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All The Light We Cannot See – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: All The Light We Cannot See – A Novel

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Author: Anthony Doerr

Other works:  The Shell Collector,  About GraceMemory WallFour Seasons in Rome

Recommended by: This was a book club pick, but it was also one that my book-savvy husband had heard great things about. Also, the fact that it won a Pulitzer recommends it rather well.

Genre: Historical fiction, World War II drama

Main characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl; Werner Pfennig, a German boy.

Opinions: Our book club was divided. One member came to the meeting calling it “brutal” because she’d just finished it and spent a good chunk of the end of it crying. Some thought it was hard to get into, but good after a while. Some thought the language was too flowery, and some don’t really get into historical fiction much.

I think I was the only person there who love love loved it. The writing didn’t feel flowery to me, just gorgeous. The author skilfully made every character real and human – even the heinous ones. The two main characters are particularly beautiful, and the way their lives gradually converge had me totally hooked.  I read considerably past my bedtime on many occasions.

A quotation I liked: My very favourite moments, the ones I had to go back and re-read, would be too long, and are spoilers anyway. But there were so many lines full of wisdom or insight that I found exquisite. For example,

“There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.”

What sticks with me: Fascinating portrayal of a blind person’s perspective – the sounds, smells, and strategies. But even more, the depth of feeling, rendered with zero melodrama. Lots and lots of writers have placed their stories during WWII, so you’ve gotta be good to make sure your story hasn’t been already told in some form, and that it’s worth telling. This one made me feel the same way Atonement did: very sad, but uplifted by so many forms of love. Moved by humanity’s capacity for beauty, even during the ugliest times in our history.

Recommended to: War buffs, gemstone buffs, Jules Verne buffs, marine biology buffs, and those who don’t mind a heartrending story in the service of love.

To sum up: I will definitely be re-reading All The Light We Cannot See when I have the chance.

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The Couple Next Door – Two-Minute Book Review

Our book club read The Couple Next Door only a few months ago, so I clearly remember how I felt about it.

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Author: Shari Lapena

Other works: Things Go Flying, Happiness Economics

Recommended by: Book Club, and several people I heard discussing it on the radio.

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Main characters: Anne and Marco Conti, and their kidnapped baby daughter Cora. And some iffy neighbours and in-laws. And a world-weary detective.

Opinions: The book club was divided – some found it quite engaging and exciting, and some found it annoying. I have to admit, I am one of the latter. I wanted to like it; after all, the author is a Canadian English teacher, yay! Good on her for writing a very successful book. Listening to other reviews, people are like, “It’s full of twists! I couldn’t put it down! Page-turner from start to finish!” I, on the other hand, was like, “It’s full of gimmicks! I couldn’t relate to any of the characters! Cringeable writing from start to finish!” I didn’t hate it – it wasn’t boring – I finished it with no problem. I did want to know what happened. But honestly, if you’re planning, as an author, to wrench readers’ heartstrings by featuring a missing infant, you need to back that up with grounded plot lines and realistic parents we can care about. (In my opinion.) In this case, it felt like plot-twist experimentation, as in, “Let’s see if they’ll swallow THIS one!” Especially at the end.

A quotation I liked: Sorry… nothing that moved me. The writing was part of my problem with the book in general – I couldn’t make myself stop noticing the awkwardness of a third-person narrative in the present tense.

What sticks with me: That awful idea of coming in to see your baby – and her being gone.

Recommended to: Readers who love a surprising, suspenseful plot and don’t mind so much about underdeveloped characters.

To sum up: I’m not a fan of The Couple Next Door, but you might be!

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life

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READ ME

Author: Barbara Kingsolver, with Stephen L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

Other works: (by Barbara) The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, Small Wonder, The Lacuna, The Bean Trees, etc.

Recommended by: Book Club! I also find that Kingsolver’s work recommends more of itself to be read.

Genre: Non-fiction/Cooking/Poetry (because honestly, everything she writes is full of poetic gorgeousness)

Main Characters: Her family – she, her husband, and two daughters – and the FOOD.

Opinions: I adored this book, as I expected to. I had read a bunch of her fiction, as well as non-fiction essays; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has the added practical advice, recipes, and lots of horticulture that make it useful and educational, as well as just beautiful. I don’t remember all the opinions from the Book Club meeting, but it gets 4/5 on Goodreads.

