Consuming – Shelter by Jung Yun

Shelter

by Jung Yun

Published 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary / Thriller

“He shakes his head and glances at Gertie, who hasn’t said a word since she turned toward the window. Her eyebrows are angled sharply into a frown, and her mouth is open as if she means to speak, but can’t.

“Is something wrong with the yard?” he asks.

Slowly, she lifts her finger and taps on the glass. “I think that woman out there – I think she might be naked.

 

Kyung is the son of Korean parents, and lives with his American wife and son. His upbringing, while lavish, was lacking in affection and warmth, and his connection with his parents as an adult is shaky. But when an act of unspeakable violence suddenly impacts the family, they find themselves thrown together and having to confront their issues from the past and deal with their internal demons.

 

Janelle says…

This book was such a pleasant surprise. I’m still thinking about the story and how much I loved it.

I was expecting a story roughly centred around Asian immigrants trying to make a life in America. I don’t know where I got that expectation from, but I was wrong. This is an exploration of family dynamics and secrets, particularly within non-Western cultures. It looks at both gender and race. It deals with grief and trauma, and it packs quite a few tough scenes. It’s certainly not an easy read, but it’s so thoughtful and moving, and leaves a lot to ponder.

What struck me most about this book was just how much it packed in, and how appealing it would be to a wide range of readers. You’ll notice I’ve categorised it as both literary fiction and thriller, and it’s true – I can’t completely dump it within either category. The plot kept me keen the whole way through, every time I had to put the book down I couldn’t wait to get back to it to find out what else it had in store. It had a few unexpected turns, and I questioned my views on various characters time and again. It kept moving at a steady pace which is something that’s important to me to keep my attention.

Shelter was both shattering and entertaining. It was just a solid, enjoyable read. It would be perfect for book clubs, I think you could discuss this with other people for hours. One of my favourite reads so far this year. Highly recommended!

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Buddy Read – The Girls by Emma Cline

March 2017 – Mel’s choice

The Girls

by Emma Cline

Published 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary

“I didn’t tell him that I wished I’d never met Suzanne. That I wished I’d stayed safely in my bedroom in the dry hills near Petaluma, the bookshelves packed tight with the gold-foil spines of my childhood favourites. And I did wish that. But some nights, unable to sleep, I peeled an apple slowly at the sink, letting the curl lengthen under the glint of the knife. The house dark around me. Sometimes it didn’t feel like regret. It felt like a missing.”

1969. California. Fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd is living a standard suburban teenage life- trying to make sense of her split family situation, learning about herself, noticing boys. And noticing the group of scruffy, devil-may-care girls who keep crossing her path. Something about them is alluring to her. One of them in particular sticks in her mind, and through some coincidental events, Evie manages to weave her way into their group and become entwined in their lives. Living off the grid, she experiences drugs and sex, and very quickly leaves her old life behind. However the influence of the group’s “leader”, Russell, is about to become something more than she could have ever foreseen.

 

Mel says…

I chose this book for our March Buddy Read as I had heard such amazing reviews. Celebrities were posting about it and it made me want to find out what all the fuss was about.

At the start, I enjoyed the writing style of Emma Cline. The back and forth from past to present was intriguing, for about half the book. I found the present day Evie to become irrelevant. There seemed no real logical explanation for bothering with present day Evie. She added zero value to the storyline, in my opinion and I began getting irritated when I would turn the page and there she would be, for the next 10-20 pages.

From start to finish, I was expecting something….more. I felt like I was constantly on the brink of some huge revelation in Evie’s life, that never came. She was the kind of protagonist that you wish would be killed off in the dying pages. She was infuriating and I just couldn’t get on board with her way of thinking, even when I tried stepping back into teenage-Mel’s shoes.

I think the saving grace for me was the plot itself. I have always been intrigued with real life crime stories and this was very closely related to the Charles Manson story. The cult following, the era and the murders. This is what kept me reading and I have to admit, by the end, I was somewhat relieved it was over and was severely disappointed!

It took me weeks to write this review after finishing The Girls. Partly because of my poor time management, but mainly due to the fact that as the days wore on, I forgot what actually occurred. If I could sum this book up in one word it would be; Forgettable!

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Janelle says…

Well, it started out ok.

It’s no secret that this story is meant to be reminiscent of the evolution of the Manson family. But if you’re going into it expecting a lot of gruesome details and a focus on the murders, you’ll be disappointed. This is a story about puberty, love, friendships, and learning about oneself – your limitations, your image, your self-restraint.

As far as a book that studies the above topics goes, it doesn’t do a bad job. If I was reading this about 15 years ago, I probably would have felt very connected to the internal challenges that the main character Evie faces. I could definitely identify with her at certain times, particularly in her defiant moments.

