Review: All the Light We Cannot see

Anthony Doerr’s historical novel, All the Light We Cannot See, tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives in Paris with her father on the eve of WWII, and Werner Pfennig, a German orphan boy who has a passion for technology. The two live miles apart and are on opposite sides of the war but they share an internal conflict: how to remain true to yourself amidst the terror and indignity of war. Werner’s small stature makes him a misfit and an easy target for the Nazi youths trained to destroy anyone showing signs of weakness. His keenness to see the scientific connections to all things and his creativity are the keys to his survival. It is Marie-Laure’s love of books that will enable her to discover the inner courage that will help her transcend her handicap. Their sense of justice and adherence to morality (the light we cannot see) will guide them through the ugliness of war.

The story starts in 1944 and spans about 80 years with short chapters that go back and forth between Werner and Marie-Laure’s POV—though not always in a chronological order. The writing is well crafted and at times lyrical, but a few scenes could’ve been eliminated without harming the plot at all. A must read!

 

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Review: The Sight of the Stars by Belva Plain

Belva Plain’s novel, The Sight of the Stars, takes place in a small Texas town in the early 1900’s.Young and determined to make his own way in life, Adam Arnring gets off the train and within a few hours has landed as a job as manager of a run down store owned by a no-nonsense widow. Through hard work and lots of creativity, Adam transforms the store into a flourishing establishment. Along comes the owner’s daughter, the aloof Emma, and he is mesmerized.
This is a family story that spans a few generations and encompasses the classical emotions of love, betrayal, envy, compassion, and intolerance. Time is seen as the dominant force through out the novel erasing past worries and pain. There is an urgency to put things right before it’s too late.
  ‘Time hurries by. New  green leaves sprout; a season has passed when they brown and fall; all of a sudden, it is another year.’
The time span of the novel and the number of different characters who come in with each new generation make it difficult as a reader to become intimate with any of them–some disappear and are vaguely referred to further on in the story. An interesting historical read.

 

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Review: When the Lions Sleeps by Wilbur Smith

 When the Lion Feeds, Wilbur Smith ‘s first book in his Courtney series, takes place in South Africa during the times of the Zulu wars. The story is based on Sean Courtney’s journey from his family’s farm which he leaves to his alcoholic twin brother Gary and his pregnant young wife.  He strikes it rich in the Witwatersand Gold Rush only to lose everything to a  conniving competitor. His next venture is living in the wilderness hunting elephants for their ivory–a part of his life where he suffers the most emotionally.
The issues in this book don’t make this an easy read: the senseless killing of elephants, the massacre and enslavement (referred to as ‘servants’) of the Zulu people, the belittled role of women–but it is, after all, a historic presentation of the growth of Africa.
The novel ends on a sad note, but apparently picks up with the reunion with his twin brother in the next book. A good read for those who have an interest in Africa’s history,  but a caution of graphic violence to lovers of animals.

 

 

 

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Review: The Towers of Tuscany by Carol M. Cram

Carol M. Cram’s historical novel, The Towers of Tuscany, immerses her readers in an engrossing account of Italy’s medieval period in the 14th century. The main character, Sophia, is a talented painter who defies the rules of the land by disguising herself as a man in order to live out her artistic passion. Painting is taboo for women but she refuses to relinquish her dream. Besides the abundance of historical detail, the reader is privy to great description about the art of painting of the times.

Sophia’s way of thinking has been nurtured by her beloved father’s controlling nature, and she constantly refers to his teachings throughout the novel. Being under her father’s thumb has blocked her from emotional growth and she repeatedly takes decisions that have a negative impact on her and those around her. There is no character arc for Sophia—she remains stunted within the boundaries of her art.

As a reader I felt pretty jolted with the last part of the novel where the time period jumps a few hundred years and a brand new character is introduced.

 

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Review: The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

In Sarah McCoy’s novel, The Baker’s Daughter, you’ll find lots of historical data about the daily lives and fears of German women living during. You’ll also get an insight in how to operate a bakery when flour and sugar are almost nonexistent and only doled out by Nazi operators. Women are a commodity controlled by Nazi dogma and the fear of being punished by the ruling military. Elsie is a young girl working in her father’s bakery when an SS officer twice her age invites her to a Nazi party. A young Jewish boy comes to her rescue when another officer tries to assault her. Her sister Hazel is proud to support the Nazi regime by producing Aryan babies for the program. Her life takes an abrupt turn when one of her children is considered not worthy.

The story switches POV back and forth with Elsie in WW2 Germany, and then to Reba 60 years later in America. The more modern story deals with Reba’s concerns about her boyfriend and her job as a journalist. This type of writing device is difficult to pull off when the reader bonds with one character and not the other—as was my case.

 

Regardless of the structural difficulties, this is a poignant look at women’s roles in wartime Germany. The pastry recipes in the back of the novel are an added bonus.

 

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Review: Songs of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon deals with the African-American world of the early 1960’s. Milkman Dead is the first black baby to be born in Mercy Hospital. Pampered by the women in his family and his father, a slum landlord who thinks only of his wealth, he leaves home at 32 to find a buried treasure believed to belong to his grandfather. Instead, he finds himself immersed in a quest for self-discovery as he uncovers the secrets of his family history.

The story touches on several themes, the central one being racism and how it’s damage can continue to affect generations to come. The inequality existing between men and women is also a major theme. Wild and unusual behaviour in men is considered almost heroic while the same behaviour in women is seen as weak and abnormal.

 

The characters are well portrayed although I found Guitar too alienated from reality to be likeable—perhaps to present racism as being denatured no matter what side it sits on. I found the ending a little too quick and perhaps unfair, but that also could have something to do with the gratuitous violence associated with the main theme.

 

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Review: The Dolan Girls by S.R. Mallery

S.R. Mallery’s historical western, The Dolan Girls, gives us a colourful view of America’s wild west of the 1800’s. It was a time when cowboys and bandits were free to roam the countryside, women slept with a gun at a moment’s reach, and everyone lived by the motto ‘expect the unexpected’. Brothels and saloons were a necessary fixture in the unchartered towns, and Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley revered icons.

 

The characters are endearing—Minnie being my favourite—and the action is fast-paced. This is a highly enjoyable read. Looking forward to more from this talented writer.

 

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Review: Chikara by Robert Skimin

Robert Skimin’s historical novel, Chikara, is an epic family drama of the two great countries, America and Japan. It spans from 1905 through the 1980’s and covers the early American racism against the Japanese settlers of California, the anti-American sentiment in  Japan, the forced resettlement of Japanese people in American war camps, the bombing of Pearl Harbour as well of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. These historical events shape the characters’ dreams and ambitions, their lives and their spirit.

Sataro of the House of Hoshi, driven by his ancient samurai blood, has left his beloved Japan to seek his dream of power in America. His descendants will suffer the aftermath of his vision and as they too try to forge their own newer dream.

 

This a story that pays tribute to the Japanese Americans who persevered in the face of racism and established their cultural communities with hard work, honour and patience. Highly recommended historical reading!

 

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Most Indies shouldn’t ever publish. Well, most women shouldn’t have babies. #amwriting

That’s not a kneejerk yeah well you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny response.  Ask any writer, traditionally published or indie, our books are the children of our brains, and we’re protec…

Source: Most Indies shouldn’t ever publish. Well, most women shouldn’t have babies. #amwriting

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