A quotation I liked: “Human manners are wildly inconsistent; plenty of people have said so. But this one takes the cake: the manner in which we’re allowed to steal from future generations, while commanding them not to do that to us, and rolling our eyes at anyone who is tediously PC enough to point that out. The conspicious consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spirtual error, or even bad manners.”

What sticks with me: This book is not preachy, but it says a lot about sustainability and the realities of our food culture, especially in North America. It makes me think all the more often about where my food has come from, and whether I want to support the way it’s grown or exported. I also really really want to have dinner with the author.

Recommended to: Farmers, Gardeners, Foodies, Environmentalists, Poets, and people who don’t cook but want to start.

To sum up: Inspiring. Sometimes depressing, but mostly uplifting. Barbara’s writing is always full of compassion for humanity, and this book makes you feel like a friend in her warm kitchen.

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Big Magic – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear

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Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Other works: Eat, Pray, Love, The Signature of All Things, etc.

Recommended by: Glennon at Momastery (again). I’ll pretty much try anything she says. Also, I’d already read Eat, Pray, Love, and although it wasn’t dramatically life-changing for me, it was fascinating and memorable and contained a few moments that really moved me.

Genre: Self-Actualization/Art/Philosophy/Nonfiction/Psychology

Main Characters: Mostly you, the reader. And Liz. And a few other creative people with profound things to say.

Opinions: It was a pretty quick and relatively light read. It could incite soul-searching, but also it could just be read as a go-get-’em pick-me-up. I found it comforting on many levels, and funny too.

A quotation I liked: “Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

What sticks with me: 1) All people possess creativity; 2) Ideas are active and animate and will go about knocking on people’s doors until they get someone to bring them to life; 3) The suffering artist thing does not have to be a thing – if it makes you suffer that much, it’s really not what you should be doing; 4) folks need to give themselves permission to feel entitled to the time it takes to make their art – yes, it is worth doing. (Even if you’re a blogger with a very small audience, or a composer who only composes something every 5 years. 😉 )

Recommended to: People who have ideas stewing but never feel validated enough to make them happen; people who think they’re not creative; people who know they ARE creative.

To sum up: I liked it a lot! And I’ve already lent it to someone, but you can borrow it if you want, when I get it back.

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The Gifts of Imperfection – Two-Minute Book Review

Sakes alive, it’s been ages since I officially reviewed a book! More than three years, actually.

Pourquoi? I started to explain, but I’ve decided it doesn’t matter! I do want to write about books, but I don’t have time to wax philosophical, and you may well not have time to read such blither-blather either.

Hence — The Two-Minute Book Review. I’m excited about this concept.

(I actually have no idea if this will take two minutes to read. We all read at different speeds, after all. And with widely varying levels of mental imagery – more on that later.)

First book that came to mind that I’ve read in the past three years is actually NOT from Book Club, but no matter.

AND GO.

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Title: The Gifts of Imperfection – Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Author: Brené Brown

Other works: Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and I Thought It Was Just Me, etc., as well as several TED Talks (my first exposure was this wonderful talk, which I looked up after reading about Brené on Momastery.

Genre: Self-improvement… Spirituality… Life journeys…

Recommended by: My hairdresser, who had just come to a place in her life where she was feeling truly happy with herself in her life. She glowed with it.

Main characters: Brené, her many unnamed research subjects, her family, and especially you, the reader.

Opinions: My hairdresser found it really helped her to be happy with herself and thus to move forward with her goals. She was hoping to convince her husband to read it, because he was feeling stuck in a place of insecurity on many fronts. (I’ll need to get a haircut for an update.) Personally, I found it to be an interesting, comforting, thought-provoking read. Not a difficult or jargon-y book whatsoever. Brené is a professional researcher, and she’s also a very human human.

A quotation I liked: “The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” I really, really relate to this statement.

What sticks with me: The concept of living “whole-heartedly,” with all the things you and your heart are together, including the painful parts and the vulnerability to let them be seen. Also the statistics that indicate that one of the factors associated with happiness and contentment is belief in something greater/larger than ourselves, whether it be God or love or global connectedness or something else altogether.

Recommended to: Anyone struggling with self-acceptance, anyone wishing to be forgiven, anyone beating themselves up about stuff too often.

