever her parents may be depending on what you believe) with the rest of her family. 

Let me first say that the description of this book on the NPR list is completely inaccurate. It claims that when she wakes up she has no memory of her life and must decide what to do with it, thats completely untrue. We are following her the entire time in a trance like state and she doesnt ever forget what has happened to her... I thought it was strange that was how they chose to describe it. 

I found this book really heart wrenching, given the description you now know that her entire family dies (it says so on the cover, no spoilers I promise) and the way that her character deals with this is extremely difficult to read. Not in the I cant read this kind of way, but in the I feel really sad for this person, yet want to know what happens next kind of way.

I personally really enjoy sad books, I think that seems to be the way books are going these days (people have labeled it sick-lit, I politely disagree) and I think its because when we read we want to feel the emotion behind it. So this book delivers in that aspect. 

Along with the family dying tear-jerking parts, we are introduced to Mia's boyfriend. The story of how they meet and fall in love is really well done and I found myself really liking the guy as the pages continued. This made it even more sad when he comes into the hospital and into the picture. Mia's best friend is also introduced and while she was an important aspect I cant quite think of everything exceptional to write about her, but she was a good friend in certain circumstances and I understand why she was written in.

Overall, a very good read, get ready to cry, but also be touched and inspired due to the secondary characters in the narrators life.

“Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you.” 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

#87- Daughter of Smoke and Bone By Laini Taylor

#87- Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Rating- 6/10

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a fan of fantasy books. I read books to imagine a different life for myself, so I usually prefer books with characters I can relate to and place into my own life. For that reason and a few others this book was not one of my favorites.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is about a girl named Karou (also a pet peeve, when authors include names that are impossible to pronounce, whatever happened to plain old Anna or Kate?) who lives a secret life. On the surface she goes to an art school in Prague and maintains a relationship with her best friend Zuzana (another one of those names) and draws mysterious creatures in her sketch book. To everyone else these are strange creatures that Karou imagines in her head. To Karou, they are family.

Karou was raised by mystical creatures called chimaera, parts of animals and humans morphed together to create a creature of magical proportion. They can be leaders and fighters and although they are scary, Karou loves them. In their world they trade teeth for wishes, and Karou is sent on missions all around the world. She opens one door and is sent into another country and when she knocks back on that door is sent back into the shop to give her teeth for approval to her father figure Brimstone. He has been taking care of her as long as she can remember and in return for her teeth errands he gives her strands of beads with wishes on them. She uses these for petty reasons such as turing her hair blue or giving her enemy thick ever growing eyebrows, much to Brimstones dismay.

She is living in her happy strange world, that is until one day, when all of the doors burst into flames and a strange man comes into her world, named Akiva. He is trying to kill her, saying that she is the devil. On a run for her life and trying to figure out what is true and what is false, Karou leads us down a mysterious path to the story of her life.

Here's the deal. I found myself really intrigued with this book in the middle, it was fast paced and I didnt want to put it down. That is until they started adding in all of this confusing flashback back story. I couldnt figure out what was important and what was real current life and I found myself flipping through the pages impatiently wanting to know the ending. I think one of the most important parts of a book is making sure to give your readers enough of the ending throughout the book so that they arent constantly flipping pages confused and wanting more.

For those reasons and my general dislike of extreme fantasy books I wasnt a fan of this. I could see where different reading styled people would really enjoy this book and I am not completely opposed to suggesting it to people, there is a reason that it made the top 100. I just wasnt a fan.

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there's no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

#28- Uglies By Scott Westerfeld

#28- Uglies

Rating- 8.5/1o

I would say that the biggest flaw in my reading goal is that I only really have time to read the first book in each series on this list. I guess another flaw would be that the books rated were allowed to be series... it would be a whole lot easier to only allow singular books. Because I am only getting a small glipse of the story that people are really voting on its difficult to accurately review and judge it by its ranking.

I have read the entire uglies series previous to finding this list, and I remember liking it but couldnt remember exact plot details. I was really getting into uglies and when I flipped to the last page found myself wishing the story would continue because I wanted to know what happens next. I will have to decide whether I have time now or will wait until after August to finish the remainder of the series.

Uglies follows a girl named Tally Youngblood. She lives in a dystopian future (this seems to be a common trend in the top 100) where at the age of 16 everyone undergoes a surgery in order to become pretty. Until then being normal is considered ugly and people count down the days to their 16 birthday so they can become beautiful like everyone else. Tally has a late birthday and its the summer right before she turns 16 when we are introduced to the story. She is rather bored and trying to find some entertainment when she meets Shay. Shay happens to have the same birthday as Tally and they are both excited that they will have a companion until the surgery date.

As they get closer and closer to their birthdays Shay starts to have doubts. The girls are looking to adventure when Shay tells Tally that she wants to show her somewhere, out of the city. They travel to the ruins and once there Shay lets it be known that she doesnt want to have the surgery, that she wants to lose the idea of conventional beauty and just be herself. She has plans to run away with a man named David, to a town called The Smokes. She wants Tally to go with her.

After Tally refuses, Shay goes without her and Tally assumes that she will turn pretty as planned. That is, until her birthday when she is taken to the authorities who give her a drastic choice. Follow Shay to The Smokes and turn her in, or never turn pretty and live as an ugly for the rest of her life. Tally now has to make a decision that will change the rest of her life.

So as I said above, its difficult to completely rate a book when I know that there is still more to the story that needs to be read. Trying to ignore that fact and pretending that this is a singular story its very well done. I enjoy the characters, and the advancement of the storyline doesnt feel too slow or too rushed. 

I like the idea of a future where everyone looks exactly the same and while I get that its clearly a bad thing in this book I remember the first time I read it (I must have been 14 or 15) thinking that I wouldnt mind a society where people all looked the same so we weren't judged on our beauty but instead our mind. While i'm not sure the answer would be to make everyone unbelievably flawless at age 16 and make everyone younger than that believe that they are ugly and worthless, the idea could be cool with some work. Obviously there is much more to the book than changing looks and reading on you find out that becoming a pretty is much more dangerous than just getting plastic surgery, but the idea of it is very cool. Just seems that the government took it a step too far.

“But you weren't born expecting that kind of beauty in everyone, all the time. You just got programmed into thinking anything else is ugly.”