The Call of the Wild

TCotWbyJLI read a lot as a child, but I somehow missed out on a lot of children’s classics. I found some of these cute Puffin children’s classics on sale at Book Outlet after Christmas. So this year I am going to try to read some of them! The Call of the Wild was the first one I picked. In case you don’t already know the premise, Buck the farm dog gets taken away from his home and sold into the sled dog business. Along his tough journey he discovers his wild roots.

This was a good short novel. I felt that the length worked against it though. I just wanted more from the story. The dogs weren’t given much personality. I was interested in forming a connection with them and the humans, but the narrative was a little too distance for me to become attached to any of them. I would have liked the story to go a little slower and give more details about the environment and characters a little more, but perhaps it would have been too repetitive or dull if it were written that way. This probably won’t be my favorite children’s classic, but it was still a good little read.

The Miniaturist

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I have been wanting to read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton for a long time. It always seemed like I couldn’t find it or I’d forget it was a book on my “to buy” list when I went shopping. The plot really interested me. A young girl named Petronella (Nella) marries a wealthy merchant who buys her a cabinet house (doll house) as a “distraction.” Weird things begin to happen after she order miniatures for the house. I’ve had a fascination with small toys for a long time and the elements of magical realism in the book sounded right up my alley.

I was altogether pleased with this book. I thought it was a really good story, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I expected a lot more of the magical realism elements and on that front I was a little disappointed. Though I am a fan of open endings, I wanted more explanation about the miniatures. To be honest the book was less about magical realism and more of a drama. I thought the drama between characters was good, but it wasn’t what I signed up for. If you’re expecting a lot from the miniatures then maybe give the book a pass or at least go into it knowing that it isn’t quite as advertised.

As I said though, the drama was good. The book was difficult to put down. I wanted to know more about the mysteries. There were some good plot twists that actually took me by surprise and overall I enjoyed the characters. Most of the supporting cast were great. The main character, Nella, was a little flat and sometimes annoyed me with her repetitive thoughts, but she had some growth that was mostly believable by the end. The writing was good. It painted a good picture, read fast, and wasn’t overly bloated or flowery. I didn’t know how accurate the historical information was, but it felt real and gritty. However, the plot had almost too much to say. It was about the power of women in this time period, but it also tried to comment on religion, closed mindedness, greed, and a lot more. The pace was fast and it felt like tragedy after tragedy and mystery after mystery unfolded. Some people may like that, but I prefer a slower pace to book most of the time.

I was pleased with the novel. It didn’t measure up to my expectations and I felt that it could have done more with the miniatures and the miniaturist, but it was still a very good read.

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief is a highly acclaimed book that I just didn’t care for. I can appreciate what it is and what it is trying to do, but I just didn’t get the same feelings from it that others did. The Book Thief takes place during World War II in Germany. The narrator is Death. He tells the story of Liesel Meminger and the trials she and her friends/family face. The Book Thief is an important book and it is a good book for young people to get a glimpse of this time period though it may not be perfect or perfectly accurate. I did not enjoy it as much as I “should have.” Since this is such a popular book I feel like I’m supposed to sing its praises, but I only liked it and did not love it.

I listened to the audio book version so perhaps that had some influence of my opinion. The narration was actually pretty good. The voices for the characters were quite good, but I didn’t think that the writing lent itself to audio very well. I didn’t like how the beginning of each part had a list of characters that are featured within it. I also hated how many lists were in the book. It seemed like every few minutes I was getting a 1.), 2.), 3.) list of something. Both of these things really interrupted the flow of the reading for me.

Zusak writes well, I’ll give him that. He is often poetic, but I found some parts of the text very repetitive. Besides the lists I mentioned above the characters repeat themselves a lot. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” the constant cursing in German, and the descriptions of a character’s “lemon colored” hair got old fast. I understand that many people have certain phrases they say often, but I couldn’t help but get tired of hearing it. Perhaps it was another thing that was more obvious because of the audio book?

The main thing that really bothered me was how the story was told. I didn’t realize it was narrated by death until a few pages in. (Somehow I went into this blindly even though I was very late to the party on this one.) That alone is an interesting concept, but it also ruined things for me. Death would say something like, “something bad is going to happen to this character!” I get it. Death is telling this story from the past and/or he knows everyone’s fate, but it didn’t make me nervous for the characters or emotionally attached to them. I knew who was going to die so I didn’t get emotional about their deaths. Death didn’t even give me a spoiler alert. Maybe I’m just an idiot or a robot, but I didn’t understand the hype with this one.

