Monthly Archives: November 2013

Books to Read LIsts

According to this popular book site, this list names “100 Books To Read Before You Die“.

And, according to this popular book site, this list of 40 books are must reads before you die.

How about this reflection from the Huffington Post: 40 Books To Read Before Turning 40.

This is an interesting perspective: 100 Must Read Books: The Man’s Essential Library

38 Pitches has their own perspective.

The Guardian Listing: 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list.

Many of the books appear on most of the lists, above.

Do you have any books to add? What are your thoughts?

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Book Diva Review: The Book Thief

book The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak is a well written book regarding life, death, and areas in between.

The Book Thief’s narrator is Death, itself. That, in my opinion, was very unique and illuminated the prose in ways that a human narrator could not.

The story line centers around Liesel Meminger. She has been displaced by her mother, and sent to live with a foster family, Hans and Rosa Huberman. Her foster mother and father could not be more different, yet within their differences, they are more alike in respect to the fact that they both love Liesel. Hans is more demonstrative and extremely patient with Liesel. He is the comfort zone in her life, like a warm quilt on a cold evening, whereas her foster mother is more boisterous and foul-mouthed, and impatient.

The family dynamics are an integral part of the story line. Liesel realizes what she can and can not get away with, and how to function under the circumstances of her new life. Her backbone is stronger than she realizes, and Hans plays a major role in that respect with his kindnesses and love.

Liesel makes friends with two boys, and they are her support system, outside of her family. Max, is the creative one, and Rudy is the neighborhood friend. Their friendships grow and are cemented within the environment of World War II Germany. Food is hard to come by, life is hard to come by, and their friendships take them to heights that they otherwise might not become involved in. Survival takes them to realms and possibilities that they might not ordinarily succumb to.

The title of the novel comes from the fact that Liesel is an avid reader, which began when her brother died and the gravedigger inadvertently left behind a book entitled The Gravedigger’s Handbook. A book which in which Liesel eventually learns to read through lessons given her by her foster father. From there, sparks the taking of other books, books she reads over and over again.

As the story progresses, the foster parents are confronted with a situation in which they do not hesitate to involve themselves. Liesel is aware of the consequences, and does her part in being secretive. This is where her friendship with Max begins.

We see lives lived through Death’s eyes, and through Death’s necessity for patience regarding specific individuals and their spirits. At times he tries to take the spirit from a person, sooner than is planned, and his attempt is not meant to be. At other times we see the horrific results of war, the Holocaust, and Death is often overwhelmed with the victims he must move forward to other realms.

He does have his few soft spots, which I found interesting to read. He does have compassion, although it does not serve his needs. He is not there to be influenced by sympathy, because there is there to do a job.

The book is one which tells of the human condition, with all of its suffering. Yet, within the pages, there are sparks of humor, more from Death than anyone else. Death analyzes situations, and tries to figure out humans and their behavioral aspects. He is mystified, and often confused. He does not comprehend the human mindset.

The novel details the horrors of war, and the situations of the Holocaust, and the daily lives lived on the German edge of life and threads of life. Markus Zusak is masterful with his word imagery and his prose, in an almost fanciful or elaborate manner. His sentences often verge on the surreal.

I won’t elaborate, so as not to spoil the story for those who want to read it, or for those who might want to see the film. I recommend The Book Thief, especially for young adults. It is a good read for adults, too, but better served, I believe for young adults. The surreal aspect of it will heighten the tragedies of war for young adult readers, and make them more cognizant of war, loss, survival, family dynamics and life…itself.

I am sorry for the update. I had to restructure something.


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Book Diva Review: The Rise of David Levinsky

theriseofdavidlev The rise of David Levinsky, by Abraham Cahan, is true-to-life in its depiction of the Jewish immigrant experience, leaving nothing to the imagination.

David Levinsky is a Hasidic Jew living a Torah-filled life in a Russian village. He comes from a family of poverty, and one that is stringent in Torah study. He is unhappy in his situation, and eventually sails to America, disembarking in New York City.

From the minute he finds himself standing on American soil, Levinsky’s journey begins, taking him into the heart of socialization and cultural displacement, a displacement he avidly tries to overcome.

He is a fast learner, as far as trying to fit into society’s demands. He is insightful as far as his exterior environment, and realizes that in order to succeed he must learn to speak English, not act as if he is a greenhorn, dress as if he is successful, and coordinate his mannerisms to an ideal that will let him succeed. All this, he manages to eventually accomplish, within the realm of his goals of being a proper businessman.

