Review: And All The Stars by Andrea K. Höst

16054889Blurb:

Come for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.

Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

Review:

For me, the twists and plot reveals in And All the Stars are among the novel’s strongest points, so this review will be vague and short in order to prevent spoilage.

This is a marvelous scifi/post-apocalyptic YA novel (there are tinges of romance and lots of action as well, so basically every genre ever is represented here). Here are the top reasons why you should read it:

1. a hilarious and original cast of characters: why is it that fictional characters are so much better than most of the people I interact with in real life? I always lament this fact, and in And All the Stars I met a bunch of new characters that struck me down with this sadness again. From Madeleine, the artsy protagonist, to Noi, the no-nonsense best friend, to all the boys from a local boarding school, there are too many possible favorites. Bonus factor: the characters are diverse! Go away completely heterosexual, white casts! And All the Stars features multiple races and sexual orientations.
2. an ode to friendship: if required to provide a main theme from this book, I’d say friendship and the importance of having people to rely on. This theme is well explored, especially through the inclusion of the aforementioned outstanding characters and their constant allusions to Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. All for one, one for all!
3. awesome plot twists: no elaboration here, because I want readers to experience them personally, but oh my god, they are worth it. Even minor plot reveals were stunning and really upped the stakes (not that they weren’t sufficiently upped, you know, with the apocalypse and all)

Some things I didn’t like (but shouldn’t discourage you from reading it!):

1. action scenes could be confusing:  In scenes with a lot of movement and fighting, I can get a little lost in who is doing what to whom.
2. mushy, overly feel-good epilogue: Another weakness I’ve noticed with Höst; she is a bit prone to overly perfect endings. This one especially stung since the final line of the actual book was so wonderfully ambiguous, which was then marred by the epilogue. It was somewhat ameliorated by a pretty good but not quite as good final epilogue line.

This is simply a fun read. I was particularly impressed because having read some of Höst’s earlier work, I can see that her craft has greatly improved, though it wasn’t too shabby to begin with! She is a promising author that I will be watching closely.

4 out of 5 stars

 

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Review: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

19063Blurb:

New York Times bestseller for seven years running that’s coming to movie theaters on November 15, 2013, this Printz Honor book by the author of I Am the Messenger is an unforgettable tale about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. 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.

The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Review:

In the span of two weeks, I’ve read two novels set during WWII despite hating war books. I enjoyed both of them (Code Name Verity and The Book Thief) for their unique take on the genre. The Book Thief takes place in Germany as the war effort is revving up and spinning out of control.

I appreciated Zusak’s originality. Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is full of his quips and asides, which refreshes this oft recounted tale. Characters are also multi-faceted; there is no heroic German who takes in a pitiable but hopeful Jew. I’d argue that even Hitler, a man whom history has rightfully represented as 100% pure evil, manages to demonstrate complexity. In The Book Thief, actions have consequences and choices are painted with ambiguity. Zusak does not sugarcoat the truths of wartime but he does not oversell them to the point of pity porn either. Triumph and loss are intertwined because humans can never, especially in times of war, separate the good from the bad.

I liked Zusak’s narrative choices as well. By choosing to narrate with Death, who benefits from near omnipresence and omniscience about the past, Zusak foreshadowed or in some cases outright exposed what was going to happen to characters. In normal circumstances, I’d expect the plot spoilers to mar my enjoyment of the novel, but in The Book Thief, it works extraordinarily well. We know the whats but not the whys, and discovering how things unfold leading up to Death’s announcements is the whole fun of it.

There is so much to analyze in this novel–the significance of colors, the state of childhood in wartime, the writing choices themselves–but what I’ll remember best are two themes: the power of language and the ambiguity of humankind. Liesel, our eponymous “book thief”, uses language to construct her world. Words can heal (they can make friendships; they can apologize) but they also can damage (they can start wars; they can denigrate an entire social identity). By finding the power of language throughout the novel, Liesel becomes a moral individual. But not all of her choices, nor the choices of the many other characters, are unequivocally good. In Death’s own words, he is “haunted by humans” because of their complexity of behavior, thought, and feeling. How can we be so capable of evil yet so capable of good? Countless authors have posed this question, but Zusak threads the answers (or non-answers) to this question into a broader historical and temporal fabric in a masterful way.

4 out of 5 stars

Soon to be a major motion picture! Box office prognosticators are predicting good things for the film which releases later this year, so make sure to read it before then. Here’s the trailer: