BOOK REVIEW: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

18143977Title: 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.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

18693763Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours 57 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Contemporary, Historical Fiction

Read Start Date: April 18, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 25, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My Review: This is the second book that I have read by Celeste Ng (although this is the first book she wrote). The other book I read was Little Fires Everywhere. You can find my review here.

This book was fantastic. The characters were extremely well developed and really pulled me into the story. The opening lines really draw you into the story: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the plot, but it is hard to review the book without mentioning some aspects. I do not think that the below gives too much away.

Lydia is the eldest daughter to Marilyn and James. Lydia struggled under the weight of her parents expectations. Marilyn, having had to give up her dreams of becoming a doctor (when she became a mother), tried to live vicariously through her daughter. James, who never fit in as a child (because he was Asian), tried to live vicariously through his daughter’s popularity. The problem was, that Lydia was neither popular, nor interested in becoming a doctor.

Nath, the oldest child and only son to Marilyn and James, lives in the shadow of his younger sister Lydia. His achievements are all but ignored.

Hannah, the unwanted third child, is basically invisible to her parents, as all their attention go to the favored child Lydia. There is a great quote from the book describing Hannah: “Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corners, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.”

In the aftermath of Lydia’s death, the family and their relationship to each other is thrown into turmoil.

The story alternates between the past and the present to give a full picture of the Lee’s life together, and how they became who they are.

My younger brother died almost five years ago (a few days before his 29th birthday) in an accident (he was hit by a driver high on drugs who ran the red light). Some of the descriptions Ng gave of the family dealing with a child’s death really resonated with me. For example, Ng describes a scene where James is looking at his surviving children and he sees bits of Lydia in each of them. I often too experience this. I have the same teeth as my brother, and sometimes I think of him when I see myself in the mirror. Reading this book made me wonder whether when my parents look at me, do they also see my brother in my face? Do they see my brother’s eyes in the eyes of my sister, or his features in those of her son?

Ng’s descriptive language is so powerful and really makes you imagine what you are reading. For an example, James says something nasty to his son after Lydia’s death. Ng says something like, James’ words were like moths in the air that he wanted to catch and pull back, but he was too late because they were already crawling inside his son’s ears. I couldn’t find the exact quote again sadly.

Anyway, in conclusion, I highly recommend this book. Ng’s powerful storytelling with stay with you for quite some time.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

32148570Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Book Length (Audiobook): 14 hours 34 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Read Start Date: March 5, 2019

Read Finish Date: March 27, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.”

My Review: Before I read this book, I had no idea that it was based upon a true story – the afterward gives a short summary of the real life events. Georgia Tann, was a real person in the early 1900s, who more or less stole children from poor people and gave them up for adoption to rich people. At the time she was heralded as the savior of children, but it eventually came out that these children where essentially kidnapped, and often were mistreated and abused (sometimes sexually) in the orphanages.

I was really surprised that something like that could happen in America, and at times I felt myself overwhelmed with emotion. It reminded me also of all those stories that recently came to light of the orphanages in the UK, where many children were mistreated, and sometimes died, only to be buried in mass graves. Children are supposed to be protected, not bought and sold like commodities.

Even though the book jumped back and forth between the past and the present (the two perspectives of Rill and Avery), it was done in a brilliant way, which made me yearn to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. The characters were great — I really liked the perseverance and strength of little Rill, and the dedication of Avery to find out the mystery behind her family. There was even a little romance thrown in to the story line, which supported, rather than detracted from, the story.

I read this book as an audiobook that I rented from the library. About 2/3 of the way through the book, my loan expired and I had to wait a few weeks to get it again. It.was.torture.

Don’t do this to yourself. If you read this book (which I totally think you should), make sure that you have enough consecutive time to do so because you will not want to put it down.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

12291438Title: The Madman’s Daughter

Author: Megan Shepherd

Book Length (Audiobook): 12 hours 50 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads : Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells’s classic The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Madman’s Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we’ll do anything to know and the truths we’ll go to any lengths to protect.

My Review: After a horrifying scene in London, where Juliet walks in on some medical students performing vivisection of a live white rabbit, Juliet discovers that her father was in fact alive (although presumed dead for many years). The author describes the scene with the rabbit so vividly that it left me queasy for days. I still shudder when I think of the rabbit’s screaming. I know it is imaginary, but things like that really hit me hard. I cannot stand to think of animals suffering, even fake ones.