But…..that’s it. In all honesty I just found this to be, well, boring. I had the scene all figured out within the first 100 pages or so, I didn’t need it to go on with the same stuff for the next 250. It probably didn’t help that I had already read reviews and opinions on this book when it first came out, but still, that didn’t stop me wanting to read it. Now that I have read it though, I found it lacking in substance, and basically just forgettable.

Teens and other people into YA would probably really enjoy this, but personally I think I just can’t be interested in teenage girl problems. I wasn’t interested in them when I was a teenage girl myself. Sorry not sorry.

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Surreal – Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

 

 Fever Dream

by Samanta Schweblin

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Published 2017

Genres: Fiction / Literary / Horror

“You’re confused, and that’s not good for this story. I’m a normal boy.”

“This isn’t normal, David. There’s only darkness, and you’re talking into my ear. I don’t even know if this is really happening.”

“It’s happening, Amanda. I’m kneeling at the edge of your bed, in one of the rooms at the emergency clinic. We don’t have much time, and before time runs out we have to find the exact moment.”

 

Amanda lies in a clinic, talking to the young David. What transpires between them is confounding, eerie, and unsettling. As they, and you, try to put the pieces together, they speak of grief, the family bond, and secrets. And they relive their mutual experience in an effort to find the key to it all – where they are, what they’re doing there, who David is, and what has happened to Amanda.

 

Janelle says…

 

I heard a couple of early reviews of this book, which seemed to be unable to go into specifics about the plot but emphasised just how strange the book was. I had to check it out for myself.

Strange doesn’t quite do it justice. This is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. At 183 pages long, I read it in one sitting, and if you’re going to read it too I suggest you do the same. It’s at its most powerful that way. Don’t look up from the page or you’ll break the spell.

Just like other reviewers before me, I don’t feel like I can talk about specifics either, and I still don’t quite know what it was about or exactly what happened. The only way I can describe it is by saying that our two main characters are searching for answers about the things that have happened to them, but their conversation doesn’t really make any sense. Certain details do seem to connect to each other and this connection becomes apparent as you go along, however their meaning is unclear.

But I enjoyed the experience. And that’s exactly what this book feels like, it’s not just a book, not just a story….it’s an experience. By the end I felt like I’d been on some kind of time-travelling acid trip, following the stream of consciousness recollections of the protagonist, Amanda, whose discussion with creepy David almost seemed like as if she were under hypnosis. I don’t recall a book ever making me feel the way this one did. It was so weird, and unsettling, and confounding.

I know how I’m describing it probably makes it sound awful, but I loved it. I just couldn’t put it down, from the first page I wanted to know what was coming next and where it was leading. I don’t how Samanta Schweblin (and translator Megan McDowell) has done what she’s done here, I can’t help but feel like maybe she knows some great secret that we don’t.

If you’re not into totally bizarre books that make you think “WTF?”, then steer clear because you’ll probably end up throwing it at the wall. But if, like me, that’s your bag, then you need to pick this one up because it will rock your world.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Intricate – The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

The Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel

Published 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary

“The lukewarm past had been overtaken by the scalding now. Gone was the perfect temperature. The breeze. All replaced by an almost violent heat that turned your bones into volcanoes, your blood into the lava that yelled their eruptions. Folks would later talk about that sudden onset of heat. It was their best evidence of the devil’s arrival.

The Bliss family live in the small, humble town of Breathed, Ohio. In the summer of 1984, local prosecutor Autopsy Bliss publishes in the town newspaper an invitation to the devil to come visit the town. Soon after, thirteen-year old Sal appears, alone and grubby on the courthouse steps, where he is met by Autopsy’s son, Fielding. The Bliss family take in Sal like he is one of their own, but there are others in town who are less than thrilled to hear that the devil has arrived. As a freak heatwave sends frustrations and patience simmering, a number of shocking incidents befall the residents of Breathed. But where will the blame be laid?

 

Janelle says…

This started out kind of comical, slowly building your rapport with the main protagonists, the Bliss family, so that you felt protective towards them as the story progressively got darker.

For me this book threw many questions out there – like what is good and what is evil, to what extent do they need each other and where does the line get blurry. And then we have the issue of labels, and group mentality. Young Sal, as the devil, is the scapegoat for every bad thing that befalls the town, the label applied to him enough to condemn him despite people not taking the time to get to know him. Is he really evil? Is it all really his fault? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Fear is a running theme. The fear of Stella Bliss, who refuses to leave her house because of a phobia of the rain. The fear of Grand Bliss, who has a secret in a time and place of hatred when he is likely to be misunderstood. The fear of Sal, who doesn’t want to own the label that is pinned to him and despite fearing the townfolk, tries to show love and compassion. The fear the town has of Sal, believing he has brought the heatwave and the spate of terrible events to them. Some of these characters will overcome their fears, some will succumb to them, some will not be able to live with them.