The Marvels

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The Marvels by Brian Selznick is a great little book. Well, size-wise it is actually quite large. It is over 600 pages and quite heavy, but don’t be alarmed it is only about 200 pages of text. The rest is filled with beautiful black and white drawings. To explain, the first half has drawings that tell the story of the Marvel family from 1766 to 1900. Then the second half of the book begins in 1990 and is told through text. It is a creative little idea and everything gets explained and connected by the end.

This is a children’s book, but adults can easily enjoy it too. It doesn’t have an extreme amount of depth to the story or characters, but it was a fun little mystery to figure out the connection between the drawings and the text. Most of the text takes place during Christmas so it might be a nice book to look and at read during Christmas with your child. I guess I have to warn you that there are some homosexual references in the book in case that offends you for some reason. It’s such a good family, feel-good kind of story. I would recommend it to kids and adults alike. It is a gorgeous book to sit proudly on your bookshelf too!

Vengeance Road

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Now this is how revenge is done! (Unlike The Wrath and the Dawn from last week…). Lately young adult literature has just been boring. Everything is some kind of romance with a love triangle and more often than not the main character is a girl who needs a man in her life to “fix” her problems. Am I sounding a little too feminist? Maybe, but Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman is a breath of fresh air in this genre and it’s pretty darn good too.

The actions starts quickly. The books opens with Kate coming home to her house burnt and looted and her father swinging from a noose. She sets out to find who did this to her father and why. She poses as a boy for her own safety and finds out that her father was killed for gold and greed. The investigation leads her to learn a little too much about her father’s past. She makes some good friends along the way and learns about life, people, and herself. It is an exciting read and has some good twists and turns. There is a romance, but it is (thankfully) in the backseat of the plot. Kate makes it clear she doesn’t need anyone even if she sometimes wants someone. This is understandable since feels lonely after her father, the only family she had left, dies.

I found myself wishing there was a little more to the adventure. It starts fast and ends fast. It’s a little over 300 pages and it goes by quickly. I think there could have been more details and plot points, but I liked it. I didn’t think it was perfect or absolutely amazing, but it was fun and actually pretty gritty. I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting. I wish there were more strong females and fresh plots in young adult books like this.

Out of the Easy

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Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys intrigued me for many reasons. For one, it is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1950’s. It is also a murder mystery and a coming of age story. The combination of it all together in one book had me raising an eyebrow.

Our main character is Josie Moraine… the daughter of a prostitute. She is a smart girl who did very well in high school, but she doesn’t the money to go to college. She could go to a decent college in New Orleans, but everyone knows her mother’s “career” and she’s tired of being judged for her mother’s actions. More than anything she wants to leave New Orleans and start over. Her plans to leave town are suddenly interrupted when she gets caught up in a murder case and a trail of little white lies.

Despite the novel dealing with prostitution it was kept classy. Of course there were references to the “business,” but I never found it disgusting and it wasn’t very detailed. The important part of the novel didn’t deal with prostitution. It was merely part of what was tying Josie down and making her life difficult. How she grew, overcame her mother’s reputation, and her financial situation was the meat of the novel. Josie wanted a better life for herself more than anything. She was a believable character with flaws and she made mistakes. As the novel progressed she learned to stand up for herself and overcame obstacles with the help of a colorful cast of characters.

All of the characters were well written. Josie was great, but the supporting cast really won my heart. I loved the way Sepetys portrayed her characters. She wrote them in a way that captured their small movements- the way they chew gum, smoke a cigarette, or glance around- and it succeeded in bringing them to life. The only thing I didn’t like about the characterization was the small love triangle. However, I did like the resolution in the end. I think my main issue is that I’m a little tired of young adult romance. The feelings the characters had made sense, but the story didn’t absolutely need it to feel complete.

I really wanted to know what would happen to Josie and her personal problems, but the murder mystery part of the novel unfolded rather slowly. I was reading along and wondering when I’d hear more about the murder. Then suddenly a newspaper article would crop up and mention a new tidbit of information. That’s fine of course, but from the blurb on the book I was expecting more of the mystery and less of the coming of age story. That is not necessarily a bad thing because it was a wonderful heartfelt story that I really, really enjoyed. My expectations were a little off, but I was teary eyed by the end. I loved the book and I will definitely be checking out Sepetys’s previous novel and her new release coming soon!