To sum up: I liked The Gifts of Imperfection a lot. It didn’t change my life drastically, but I can see how it would for some. And I’d like to read ALL of Brené.

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5-Day Artist Challenge Postponed Due to Hogwarts Sorting Incident

My dear dance friend Mary nominated me, well over a year ago, for the 5-Day Artist Challenge on Facebook, in which you post a photo or so every day for five days, along with some interesting information or anecdote, to share with others the role of art in your life.

I did not manage to do this at that time, despite my best intentions. I forget what silly thing sidetracked me.

Because really, what’s more important than art? Art is bread for the soul – EVERY kind of bread: the white, the brown, the seedy, the fluffy, the cheesy, the crusty, the glutinous AND the gluten-free. I profoundly believe that we all need art to live.

This post was supposed to be Day 1. But I just have to tell you something before I start. I’m reeling a little, for two reasons that have nothing to do with the title of this piece.

Firstly, my beloved MacBook just came back from the shop. It had a several-days-long medical episode in which it was only sometimes taking a charge, and then it stopped charging altogether (!!) and went deep into computer-sleep. And then the good lad at the repair shop (their designated “Mac guy”) made it work again.

Everything seems back to beautiful normal in laptop-land… except that at least two almost-finished blog post drafts are GONE. Including a lengthy comparison of Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake as weekend getaway options. Disappeared! Except for this one partial title: “5-” Which frankly I could have managed to remember anyway.

Skye: I swear that this is true.

So that’s a bit traumatic. But EVEN WORSE.

My second shock has to do with Harry Potter. As you know, I am a Level 5 Harry Potter Fan with a tendency to geek out on the subject, sometimes at the expense of a small child. I just finished reading the entire series to one-and-a-half of my children (i.e., my 7-year-old listened avidly to every word, and my almost-4-year-old was asleep for at least half of it). It took us many months, and although I know there are those who would judge me for reading all seven books to such young’uns (believe me, I did not take the exposure lightly – I did fret about certain themes, and very occasionally edited small things out), my kids were great about it. They loved it, and I loved it. (So much that I did voices – WITH accents.)

Such an amazing story. It just gets better with every reading. The kids were almost never scared, and E took everything in stride. When we finished the series, he immediately asked, “Can we start at the beginning and read it again?” And to be honest, it’s been handy being able to refer to HP when questions come up about difficult things (war, politics, love, death, bullying, etc.).

I also, of course, bought The Cursed Child and read it (to myself only) after we finished The Deathly Hallows. (I haven’t told E we own it, otherwise he’d insist on hearing it, and I just don’t fancy reading a play aloud to him.)

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And I enjoyed it, especially the quirkiness of the new characters, although it felt very weird to read it as a play, and without Rowling’s unique voice. I’ll have to mull over and re-read to know how I really feel about it.

But anyway. Back to my trauma. My identity crisis.

I mentioned in my geek-out that I’d been sorted into Ravenclaw a couple of times, but that was years ago and I don’t even remember how. Then I became a member of the beta version of Pottermore, where they have an actual genuine virtual Sorting Hat, and I was sorted into Hufflepuff. When you become a Hufflepuff, you learn all the things that make Hufflepuff life so great, and I really did relate to it, and embraced the identity.

Then, just recently, after I started reading HP to the kids, I got curious to see if I’d changed over the years, and did another test on gotoquiz.com – the one with “all possible questions” – and it sorted me into… Gryffindor. That was a shock to me – not unwelcome, exactly, but startling to say the least. Was it possible that I’d gotten braver with age? But I said to myself, this is not Pottermore. The only way to know FOR SURE is to get re-sorted on Pottermore, because it’s the real deal.

I finally did that today, with my newly happy laptop, doing my best to consider each answer carefully and honestly. Because this is crucial. And what did I get?? Effing Slytherin. I still can’t believe it. Seriously, friends, is there ANYTHING dark about me?? Other than the fact that I do actually rather like snakes… What am I missing? Where did I take this turn?? (It’s probably The Cursed Child‘s fault, come to think of it. It’s trying to teach me a lesson.)

If you ever see me sacrificing my friendships for the sake of my ambition, just smack me, please.

