The Reader

  4W, 3H

Schlink, Bernhard. (p.1995). The Reader. New York; Vintage Books. 218 pages. $13.95 pbk.

ISBN #: 978-0-307-45489-8

Reviews:

New York Times, Bestsellers

Annotation:  

Young Michael Berg has a passionate affair with Hanna, an older woman, only realizing her true past when she is charged with a heinous crime.

Summary:  

Fifteen year old Michael Berg meets Hanna, a woman twice his age, when he gets sick outside her tenement building on his way home from school.  When he returns months later to thank her for her kindness, a love affair begins.  For reasons known only to Hanna, she disappears.  Michael does not cross paths with her again until ten years later when she is in court on charges of war crimes committed as an SS Officer.

Part I of the story is a sexual feast as experienced by a 15 year old young man who has captured the interest of an older woman.  The guilt and confusion that inevitably build from the relationship affects Michael throughout the novel.  Part II, ten years later, takes the story through the trial where Michael is faced with the truth of Hannah.  Part III allows for the adult Michael to dissect his experiences and attempt to find meaning and justification not just for his actions but also for the actions of those Germans who are still dealing with the horrors of the previous generation.

Evaluation:

Narrated in the first person, The Reader is a complex, beautifully written story that explores German society post World War II through the eyes of a young man.  Michael’s character is simultaneously questioning and accepting of the events surrounding him ultimately shaped by his affair with Hanna, a woman he really never knew.  Although some may find the subject and situations objectionable (i.e. the affair of a fifteen year old boy with a 35 year old woman), the characters portrayed are dealing with issues pertinent to the era that many may not have even considered.   The writing is compelling and almost lyrical.  It enhances the narrator’s inner turmoil as the story unfolds.

Genre/Subgenre:

Adult Fiction

Readalikes:

 Beatrice and Virgil by Yan Martel

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

 Awards/Lists:

New York Times Notable Books-Fiction and Poetry – 1997

Oprah’s Book Club – 1999

Book Discussion Questions

Do you think The Reader is a love story? How would you describe Michael and Hanna’s relationship?

“So what would you have done?” (p. 111)  How would you respond to this question posed by Hanna to the judge?

Do you think their is a connection between literacy and morality? Do you think Schlink is suggesting such a connection?

Reasons for selection:

The Reader is a well-known novel later made into a movie starring Kate Winslet.  When I told a librarian about my RA project and need for a variety of literature, she recommended this book to me.  I’m glad she did.  It was not something I would have normally picked up but I was drawn into the story from the start.

Purgatory Ridge

  3W, 3H  —  Audio Book

Krueger, William Kent. (p.2001). Purgatory Ridge.  Spokane, WA; Books in Motion. 12 audio discs (13 hr). $69.00.  Read by Jerry Sciarrio.

ISBN #: 1581167733

Reviews:

Publishers Weekly; Kirkus Review

Annotation:  

When Cork O’Connor’s family is kidnapped along with that of wealthy industrialist, Karl Lindstrom’s, Cork must figure out the real motive before more people die.

Summary:  

A bombing and subsequent murder of an Indian elder at the local lumber mill causes even more tension among the people of Aurora, Minnesota.   Due to an environmental uproar over the planned destruction of 300 year old trees sacred to the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe Tribe, Our Grandfathers, the town has been overrun by outside environmental groups, most notably “Echo Warrior” who has claimed responsibility for the bombing.  Karl Lindstrom, the lumber mill owner, has been at the center of the controversy and hires Cork to look into “Echo Warrior” on the side.  Since Cork is part Ojibwe and had been the Sheriff in Aurora a couple years back, Karl knew that Cork could be trusted to straddle the communities to get to the bottom of it.  When both Cork’s and Karl’s families are kidnapped, Cork must rely on his own intuition to determine who is behind the abductions and the true motivations of the criminal.

Evaluation:

Krueger does not disappoint with this third edition in his Cork O’Connor series.  The story starts off with a bang, literally, with the bombing and death of an elder tribe member.  The reader is effectively led into believing certain truths but then the author draws the reader back to take a different view of the surrounding events.   As with Krueger’s first two novels in the series, the wilderness comes alive in Purgatory Ridge as water, trees and weather play a part in the mayhem surrounding Cork’s quest to free his family.  And although the mystery is not so much of a who-done-it, readers will enjoy the twists and turns taken to culminate the tale.

Jerry Sciarrio’s reading is engaging and believable.  The characters are clearly defined and his straightforward delivery helps articulate the honor behind the words spoken by the Ojibwe tribe.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery

Readalikes:

Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

Tularosa by Michael McGarrity

 Awards/Lists:

Minnesota Book Award: Genre Fiction

Dilys Award

Northeast Minnesota Book Award

Book Discussion Questions:

There are a lot of crimes in this story.  How did you feel about their resolution?  Did Krueger do a good job of wrapping things up?

What role did Echo Warrior play in this story?

Krueger’s criminals have different motivations.  Were they clearly delineated?

Reasons for selection:

This is the third book in Krueger’s Corcoran O’Connor mystery series.  The atmosphere of the Minnesota North-west is beautifully described letting the reader envelope themselves in the bleak, cold, crisp settings.  The O’Connor family is simultaneously warm and flawed which develops nicely through the series.  I am always drawn to modern mysteries in natural environments and Krueger’s stories are a bulls-eye.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows

I am half-sick of shadows: a Flavia de Luce novel    4W, 4H

Bradley, Alan. (2011).  I am Half-Sick of Shadows.  New York: Delacorte Press. 320 pages.  $17.99.