The streets of New York City are depicted with amazing clarity. Cahan knows from where those streets lead, as he, himself was a Jewish immigrant, arriving in Philadelphia in 1882, and then quickly traveling to New York City. He eventually worked his way up, through his social learnings, and eventually founded the Jewish Daily Forward.

His story could almost be Levinsky’s story. The learnings and social stigmas that Levinsky had to overcome in order to succeed in business, are portrayed with brutal clarity within the novel. I am sure Cahan’s own experiences fill many of the pages.

The latter part of the 19th century is detailed in every aspect. I was amazed at the incredible details that exhaled from the pages. From there, through the early 20th century, the reader is taken back in time to every conceivable issue, from religion to education, sex to romantic, social to assimilation, business to materialism, and so much more. Each facet of society and its doings are examined, especially those involving the lower east side of New York City.

Levinsky’s desire for success and desire to become rich are documented through all of his dealings. From business banking to storefronts, cloak making and competition, and eventual warehouses, each facet of his business dealings incorporate his very desire to build an empire, and build it he does.

Within those structures, he also involves himself with women, and the women that he finds most attractive are ones that he can not have. His wealth and empire can not buy him love.

Levinsky rose in stature and success, yet his reputation and the respect he gained did not foster a sense of family or belonging within his environment. He gained financial success beyond his wildest dreams, only to fail in the romance department.

I read The Rise of David Levinsky always mindful of when it was written, always mindful of the language, grammar, land usage of slang, Yiddish and linguistics of the time period. I felt that to be extremely important in order to gain a sense of time and socialization.

Abraham Cahan has given this reader a sense of the late 19th century-early twentieth century New York City. My senses were filled with the streets of New York, the homes of New York, the business wheelings and dealings of New York. They were filled with the experience of immigrant life in all of its ugliness, hardships, demeaning attitudes, strivings to survive and so much more. I applaud Abraham Cahan for his accomplishment.

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Book Diva Review: Paris: The Novel

parisnovel Paris: The Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd is a novel of immense historical value.

This reader gained a lot of knowledge throughout the pages, beginning with the 13th century, and the main families that carry forward through the centuries. Each family becomes involved in societal events, including the French Revolution. Each family meets, separates, and meets again, at a future time period.

The families range from skilled workers to aristocrats, and within the familial, lies generations of conflict, from one family to another. These conflicts play out through various periods of time, and are interesting in and of themselves. Anger and hatred play out in surprising ways.

I was fascinated and enthralled with the descriptions regarding the building of the Eiffel Tower and the intricate architectural revelations surrounding it. I reread some of the pages because it was extremely intriguing.

I had no idea of the dynamics and genius behind it. I had no idea that sections were created beforehand, carted to the site, and put together as if they were pieces in a puzzle, fitting perfectly into each other. It was amazing to read about it.

I also had no idea that it became a political issue, causing protests and anger within the Parisian community/communities. Even though the building of it gave many individuals employment, the outcome was not necessarily a grand one, initially.

From family life to goals and accomplishments, I found the historical aspects to be enthralling and filled with accurate and minute details due to Rutherfurd’s penchant for accuracy.

Paris, the city of light, was so much more than that during the late 19th century. It was a city thriving with individuals involved in the arts, sciences, entertainment and magnificent architecture, including Notre Dame. Socialism and politics were heavy topics of conversation, and within each generation, those issues are played out.

The stories of the main characters are fascinating to read, and filled with details beyond imagination. It is almost as if we are there, within the streets of Paris, inhaling all of its magic, exhaling the experiences before us. Edward Rutherfurd is known for his extensive research and documentation, and Paris: The Novel, is no exception in that facet. His brilliance shines through, and his masterful way with words enhances the story line, and illuminates Paris, the city, as no other individual could, through the historical novel aspect.

At over 800 pages, there are too many pages to encapsulate the entire story line. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend Paris: The Novel.

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Veteran’s Day 2013


Veteran’s Day in America is celebrated on November 11th. It is a day we honor our military, those men and women who served and helped to protect our country.

Here are some books (both adult and children’s) that might be of interest regarding Veteran’s Day:

The Poppy Lady, by Barbara Walsh

The Wall, by Eve Bunting.

The Veteran’s Day Visitor, by Peter Catalanotto

Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighorhood, by Valerie Pfundstein

America’s White Table, by Margot Theis Raven

Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul, by Jack Canfield

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Book Diva Review: Wandering Star


I have just finished reading J.M.G. Le Clezio’s historical novel, Wandering Star, which I found to be a compelling, mesmerizing, masterful and brilliant novel.

