The Life We Bury

51W8NpvI0fL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Life We Bury

by Allen Eskens

Joe Talbert is a college student tasked with a writing assignment for his English class – interview an elderly person and write a brief biography.  Joe finds Carl Iverson in a nearby nursing home, a Vietnam veteran convicted of rape and murder and dying of cancer.  As Carl relates his life’s story, Joe cannot reconcile the hero in war with the man that raped and murdered an innocent girl.  With the help of his neighbor, Lila, he works to uncover the truth.  As he digs deeper into the case, he struggles to manage his constantly drunk mother and autistic brother.  Slowly, Joe begins to uncover the hidden facts of Carl’s conviction.  But as he learns more, the danger increases.  It is up to him and Lila to find the truth before disaster strikes.

For me, this book was a page-turner, as the plot made the book very suspenseful.  Joe comes to Carl expecting simply to fulfill a homework assignment, but instead is pulled into something far darker.  Almost every chapter contained a new discovery waiting to be read, adding to the mystery.  At the end of every chapter, I couldn’t wait to start reading the next one, knowing it would contain yet another revelation – something that would either bring clarity or add to the confusion.

Joe is a character who sometimes wishes to be more than he is.  His autistic brother, Jeremy, seems to have gotten all the qualities of a good physique – greater height, wider frame, and curling golden hair.  While Joe does not resent his brother for it, he does occasionally regret his lacking in this area.  But while Jeremy may have the looks, Joe will need the brains as he plays his dangerous game.

As you can imagine, Joe has an interesting relationship with his brother and a terrible one with his mother, adding another layer of complexity to the story.  With the mind of a child, Jeremy is incapable of having a normal, mature conversation.  Joe clearly loves his brother, but Jeremy’s disability in combination with his mother’s alcoholism and unpredictable behavior makes it difficult for him to manage his own life.

The main characters were very well-developed, a must-have for mysteries.  As the story progresses, more details and past events are revealed about each character, adding to their depth and giving the reader more understanding of the characters’ actions.  Some things remain a mystery until the author chooses to uncover the facts, while others pop up suddenly, surprising the reader, but are explained almost immediately after.

Although this book is relatively easy to read with no difficult vocabulary, it does contain some rather strong language.  Most of the profanities come from Joe’s mother, who is, after all, a drunk, but a good portion of them also come from Joe himself.  The theme is very mature, as it has to do with murder and rape.  Chapter 14 contains a description of a burned corpse, while Chapter 23 details a short, but rather descriptive account of a rape and murder.  There is also a brief sexual scene at the end of chapter 39 to watch out for.  Chapters 14 and 23 leave very little to the imagination, while Chapter 39 is more vague and allows the reader to fill in most of the details.  Overall, The Life We Bury is for a more mature audience.

Although it may not have been written for this purpose, this story serves as a reminder that to judge before knowing all the facts or too readily believing others’ claims is often a fatal mistake that can lead to drastic consequences.  This is an excellent book and I would highly recommend it – as long as you think you can handle the content.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

boystripedpajamasThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

It is 1942.  Nine-year-old Bruno comes home one day to discover that all his belongings are being packed into boxes.  His father, a soldier, has just been promoted, and they are moving to a house far away, outside of Berlin.  At first, Bruno sulks, mourning the loss of his three best friends and the old house, which was much bigger and had a banister to slide down.  Soon, though, he remembers how he used to explore back in Berlin and decides to go for a walk one day.  It is this decision that leads him to a boy who sits on the other side of a long, tall fence where there are hundreds of strange people all wearing the same grey, striped pajamas.  And it is his friendship with this boy that leads to unexpected and drastic consequences.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and I frequently look for one to read.  When I searched “historical fiction books,” this book caught my eye because I had watched the movie several years before and really liked it.  This seemingly simple story has a much deeper meaning than what might originally be thought, given its presentation.

The author chose a writing style that is very easy to read, one that presents Bruno’s thoughts directly to the reader, as if following all his thought processes exactly as they happen in his mind.  As you might expect from a nine-year-old, his thoughts are often very immature.  In addition, he seems to be very pleased with the conclusions he comes to and sees himself as mature – at least much more mature than his irritating sister Gretel makes him out to be – and very knowledgeable.