Because this is an emergency, just to keep me from tossing and turning all night, I just did the “shockingly accurate” Buzzfeed quiz for hybrid houses. Good ol’ Buzzfeed. Now I can go to bed. Not sure I can ever go to Pottermore again, though.

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Does this seem more Dilovelyish?

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BANG Book Review: 9-Volume Bookstravaganza!

{Tra la, this post was supposed to be finished and posted OVER A WEEK AGO. Ridonculous. Had several rough nights with congested baby, also working on E methodically testing every boundary he can think of, especially the one where he tries to get us to do his bidding by being a whine-meister. Boo, excuses.}

Sooo… You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t posted any GGG book club reviews for a while. I got behind by a few, and then they just piled right up. You know, like books.

Ergo, I’m going to catch myself up, shorterness style: Four Bullets Only Per Book. !!! ONLY.

1. One Day, by David Nicholls.

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  • A love story in which we follow the relationship of our protagonists for one day per year (St. Swithin’s Day) for twenty years. A neat idea, though it makes for a (deliberately) disjointed story.
  • Very readable, smart, interesting, but if you’re expecting a light, fun summer read, look elsewhere. This book has quite a bit of sad/depressing/frustrating stuff along with the romance.
  • It’s set in the U.K., written by an English author, and therefore contains cute words you don’t read in North American books. I enjoy them generally, but I noticed certain ones (such as as “raffish” and “larky”) came up too many times to remain charming.
  • One Day has the distinction of being the first book I ever read on my Kobo (e-reader). I loved its portability, but the editing was wonky: there were well over a dozen instances where the second letter was missing in words starting with F, so “flatly” became “fatly” and “frightened” became “fightened”, etc. At first it made me chuckle, and then I thought it was a weird joke I wasn’t getting, and then it made me unreasonably annoyed.

1.1 We watched the movie at our book club meeting, because obviously. (I get an extra set of bullets for that. Since it’s my blog and I say so.)

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  • I think I actually liked the movie better. *gasp.* The embodied characters were more endearing, probably because I liked the actors.
  • I finally saw the appeal of Jim Sturgess, who didn’t do anything for me in Across The Universe. Somehow, he was cuter and charminger in this – maybe I just don’t like him in Beatles-y hair.
  • Anne Hathaway was great, as usual, though her pronunciation (I think it’s supposed to be a Manchester accent) was unstable. AND, they actually made her look full-on frumpy in one scene. Impressive.
  • If I remember rightly, I got kinda choked up at the end. In a good way. (Whereas at the end of the book I was more like, “HUH???”)

2. Falling Backwards, by Jann Arden

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  • Memoir of Jann Arden’s journey from (sorta) normal Canadian childhood to successful music career.
  • This lady is FUNNY. Also bizarre and disarmingly candid. I laughed out loud, many times.
  • She’s also a really good writer – very honest and unaffected, with occasional profound phrases that seem to pop up out of nowhere.
  • And she did some crazy stuff in her life. Alcoholic father, very troubled brother, and personal illnesses aside, she had adventures in fields and woods, rivers and high seas – and the urban jungle. Not exaggerating.

3. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley.

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  • Eleven-year-old detective Flavia de Luce narrates a tale of murder-mystery-solving, and gets herself into some serious escapades.
  • This character drives the book. She’s mischievous and smart and sassy and a little vulnerable sometimes, and I relished her.
  • She makes you want to learn chemistry. (That’s where much of her Sherlock-ability lies.)
  • There are more books about her! Someday I’ll have time for those. (But don’t worry, unlike SOME books, this one has its own gratifying ending.)

4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig

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  • Classic (1974) philosophical novel about a guy who takes a motorcycle road trip with his son and some friends, and lets his deeper mind do most of the talking.
  • This book was ground-breaking, life-changing, when it came out. (As indicated above.) My own parents have referred to it in such terms.
  • For us, it was not as thrilling as we’d hoped. Many (though not all) of the ruminations on technology are obsolete, and some bits seem kinda naive. Most of the GGG found it dense slogging, to the point of groanishness. I found some parts quite interesting, but to be honest, I haven’t finished it. I do plan to… someday.
  • I now associate it with the horribly sweet neon-orange beverage I had to drink during the 3.5-hour glucose test I did while pregnant with Baby AB, because Zen and TAOMM was how I passed the wait.
  • One extra point! to state that later editions have a bonus ending section that is not part of the original! Yes, I’m saying that if you haven’t read this since the 70s… THERE IS MORE TO THE STORY. (See how it makes sense that I get an extra bullet? Boo-yah, loophole.)