The two main characters are Esther, also known as Helene, and Nejma. Their stories are told separately, yet blend as one.

Esther is a Jewish girl who is coming of age during the Nazi invasion of France, when her family is forced to flee to the countryside. The village they seek refuge in is under the protection of the Italian military. Within the confines of village life Esther begins to view the lives around her, and we watch her slowly turn from naive girl to a young and aware girl on the border of womanhood.

Her maturity eventually causes her to almost become mother-like and nurturing to her own mother, as they must eventually leave the countryside in order to board a ship so they can make their way to Israel. They are making the journey minus Esther’s father, as he is involved as a Jewish partisan. The trek from the village to the coast where they await the ship is arduous and plays not only on the mother and daughter’s physical strength, but their emotional strength, as well. Esther constantly thinks about her father, and loving moments that she had with him.

She dreams of a reunion with him, of eventually having her family unit together and whole, again. Some of her thoughts and dreams take on almost mystical proportions, and Le Clezio’s ability to write with vivid imagery often overwhelms the senses with poetic beauty. His prose turns from delightful imagery to harsh reality, and back again, leaving the reader wrapped within the pages, unable to stop reading.

Esther and her mother eventually reach Israel. Their ideal “promised land” doesn’t seem to be so promising, initially. Israel is in a state of flux. It is in the midst of its War of Independence, and devastation, destruction and fear surrounds them at every turn. They have left one life of turmoil and surpression for another life under almost similar conditions. Mother and daughter eventually become involved in kibbutz life, each with their own contributions to the whole.

Within the daily life, there is an underlying horror occurring, the atrocities of the Palestinian refugees being herded into camps like cattle. Esther is witness to this, and her path crosses that of a young Palestinian girl named Nejma. Each girl looks the other in the eye, and can almost read the other’s mind. They exchange names on pages of a notebook. They are never to meet again, but each one remembers the other, thinking of them throughout the years.

Nejma’s story is told in the last third of the book. It is relayed to us through her diary, which is an account, not only of her daily life, but the daily struggles involved as a Palestinian refugee repressed within the confines of camp life. From growing up by the sea, to surviving under the adverse conditions of desert terrain, we are a witness to the horrors and genocide of war from a differing perspective and environment, other than that of the Holocaust. We are witnesses to the cultural mores of time and place, and of repression of women.

The air is often stifling, difficult to breathe in, yet Esther and Nejma inhale and exhale as best as they can given their circumstances. They are both survivors, strong, and remain hopeful within the brutalities of life and war. Wandering Star is a metaphor, in my opinion, for displacement and survival under the harshest of circumstances, circumstances that include glimmers of hope for a new beginning and better life.

This message is the brilliance of Le Clezio’s writing. He has an almost innate ability to understand culture clashes, diversity and tradition, and how the differences affect the modern climate. Le Clezio melds the lives of the two girls into one absorbing novel that depicts the similarities that each of them have journeyed through. The scenes and landscape in Wandering Star are bold, beautiful, brilliant, and often surface with mystical and other-worldly illuminations. J.M.G. Le Clezio is extraordinary in his ability to blend two young women and their lives into one story with sensitivity and poetic loveliness is incredible. Their two individual stars illuminate the pages. I highly recommend Wandering Star to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: Possession

possession I read Possession, by A.S. Byatt when it first came out twenty two years ago, on an airplane on my way to England.

It was the perfect book to keep my engrossed in on the long flight from California. I barely raised my head from the pages. I remember hurrying to the restroom so I could get back to my airplane seat and continue reading. I recently reread it…and felt just as enthralled with the book.

The passion between the lines, in this wonderfully conceived and crafted book of both prose and poetry, had me totally possessed and engrossed in the multiple and simultaneous stories. The comparison of the past and the present was vividly depicted with wonderful word-imagery that filled my senses.

I liked the aspect of the novel-within-a-novel, and how the stories of the past intertwine within the story of the present…in a magical and surreal fashion, at times. This is the stuff that passion is made of, and Byatt has outdone herself in this masterpiece. Possession…the author had me possessed and involved in the story from the first page.

Possession was a book I became wrapped up in, within the literary creativity, the historical factors, and the beautiful fairy-tale poetry and prose. The novel took me back to an earlier time period I could visualize, and had my senses alert and eager to continue. I read the book straight through, and by the time my plane arrived at my destination, I had finished the novel.

Possession, passion, poetry and prose, are all combined in one artful and magnificent novel, Possession, by A.S. Byatt.

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