ISBN  978-0385344012.

Reviews: 

National Post Review;  The Globe and Mail

Annotation:  

Flavia de Luce, a precocious 11 year old, puts her sleuthing skills to the test when a famous actress is murdered at the family estate.

Summary:  

It’s a few days before Christmas in Bishop Lacey, a fictional village in post World War II England.  As outlined in previous novels, the de Luce’s have financial troubles so to help bring in more money, Flavia’s widowed father, Colonel de Luce, has rented out the family estate, Buckshaw, to a film crew.  The famous actress Phyllis Wyvern will be starring in the film and while all the household is starstruck, it is Flavia that earns her trust.  In the middle of a snow storm that strands the majority of the villagers at the estate, Flavia discovers that Phyllis Wyvern has been murdered.   And although the local police do not always appreciate her help, there is a grudging admiration for her sly and effective ways of always putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Evaluation:

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels always deliver.  The appeal of these books lies in the unique 11 year old perspective that is delivered through the precocious and adventurous eyes of Flavia.  She is the youngest of three girls whose widowed father has detached himself from the world through stamp collection and the older sisters are a constant source of irritation.  Yet Flavia’s keen determination for the truth drives this independent child into situations normally avoided by children her age and most adults for that matter.  And while she is helping to put together the clues of the murder, she is bound and determined to prove her sisters wrong by developing a plan to “capture” Father Christmas on the roof of Buckshaw before he has a chance to get down the chimney.  In true Flavia style, both mysteries are solved simultaneously with impressive energy.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

A fatal grace by Louise Penny

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Book Discussion Questions:

How did Flavia put her chemistry passion to use in this novel?  What has been your favorite use of chemical observations in this series?

Bradley dives deeper into the de Luce family relationships with each novel.  How are Flavia’s observations of her family changing?

At the beginning of the novel, we are in the midst of Flavia’s dream.  How does the dream define Flavia?

Reasons for selection:

This is the 4th novel in the Flavia de Luce series and I have opened every one with great anticipation.  Flavia was introduced to me by a long-time Adult Services librarian who sensed my appreciation for mystery, wit and the cozy feel of the English countryside.  Perhaps this is Harriet the Spy with an even greater IQ and a lot of access.  After all, not every child has their own fully operational chemistry lab!

The Good Lord Bird

GLB  4W, 4H  —  Audio Book

McBride, James. (p.2014, c.2013). The Good Lord Bird. Penguin Audio. 12 audio discs (14 hr., 36 min.). $59.99.  Read by Michael Boatman.

ISBN #: 9781624067105

Reviews:    New York Times Book Review    NPR article

Annotation:  

This fictional memoir tells the adventures of a slave boy, mistaken for a girl, who runs with Abolitionist John Brown, from Kansas to Harper’s Ferry.

Summary:  

Henry Shackleford narrates the tale of his days in 1857 Kansas Territory when he was kidnapped by the notorious Abolitionist John Brown, mistaken for a girl and unintentionally became John Brown’s good luck charm nicknamed Little Onion.  Realizing that he had better chances of survival maintaining his identity as a girl, Little Onion’s adventures with John Brown’s army spans 2 years, taking him from Kansas to Missouri to Canada and ultimately to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859.  And although the horror of slavery is apparent, McBride relates it through the eyes of an older Henry Shackleford who was caught up in the adventure while growing up midst all the chaos and uncertainty that plagued the country at that time.

Evaluation:

Michael Boatman skillfully brings to life the characters that James McBride created to tell the story of John Brown’s notorious army and bloody drive to eradicate freedom for the slaves.  Humor and a wide-eyed,  naive outlook, as only a 12 year old slave boy could have, bring this story to life and captures the brutality, turmoil and confusion in these pre-Civil War days.  Reminiscent of Mark Twain, McBride’s writing allows Boatman to use the diction and vocabulary of the 1850’s to effectively represent each character.  John Brown’s affinity for prayer and quoting the bible are well represented in this presentation leaving the listener with a clear picture of the Abolitionist and the mission on which he believed God had sent him.  Little Onion’s forays into saloon life, gathering up an army, avoiding romantic interludes and learning about life as a girl through a boy’s eyes keeps the reader engaged and eager for more.  A definite addition to any collection.

Genre/Subgenre:

Historical Fiction/Western

Readalikes:

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks, Flash for Freedom by George MacDonald Fraser

Awards/Lists:

National Book Award for Fiction – 2013

New York Times Bestseller List

A Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Oprah Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year

Book Discussion Questions:

What is your favorite “Onionism” when he/she describes John Brown?

How did you react to the language/colloquialism of the book?  Was it difficult to follow, believable, kept you entertained?

How does the Prologue set the tone for the book?

Why do you think James McBride chose this title for the story?

Reasons for selection:

This was part of Nancy Pearl’s 2013 “Books That Make Great Gifts” ALA presentation.  She described it as being a western, a genre I hadn’t picked up in a while.  I was intrigued with the idea of learning more about John Brown and I’m so glad that I chose it.