Similarly, that Dr. Moreau performed his operations on his creatures without any pain killers or anesthesia is just terrible, unthinkable even. I wanted to cry just thinking of the pain inflicted on these poor animals. What a sick and twisted character. What makes me more upset is thinking that maybe in real life back in those days scientists really did perform these types of “surgeries” on animals. Animal cruelty is just so not okay. I was bothered that no one tried to stop Dr. Moreau. Why didn’t Juliet or Montgomery just kill him? I felt like maybe they were a little brainwashed, or maybe this was supposed to be an indication that they had “morals”? That they were not killers like the mad doctor. I don’t think that I could have stood by and let that go on.

I read some reviews which pooh-poohed the love triangle between Juliet, Montgomery, and Edward, but I didn’t feel the same. I didn’t find it sappy, or unbelievable. Montgomery was Juliet’s childhood friend (even though he was their servant’s son), and as an adult her childhood affections had turned romantic. She had conflicting emotions, however, because he was helping Dr. Moreau torture animals to make his “creations”. With respect to Edward, there was something in him that Juliet was physically drawn to despite her mental reservations about it, although we don’t really find out what that physical draw was until the surprise ending.

The writing was very good, and the story was suspenseful. Although I liked this book, it left me unsettled — the same feeling I came away with after reading H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. I cannot fathom why this book would be classified as “young adult”. I wouldn’t say this book was “scary”, but it certainly was very disturbing, and I think that the story will stay with me for a while.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Daughter’s of Salem by Thomas Gilbert

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Title: The Daughter’s of Salem

Author: Thomas Gilbert

Book Length: 106 pages

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel

LinkGoodreads

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Colonial Massachusetts, early 1690’s. When a young girl in a Puritan town rejects a farmer boy’s gift and instead slips out into the forest to dance with a young man from the Abenaki tribe, it sets off a chain of events resulting in one of the worst cases of mass hysteria in U.S. history, as neighbor turns against neighbor and friends accuse friends of the most terrible things. A fictional re-imagining of the Salem Witch Trials, in which gender politics, religion, xenophobia, innocent games of fortune-telling, and one man’s sinful indiscretion are all factors that lead to the deadly witch hunt.

My review has major spoilers, so read on with caution.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Story of Us by Lana Kortchik

The Story of Us is a book about Nazi Germany’s occupation of the Ukraine city of Kiev.  “The only thing Natasha Smirnova knew for a fact on the 19th of September 1941 when Hitler invaded Kiev was that life as she knew it was over.”

The Story of Us: The sweeping historical debut of 2018 that you will never forget

Within a short period since the arrival of Hitler’s troops, Natasha was assaulted by a German officer, and her grandmother was shot in an attempt to save Natasha.  The would-be rapist soldier was killed by another solider, Mark, who was conscripted into the army in his native country of Hungary.  He helped Natasha bring her wounded grandmother home, and although he was the enemy, Natasha could not help but to find him attractive.So, when she runs into him again on the street, she strikes up a conversation with him, only to find that he may not be the enemy after all.  His philosophy was that “the issue is that [the Hungarians] are unwilling participants in a capitalist war none of [them] can identify with.  That [they] are dying for a principle [they] do not believe in.”  Hitler’s war is not Mark’s war.

Natasha and Mark start seeing each other on a regular basis, and she finds herself falling in love with him. Seeing each other in secret, they know the dangers of discovery, but are like moths to the flame.

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BOOK REVIEW: Paper Wife: A Novel by Laila Ibrahim

In 1923, Mei Ling’s older sister falls gravely ill a few days before her arranged marriage to a man she has never met.  Mei Ling is forced to take her’s sister place.  Leaving her family in China, Mei Ling travels to America.  In order to enter the country, Mei Ling must assume the identity of the man’s deceased wife, essentially using her immigration documents as her own (a “Paper Wife”).

the paper wife

When Mei Ling befriends a young orphan girl on the ship to America, little did she know that she was creating a bond for life.  When it is Mei Ling’s turn to leave Angel Island (the unfriendly place where immigrants were housed until their entry application was approved) she is forced to leave Siew behind.  Making good on her promise to see Siew again, Mei Ling searches for the child to ensure that she is safe, only to find that Siew’s Uncle wasn’t who he appeared to be, and that Siew herself was a paper child.  This dark revelation has a damaging impact on Mei Ling and her family, who must fight to overcome the reality of Siew’s situation.

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