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

Title: All The Light We Cannot See – A Novel

all-light-cannot-see-anthony-doerr

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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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.

One-Day-David-Nicholls

  • 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.)

One-Day-one-day-movie-poster-Anne-Hathaway

  • 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.

sweetness at the bottom of the pie alan bradley

  • 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

Pirsig zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

  • 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

color of tea hannah tunnicliffe

  • 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

white teeth zadie smith

  • 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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