Sunday, January 25, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr
January 1-18, 2015

First book of 2015! And boy, was it a great one. With at least five nods as one of the best books of 2014, the only thing that kept me from reading it sooner was simply a slow/off reading year. I'm looking to get my groove back this year.

I read that it took Doerr ten years to write this book. His effort paid off. He is a genius with prose and the imagery made me feel as though I was experiencing the horrors of war with Marie-Laure and Werner. With short chapters and time-hopping of about 10 years in these kid's youths, I was able to read at a pace that I hadn't in quite some time.

Marie-Laure is a blind girl living in Paris with her locksmith father at the time of the German invasion in WWII. Werner is a German orphan with a knack for fixing radios, which ultimately lands him in a school for Hitler youth. Of course their lives intertwine, but for me it was a surprising and delightful meeting. While there were so many moments in the story that were heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, there was an equal amount of poignancy as well as an unexpected history lesson. Marie and her father were forced to flee to her great-uncle's home in Saint-Malo, and I admit that I'd never heard of this town on the Brittany coast of France. I was so fascinated by what I'd read in the book that I did a little more research when I finished. I was struck by a line near the end of the novel (by this point, present day) that really does ring true:
"Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world."
I just makes me think that I should have asked more questions of my grandparents when they were still alive. Both my grandfathers fought in WWII.

The "light we cannot see" became a character itself in radio waves, but it also symbolized many moments in the lives of the protagonists. The fate of the "Sea of Flames," a rare gem entrusted to Marie's father for safe keeping, is a perfect discussion point because, do we really know what happened to it?

I savored every word of this, in my opinion, masterpiece. I can only hope to be as luckily with the rest of my book choices for this year.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

by Alice Hoffman
Nov 24-Dec28, 2014

I finished reading this book a week ago, and unlike a really great book you can't stop thinking about, I haven't given this one another thought. Historical fiction can not only be educational, but also entertaining – within the right context. This story is sandwiched in between two horrific fires: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Dreamland fire. These unimaginable tragedies do not make for an entertaining read, especially when the author adds in a deplorable father whose inhuman acts would disturb and trouble even the most stoic reader.

With New York City at the turn of the last century as one of the other main "characters," I felt that more focus was placed upon it than the actual people and their unconvincing, evolving love story. In other words, I feel there was just too much crammed into one book. There were times when I would be completely engrossed and read page after page. But more times than not, I would drift off and have no comprehension of what I just read. Really great potential, but never fully realized.

My favorite parts we those of Maureen, the "faithful" servant and nanny, and her secret love affair with the Wolfman. More focus should have been placed on them, than on Coralie and Eddie. Why does it always seem that historical fiction needs to have a love-at-first-sight plot? Include a bunch of convenient resolutions, and it's one cliche after another. I'm not sure I've ever read a Hoffman novel before, but for some reason her name stands out in my mind. Unfortunately now it's not for a good reason.

Oh well, on to better books. Happy 2015!

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