There are many events in the book that Bruno does not understand, but that are told in such a way that the reader knows perfectly well what is going on, even though nothing is explained explicitly.  I thought this was an interesting way to tell a story, and it actually appealed to me.  It gives the reader a sense of what the mind of a young boy must seem like to those much older.

Occasionally, Bruno mispronounces the names of certain places or people, and this lends a certain meaning or character to what he is mispronouncing.  For example, Bruno calls Hitler “the Fury.”  He is trying to say “Führer,” but is unable to correctly pronounce the word.  However, the implications the author is trying to make are clear.  One can see how the word “fury” might be related to Hitler.

Since it had seemed there were no other children near their new home, Bruno is delighted when he meets Schmuel, the boy on the other side of the fence.  He sees him as a possible friend, one to replace those he lost after moving from Berlin.  It is an interesting relationship, as they must talk to each other through the wire fence and cannot interact physically.  He tells no one of his new friend, however, and one cannot help but wonder if this was a grave mistake.

The author seems to be cautioning readers to take care: wrong choices can have terrible consequences.  He is referring, I think, not to Bruno, but to another character in the book, one which I will not reveal so that you may realize it for yourself.

Having already watched the movie, I could anticipate the occurrences of most of the major events, but this did not lessen my enjoyment of the book in the least.  I would highly recommend this book for everyone except the very young.  Young children may not be able to fully understand the implications of this story.  However, I think a wide range of readers, including those on the younger side, will enjoy and appreciate this book.

The Glass Castle

71VBpx0qsmLThe Glass Castle

by Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle is the true story of Jeanette Walls and the events that shaped her, beginning with her childhood and following her into early adulthood.  When she was a child, her family was always on the move, usually running from some sort of trouble.  They skipped from town to town, making a living however they could and often going hungry for lack of food.  Throughout all this, Jeanette and her siblings learned to be self-dependent and to make use of whatever came their way.  This book is the story of her struggle to survive and ultimately, to succeed.

The storyline follows Jeanette’s family, made up of herself, her brother, her sister, and her parents, as they move from place to place in an effort to stay alive.  Her family never considers any one place as “home,” as they never stay anywhere for long enough.  Given that they are always on the move, Jeanette has no real friends and develops close ties with her siblings.  Her father is a drunk who comes up with grand plans and excuses in an attempt to ensure that his family does not believe him to be simply squandering all their money on booze for himself.  Her mother seems to sometimes see raising children as a burden and often puts her own interests before her children’s.

Jeanette’s family has a peculiar chemistry.  Any other family with such mismatched personalities would most likely have fallen apart within a year, but this family somehow managed to remain together despite the individual differences and constant fighting.  The relationships between the family members make the story that much more interesting, causing the reader to be amazed at the resilience of the Walls family.

As Jeanette grows older, it is evident that she is becoming more independent and less naïve, qualities necessary for survival in the environment of her childhood.  She learns to care for herself and to draw support from her siblings, while at the same time providing support for them in return.  She begins to see through her father’s charm and realize how his drinking habits are affecting the family.  But despite this, she continues to love him as you would only love family.

There is occasional foul language from Jeanette’s father, appearing mostly when he fights with others, as he enjoys flinging filthy names and insults at his opponent.  The theme, while not inappropriate, may be a bit mature for younger readers and could potentially bore them.

In general, books that portray the struggles of the protagonist appeal to me.  It provides another layer to the story, in a way its own story, or rather, a sub-story of the book.  The Glass Castle actually features Jeanette Walls’ struggles as the main story – her struggles with her parents, with being able to procure enough money to buy warm clothes for the winter, with simply finding enough food to fill her stomach.  This is the main reason why I enjoyed this book and why I would recommend it to other mature readers who share my views.  Even if books that feature the main character’s struggles are not your favorite, I still believe you would be able to enjoy this book.  It is not exciting in the same way as your typical spy story, but it provides extensive insight into the life of a poor family struggling to survive on almost nothing in an unfriendly environment.