5. The Colour of Tea, by Hannah Tunnicliffe

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  • Grace moves to China for her husband’s work and is left listless by news of her infertility. Eventually, she picks up her bootstraps (or whatever the phrase is) and starts a new life as a café owner.
  • The heroine irritated me for the first few chapters (even though I could hardly blame her for her torpor), but I ended up liking her a lot.
  • The descriptions of the city of Macau are vivid and interesting, but not as much as the mouthwatering descriptions of the café food, especially the macarons of different flavours. (NOT macaroons – these are more like gourmet meringue sandwich cookies, as pictured on the cover. Our host procured some for the book club meeting, because obviously we were dying to try some, but I missed it. 🙁 )
  • The synergistic ending was one I (and probably many others) saw coming from a mile away… but it was still satisfying.

6. The Knife Of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

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  • In the land where there are no female humans – and the males can all hear each other’s thoughts – all the time – one young boy must escape. Things are not as they seem. Dun dun dunnnn.
  • Really interesting, thought-provoking concept. I think all of us enjoyed the way this alternate world was imagined, and were fairly carried away by the plot and flinty characters.
  • We were unanimously annoyed by the deliberate wrong spellings, though, since they only partially made sense. Maybe they appeal more to the (intended) YA audience.
  • Warning: it’s not over at the end! In fact, I was somewhat ticked off at the end. HUGE… BUILDUP… CRESCENDO… OMG CAN WE PLEASE JUST KNOW HOW IT ENDS?? And then it’s over, but nothing’s wrapped up because go read Book Two, people. Hmph.

7. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

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  • An unlikely bunch of people in London are connected, practically as family, by a strange history and even stranger present events (present being mostly the 70s in this case).
  • I was fully impressed by the confidence with which Zadie Smith, at age 25, wrote this debut novel. The writing is quirky and opinionated and speaks brashly about all kinds of topics where I’d be tiptoeing. Evidently the rest of the world was also impressed, because it became an immediate bestseller and won a bunch of awards.
  • Some in the group found it kinda hard to get into. I found it mostly interesting, full of characters that were engaging if not completely likeable, but it helps that I was reading it on a very lightweight device, as it was apparently a very large book. The absorption-to-weight ratio matters.
  • There was one part in particular about a young black girl going to great lengths to achieve straight, silky hair. It is now branded on my memory forever, because shortly after finishing the book, I watched the documentary “Good Hair” on Netflix. It’s true and it’s crazy, y’all.

8. The Story of Beautiful Girl, by Rachel Simon

the story of beautiful girl rachel simon

 

  • Where do a deaf black man and a woman with Down Syndrome find true love together? At the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded.
  • This is an amazing and lovely story, written sensitively and beautifully through the POVs of several different people. We were all moved by it.
  • The author’s note at the end was great, too. She wrote humbly about not wanting to appropriate voices that weren’t hers, but needing to write about this, and give these characters a more joyful story than the real ones on which it’s based.
  • This book, like The Help, makes you shudder. This kind of treatment of differently-abled people was only a few decades ago (or less? could still be happening?) in the United States (and probably here in Canada, too). How scarily, horribly recent. How outrageously shameful.

9. Something Fierce, by Carmen Aguirre

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  • Memoir of a young adulthood spent as a (daughter of a) revolutionary in South America, particularly Pinochet’s Chile; winner of Canada Reads in 2012.
  • One of those books that makes your jaw drop. Seriously?? She did all that stuff? At WHAT age? How was she this brave??
  • It reminds you that concentration camps and everyday danger are not limited to the WWII Holocaust. As the author points out, we have a sheltered, relatively naive existence here in Canada.
  • Despite all this, the book is not as harrowing or depressing as you might imagine. It’s written with a dark humour and frankness, and the evolution of Aguirre’s 11-year-old self to her adult self, under crazy circumstances, is fascinating.

Alors, voilà!

There are (I think) three books missing from this list (namely Animal Vegetable Miracle, Quiet, and Gold), which I will be reviewing individually, because the five-bullet rule was just not going to work for me in those cases. Please stay tuned.

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