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This is what the current stack of books looks like:

June book stack

Yep, still reading.

I did break for some sewing last week, a small quilt top of sunny yellows and whites. It’s pin basted; now I just need to decide how to quilt it. I’m stumped. I’m waiting for a stroke of genius to kick in.

sunshine quilt detail

Back to that stack of books.

I’ve read more in recent weeks than I can write about in one sitting, so I’ll pick two and hope to get to the rest in due time. I’m really enjoying myself. I’ve discovered some new things, and rediscovered old ones, and am generally relishing this deep dive into fiction.

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book thiefThe Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

So. This was the book at the bottom of the first library pile that I put off reading, not sure I really wanted to go along with Zusak to WWII Germany. The first chapter of this book made me sit up and pay attention, though, pulling me right into the story whether I wanted to go there or not.

Death narrates The Book Thief, blunt and unsentimental but also weary and at times gentle. It’s Death’s voice, his unusual and sometimes lyrical descriptive choices and unflinching perspective, that gives this book such power. It’s also the book’s weakness – at times Death’s creative adjectives seem too forced and he goes on too long.

Then again, who wishes to hurry Death? I suppose he can take as much time as he likes.

Liesel arrives in Molching a shell-shocked foster child, days after the death of her brother and uncomprehending of the sacrifice her mother has just made. She’s taken in by the gentle Hans Hubermann and his foul-mouthed wife Rosa, who grow to love the skittish child and try to give her a secure home and an education even as they struggle to survive in Nazi Germany. Liesel makes a few friends and haphazardly acquires her first books, while the city around her becomes more and more torn apart by the war and her foster parents shelter a terrified Jew in their basement.

What sticks with me most, a few weeks out from reading The Book Thief, is that I forgot which side I was on as I read. Yes, this is WWII Germany and Liesel’s neighbors are members of the Nazi Party. But Death is impartial as he plucks souls from battered bodies on both sides of the front. Tragedy comes to Molching just as surely as it does to London or Paris.

The Book Thief is a snapshot of a child’s survival in a brutal war, flawed but stunning nonetheless.

 

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Dicey's SongDicey’s Song by Cynthia Voight

When I wrote earlier that I’d rediscovered some things, this is what I was talking about. Not the story itself, although it’s wonderful, but the way of it – the straight-forward and plain-spoken storytelling that illuminates without drawing attention to itself. This is my type of story.

Dicey’s Song is one of a series of books about the four Tillerman children, who have made their way from the tip of Cape Cod to the shores of Maryland after their mother abandons them and is later located in a psychiatric hospital. They’ve enrolled in school and are living with their prickly grandmother, and settling in to an actual home is harder for Dicey and her younger siblings than she imagined it could be.

Dicey is a brave child, and practical, with a strong sense of responsibility for her siblings. She recognizes bullshit and goodness in adults in equal measure. She is not welcoming – at all – but she is smart, and she cautiously lets a few people inside her defenses. She is, probably, a younger version of her grandmother. Gram, fiercely independent and eccentric, takes on four grandchildren out of the blue with her own peculiar and reluctant sort of grace, tackling everything from a cut throat playground game of marbles to the state wellfare agency as she carves out a home life for the young Tillermans.

This is hopeful book, despite the hardships Dicey and her family endure. They are poor, there are struggles at school, and there is no happy ending for Dicey’s mother. But for every blow dealt, there is the promise of support at home, a friend made, an unexpected kindness.

Voight beautifully shapes Dicey’s world on the Maryland shore and crafts distinct and engaging characters, right down to the slow but affable grocer who employs Dicey. The direct language of the book flows straight from Dicey’s practical, introspective voice and does not miss a step.

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