A Thousand Nights

athousandnights_cvrA Thousand Nights

by E. K. Johnston

The cruel ruler Lo-Melkhiin has already taken three hundred girls to wife and killed them all, one by one.  Now he is coming to her village, and she knows who he will take – her beautiful sister.  She vows she will not let that happen.  And so she takes her sister’s place and becomes Lo-Melkhiin’s next wife, fully expecting death to follow soon after.  But night after night, Lo-Melkhiins visits her and listens to her stories, and in the morning she awakes to see the sun in the sky.  Little by little, she begins to unravel the secrets of the ruler and discovers that he was not always cruel.  Once he was good.  But one day he went hunting in the desert and when he came back, he was no longer the same man.  As she continues her life in Lo-Melkhiin’s palace, her sister is back in their village, calling upon the desert winds to aid her as she mourns.  Back at the palace, she begins to find her own power, power that gives life to her words and her work.  Soon she dreams of great power strong enough to save the king from the monster that possesses him now.  In this retelling of the famous One Thousand and One Nights, E. K. Johnston weaves a powerful story of good battling against evil.

I chose this book mainly because it is based on One Thousand and One Nights.  It is also a fantasy, one of my favorite genres.  I had read One Thousand and One Nights as a child, and I thought it would be interesting to compare the two and note the similarities and differences.  As it turns out, the two stories are similar only in that they both involve a girl who is taken by a cruel ruler and who must tell a new story every night in order to survive.

In this book, which is written in first person, the only names ever mentioned are Lo-Melkhiin’s and two of the Skeptics, philosophers of the palace that ponder the mysteries of the universe.  Everyone else is merely given a label such as “my sister,” “my sister’s mother,” or “Lo-Melkhiins’s mother.”  I have never read a book before in which the author chooses not to name the characters.  Although this may seem confusing, it was not, as the labels made it clear to whom the author was referring.  This lends the story an interesting quality, as if those with names are somehow more real and present than those without.  Perhaps the author wished the audience to form their ideas of the characters from their words and actions only, without the influence of names.

The vocabulary in this book is relatively simple; there should be no words that pose a difficulty to young readers.  Despite the use of simple words, however, the author is able to weave descriptions that put clear, colorful images in your mind.

The character development focuses mainly on the sister who was taken to Lo-Melkhiin’s palace because the story is told from her viewpoint.  As the story unfolds, it also reveals bits and pieces of what happened to Lo-Melkhiin, leading the audience to understand more about him, or rather, the monster that possesses him.

This book contains good, clean language and there are no inappropriate scenes to avoid.  This is an entertaining fantastical story that I believe both the young and old alike can enjoy.

Spycatcher

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Spycatcher

by Matthew Dunn

Matthew Dunn creates a breathtaking spy story in his book Spycatcher.  Will Cochrane is the CIA and MI6’s deadliest asset and has never been outsmarted.  Now, however, that may all be about to change.  Will’s authorities task him with tracking down and neutralizing one of the most wanted terrorist masterminds.  Will devises what he believes to be a perfect plan, but he soon discovers that this man is more dangerous and cunning than any other he has ever faced.

My mom knows I love spy stories, and when she went to the library to pick up some books for me, it just so happened to be Spy Month.  Spycatcher was one of the librarian’s recommendations, so my mom checked it out and brought it home.  Needless to say, I was elated when I saw it, and I was not disappointed when I read it.

The plot seems relatively simple – find the terrorist and stop him.  However, with surprises waiting behind every door and betrayal around every corner, it becomes much more complex.  In the beginning, the author hints at Will’s dark past, but avoids delving too deeply into it, leaving the reader to ponder the mystery.  Bit by bit, the story is revealed, and eventually the reader understands who Will really is and why he is what he is.  Overall, the author does an excellent job of developing Will’s character, but chooses not to do the same with the other characters in the book.

As a former MI6 field operative, Matthew Dunn was able to use his experience to make the details of the story accurate, but, as usual, a story without added drama is likely to be less interesting, and Dunn incorporates this into his book as well.  In general, there is very little foreshadowing in Spycatcher, and most unexpected events or revelations that occur are presented in a calm manner, belying their importance.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, however; it is simply a different style.

Dunn’s style of writing, while not a beautiful one, is simple and easy to read.  Occasionally, the structures of consecutive sentences are a bit too similar, making for writing that does not flow smoothly.  Most of the book contains clean language.  It is not until roughly the second half of the book, when the stakes grow higher, that Will begins occasionally cursing.  The amount of violence in this book is what one would normally expect from a spy book – not gory, but just the amount necessary to tell the story.  There is a brief description of a dead body in chapter 22, but it contains very little detail.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially for spy story lovers.  While it may not possess the most literary value, it will be an entertaining read in your spare time.