BOOK REVIEW: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Sea of Tranquility

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Book Length: 5 hours and 47 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: June 17, 2022

Read Finish Date: June 19, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads:

A novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

My Review: I’m honestly not sure how to feel about this one. I checked it out from the library because it was written by the same author as Station Eleven (see my review here), which I liked. However, there are a lot of moving pieces in the story and at times it gets a little confusing. There are several smaller stories, which are part of the larger over arching story…but what this means essentially, is that the smaller stories don’t really get too much attention, while at the same time getting too much, if that makes sense.

So for example, the first part of the book is about the character Edwin from the early 1900’s. We get to learn a lot about his character, but in the grand scheme of things, Edwin himself, as a character isn’t all that important. Do we really need to know that Edwin is the son of an Earl who was exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party? Not really. What is important, is his role in the over arching story, i.e., that while in exile he happened to glimpse an anomaly in the time continuum. On the other hand, maybe we do need the background so that we know what Edwin was doing in the woods that fateful day. In this case, however, I would have liked to have more of the story behind the lesser characters themselves.

The book is short, less than 6 hours of listening time. Perhaps it could have benefitted from being longer.

Additionally, like Station Eleven, this book touches on the theme of pandemics. The character Olive Llewellyn is stuck in a lockdown for 100+ days — however, this storyline takes place in the 2100’s, so it’s not COVID-19. There is also mention of various other plagues e.g. Ebola 10 (a made up plague) and a passing reference to COVID-19. I didn’t feel exhausted by this like some other books that have COVID-19 as their central theme.

On the other hand, despite the above, the concept behind the book is intriguing. Time travel, the affect on the time line by such travel, etc. I just wish there had been more of this and less of the other things.

I only gave the book 3 stars, but that’s not to say that there aren’t people out there who absolutely loved the book and gave it 5 stars, for example Theresa Smith Writes.

All in all, I’d have to say it was an entertaining read that is definitely worth it if you have the time.

Time Travel Thursday August 11, 2022

Time Travel Thursday is hosted by Budget Tales Book Blog. This is where I take a look back at what I was reading this time last year (or the year before or the year before that…) and compare it to what I am reading now.

Books I was Reading on This Day in 2019:

Title: All The Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Book Length (Audiobook): 16 hours 2 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, WWII

Read Start Date: August 6, 2019

Read Finish Date: August 16, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

My Review: Living in Austria / the Netherlands, and having been to Normandy, France, a few weeks ago, it is really surreal to read about WWII events. As I was listening to the book, I was running in a place where abandoned WWII Nazi bunkers were. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl living in Paris with her father, who works at the Museum of Natural History. They are forced to flee Paris when the Germans start bombing it. Werner, an intelligent orphan German boy, is recruited into the war by the Nazis. The book alternates between the stories of these two characters, but it isn’t really until the last part of the book that the stories intersect.

The identities of these main characters makes the book more interesting because you experience two very different sides to the war. The Germans are of course portrayed as the bad guys, but Werner is somehow a sympathetic character, as he was brought into the war unwillingly and I got the feeling that he does not agree with what the Germans are doing. I really liked the character of Marie-Laure, as she is a courageous young woman despite her disability and able to accomplish things that not many others were brave enough to do.

When the novel begins in 1934, Werner and Marie-Laure are children. As the story progresses and the children age, the author gives you a window into growing up under the shadow of war.

What I’m Reading Now:

If I have to pick a theme of the current books I’m reading, with the exception of Forest Gump, I would say horror / sci-fi. This is a far cry from the historical fiction of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light I Cannot See.

Forest Gump by Winston Groom

Meet Forrest Gump, the lovable, herculean, and surprisingly savvy hero of this remarkable comic odyssey. After accidentally becoming the star of University of Alabama’s football team, Forrest goes on to become a Vietnam War hero, a world-class Ping-Pong player, a villainous wrestler, and a business tycoon — as he wonders with childlike wisdom at the insanity all around him. In between misadventures, he manages to compare battle scars with Lyndon Johnson, discover the truth about Richard Nixon, and survive the ups and downs of remaining true to his only love, Jenny, on an extraordinary journey through three decades of the American cultural landscape. Forrest Gump has one heck of a story to tell — and you’ve got to read it to believe it…

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris:

Small-town cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse has had more than her share of experience with the supernatural—but now it’s really hitting close to home. When Sookie sees her brother Jason’s eyes start to change, she knows he’s about to turn into a were-panther for the first time—a transformation he embraces more readily than most shapeshifters she knows. But her concern becomes cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population, and Jason’s new panther brethren suspect he may be the shooter. Now, Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who’s behind the attacks—unless the killer decides to find her first…

The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon:

A gripping road trip through post-apocalyptic America from Tim Lebbon, New York Times bestseller and author of Netflix’s The Silence.

Struck by famine and drought, large swathes of North America are now known as the Desert. Set against this mythic and vast backdrop, The Last Storm is a timely story of a family of Rainmakers whose rare and arcane gift has become a curse.

Jesse stopped rainmaking the moment his abilities became deadly, bringing down not just rain but scorpions, strange snakes and spiders. He thought he could help a land suffering from climate catastrophe, but he was wrong. When his daughter Ash inherited the tainted gift carried down the family bloodline, Jesse did his best to stop her. His attempt went tragically wrong, and ever since then he has believed himself responsible for his daughter’s death.

But now his wife Karina––who never gave up looking for their daughter—brings news that Ash is still alive. And she’s rainmaking again. Terrified of what she might bring down upon the desperate communities of the Desert, the estranged couple set out across the desolate landscape to find her. But Jesse and Karina are not the only ones looking for Ash. As the storms she conjures become more violent and deadly, some follow her seeking hope. And one is hungry for revenge.

Hell Spring by Isaac Thorne:

In the twilight of March 21, 1955, eight people take cover in their local general store while a thundering torrent and flash flooding threatens life and livelihood alike. None of the eight are everything they claim to be. But only one of them hungers for human souls, flesh, and blood.

An overflowing waterway destroys their only path of escape. The tiny band of survivors is forced to confront themselves and each other when a peculiar stranger with a famous face tries to pick them off one by one.

Can the neighbors survive the predator in their midst as well as the 100-year flood that drowns the small town of Lost Hollow?

Or will they become victims of the night the townsfolk all remember as Hell Spring?