Sometimes, you just have to re-read a book…

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… and as I was between books anyway, I decided it was time to revisit ‘The Book Thief’.

The release of the film has prompted a fair amount of discussion around this book, and I realised that as I last read it 6 years ago, I’d forgotten most of it. Was it as good as I remembered?

The answer to that question is yes. It is a beautifully written book about the power of words, to both destroy and to save (at times, quite literally). The reader is drawn so entirely into the lives of Liesel (the book thief from the title) and her Papa, her friend Rudy and Max, the Jew that her family hide in the basement. It is also a reminder that when it comes to war, nothing is as simple as black and white.

For a book narrated by Death, it’s actually not as depressing as you might imagine,  although do be prepared to shed a few tears (or maybe more than a few).

‘Eleven Days’: I highly recommend this book.

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In case anyone hasn’t heard the story yet, I won a copy of this book on Facebook via a ‘like and comment’ competition.  The Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize site was running daily competitions to win each of the longlisted books and I happened to win this one.

‘Eleven Days’ wasn’t one of the books that I was particularly excited about, to be honest, and I would never have purchased a copy for myself in the shops. I would have been missing out, if that was the case.

At heart, this is a story about the fact that our children may be everything to us, but we will never be everything to them, and their decisions will take them down their own paths. It is a story about patriotism, warfare and sacrifice. And it broke my heart.

Through a series of flashbacks and letters we grow to know and care for the central characters, Sara and her son Jason, who is a Navy Seal. The book explores their relationship with each other, with his father and with the military and by the end of the book, the reader feels part of their lives. Be warned: this book made me cry. A lot. But it also drew me into another world, painted me a picture of the characters’ lives, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Even to those who (like me) would never ordinarily pick this kind of book for themselves.

‘The Other Typist’ Suzanne Rindell

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This book was an intriguing read that drew me into 1920s New York from the very start.

The protagonist, Rose Baker, can never really be described as likeable,  but that’s not really the intention of this novel,  which charts her obsession with the ‘other’ typist,  Odalie Lazare. As with any exploration of the ‘other’, the novel successfully leaves the reader questioning the darker side of human nature and our own reliability as the narrators of our own stories.

What really impressed me more than anything about ‘The Other Typist’ was that Rindell built up drama and suspense whilst resisting the urge to go too far – it would have been all too easy to paint an over-dramatic picture for the reader, but subtlety prevails.

I would definitely recommend ‘The Other Typist’ – well worth a read.

Six shorts: finalists for the 2014 Sunday Times Short Story Award

Firstly, can I just say that being able to read material like this is one of the reasons I love my kindle. I could download the collection of 6 short stories easily for just £2 – otherwise I’d probably never have given them a try.

I find short stories to be an interesting form of fiction – they can be exciting glimpses of great writing or (and sadly, this seems to happen all too frequently), little pieces of nothingness, that try to hard to be ‘deep’ whilst actually providing an unsatisfying reading experience.

This collection seemed to offer both in equal measure. My least favourites would probably be ‘The Shoe Thief of Shanghai’ and ‘Othello’. ‘The Shoe Thief…’ sadly just left me confused as to the story being told and I found the run-on sentences irritating,  rather than an effective structural device. And as for ‘Othello’ – I can’t quite put my finger on what left me cold with this one; perhaps I just didn’t feel that the characters resonated with me.

There were some wonderful short stories too, though.  I greatly enjoyed Anna Metcalfe’s ‘Number Three’ and its exploration of the differences in cultural and educational expectations between British and Chinese teachers.

My favourite story of the collection was ‘Nirvana’ by Adam Johnson. It could perhaps be described as a near-future sci-fi and explores communication and relationships. The characters find it easier to communicate with the dead than with each other, in a world where denial seems to be the driving force. And most worryingly, all too believable as a picture of the future.