Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

I picked up The Good Thief intending to read a few pages before bed but was unable to put it down before I finished. A 12-year old orphan at a Catholic orphanage, Ren has spend his whole life trying to unravel the mystery of his missing hand and missing family. Considered unadoptable because of his deformity, Ren had nothing to look forward to but conscription into the Army when he got too old for St. Anthony's- nothing that is until the day Benjamin Nab showed up claiming to be Ren's long-lost brother. Unfortunately, Ren soon learns that Nab's story is just a story; he in fact excels at telling people just what they want to hear.

One on level, this book is an enjoyable adventure story populated with colorful characters and some light humor. Much more compelling are Ren's attempts to unravel the mystery of his past while developing a moral code that is much less flexible than that of his savior. Enough hints of the truth are peppered throughout the story to prevent the reader from crying foul at the denouement (no spoilers here though!) and the action is well paced if sometimes a little over the top.

Both the plot and the writing style are strong; the Good Thief is an enjoyable read I will certainly recommend to friends.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Three days before her 10th birthday, Alice was taken by Ray. Now she is 15 and waiting for Ray to kill her. Unfortunately, Ray has a different plan- he wants Alice to find a new little girl to complete their family, a perfect little girl for him to love. Hollow inside from years of horrifying physical and sexual abuse, Alice can think only of being set free of Ray's incessant demands and twisted desires.

This book is deeply disturbing and only for mature readers. Alice is masterfully painted, her spare unemotional tone the legacy of years of physical and emotional torment. Her unflinching acceptance that death is likely her only escape provides a terrifying view into the mindset of an abuse victim.

I would have given the book five stars if the ending had been different. I don't want this review to be a spoiler so I cannot elaborate, but I think a different ending could have been simultaneously more satisfying to the reader and more challenging to the author. Regardless, Living Dead Girl is an unforgettable read.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Barely out of the hospital in CA, recovering from life-saving surgery, Towner Whitney is called home to Salem MA because her great-aunt Eva is missing. Towner reluctantly returns to the town she abandoned after the death of her twin sister, only to discover her great-aunt is dead. As Tonwer and others grapple with their belief that her uncle Cal is to blame, events in town escalate toward further violence. Towner herself starts to unravel as the secret of her past are brought to light in a journey toward self-discovery and redemption.

I made the mistake of starting this book in the evening and was unable to put it down. The power of Barry's writing is undeniable; her haunting narrative pulls you into Towner's reality, and it it only gradually that you realize just how skewed that reality is. This book is a sensitive and moving narrative of one woman's attempt to recover her past in order to ensure her future.

I highly recommend this book, which is one of the best I've read this year. Five strong stars.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This is an excellent addition to Holocaust literature for young adults. When nine-year old Bruno and his family move to "Off with" because of the "Fury", he is confused and angry- throughout the book, Bruno never really learns what is happening next door. Showing the camps through the eyes of a child on the outside of the fence was a novel technique and allowed for spare descriptions that underlined the looming horror. Once Bruno befriends a young Jewish boy, the reader knows the story isn't going to end well. Despite that knowledge, and the fact that the actual friendship is so unrealistic, Boyne's writing is so powerful that I still found myself tearing up at the end. I highly recommend this book for adults and teens alike.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff

I read this one because the title caught my eye, and was seriously disappointed. The beginning of the story tracing Marta's ordeal with the Gestapo and her subsequent time in a refugee hospital was by far the best part of the story, but once Paul's plane crashed, both the story and the book headed downhill. Thought it opened strongly, the book never really took off for me- neither of the two big shockers were at all surprising to me because they were so telegraphed ahead of time (though knowing they were coming didn't make them any more realistic or believable...) The book had potential, but I feel like it just glossed over the issues it raised, and I never really connected with any of the characters. I certainly won't be rushing out to pick up the Kommandant's Girl because I fear it will be an equally shallow treatment of a potentially interesting story.