Overall, I’m still trying to gather my thoughts about this book and decide exactly what impression it’s left on me. But while reading it, there were a number of times I read over a sentence more than once because its composition was so clever. The writing was beautiful and intricate, many times I paused to admire how the author had put together the message, especially when in the mind of the main character Fielding and the dialogue of Sal. And a book that I still think about long after finishing it is always worthy of credit in my opinion.

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Buddy read – Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

February 2017 – Janelle’s choice

Our Souls at Night

by Kent Haruf

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Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary

We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.”

And that’s how the story starts. One night in Holt County, Ohio, Addie Moore visits her neighbour Louis Waters, with this simple proposition. From there, an innocent and honest friendship blossoms, but some of the bystanders surrounding this couple aren’t too pleased.

 

Janelle says…

I chose this book because it was mentioned on an old episode of the ABC’s The Book Club and all the panellists doted over it, a rare occurence! And it sounded sweet. And it was sweet!

This is a quick, 180-page read but for such a little thing, it really does manage to cover a bit of ground. It explores growing old, how society sees people of a certain age bracket and expects them to behave, and whether we can claim any ownership over the actions of our loved ones, our elderly and frail loved ones especially. This exploration is made all the more poignant and beautiful by the fact that this novel was published posthumously, written by the author as he was dying. This post/review by The Guardian really does a good, honest job of paying homage to both the author and the book if you want to know more.

I fell in total love with the two protagonists, Addie and Louis. I was in their corner from the very first page, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would try to deny them the friendship they were creating with one another. But over and over again their meetings are judged as shameful by those around them, and I just wanted to jump inside the book and shake everybody by the shoulders!

I really found the dialogue to be written in an interesting way. There was no “she whispered”, “he moaned”, “I gasped” etc., it was purely just the actual words spoken between characters. It was just a different style of approaching dialogue, and I noticed that difference straight away. I liked it, it kept the story flowing in a very realistic way, without the need for drama.

I think more than anything, this is a book about hope, and the message that it’s never too late to chase happiness. And I think it’s one I’ll come back to again, when I feel the need to hear that message.

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Mel says…

This book was 180-pages of pure sweetness. I fell in love with Addie, Louis and their companionship. Their little adventures were adorable and all I wanted to do was pack my bags and join them on their picnics, lunches and camping trips. At one point I sighed and asked my husband if we can please go camping, it sounded so pleasant.

The picture that Kent Haruf paints of this world is written in such an unusual way, that at first I struggled with the dialogue, but once I was roughly 20-pages in, it became quite easy to read and was a definite page turner.

Over the course of the book, I grew very attached to Addie and Louis and became very defensive about their companionship. So much so in fact, that when the towns folk began questioning the relationship in the beginning, all I wanted to do was tell them to mind their own business.

If you are looking for a short and relaxing read, then this is the book for you. It is light and a breath of fresh air. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Buddy read – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

January 2017 – Mel’s choice

Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

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Published 2013

Genres: Fiction / Historical / Literary

As the story begins, Ursula Todd is born with the cord wrapped around her neck and does not survive. The next chapter, the same incident occurs, but this time, the doctor is present and is able to remove the cord from Ursula’s neck, so she lives through this ordeal, only to die in a differing way a few years later. As the plot progresses, so does Ursula’s life through the differing scenarios that play out and as she surpasses these various events from her previous lives, she begins to suffer from deja vu. 

“All those names,” Teddy said, gazing at the Cenotaph. “All those lives. And now again. I think there is something wrong with the human race. It undermines everything one would like to believe in, don’t you think?”

“No point in thinking,” she said briskly, “you just have to get on with life.” (She really was turning into Miss Woolf.) “We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.” (The transformation was complete.)

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again,”Teddy said, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” 

Mel says…

I was super enthusiastic to read this book, as the premise of the story is doing life over when you don’t get it right the first time. What put me off reading this book for so long after I purchased it, was the 600+ pages, but in the end, I was intrigued enough to make this my first read of 2017.

I must admit, the plot sounds slightly confusing and it was at times. I found after roughly 200 pages, I was constantly wondering who certain characters were, as well as getting irritated with the use of various languages for a sentence here and there, with minimal translation applied. These were minor irks, but ones I carried until the very last page.

The positives were the way in which Kate Atkinson writes. It is so descriptive and she builds the characters personalities in such a way, that I felt I had built rapport’s with the main characters, by the end of the first hundred pages. The uniqueness of this book was a standout and one that I enjoyed exploring.

Specifically, I was intrigued to read about Atkinson’s interpretation of the raw brutality that was World War II and I actually felt like she got her descriptive details so perfect, that I could just imagine the colourless and depressive nature that was London during this significant part of history. The “version” I guess we will call it, of Ursula’s life as a warden during World War II, was my personal favourite. I found it so confronting and interesting at the same time, but it also felt so appropriate to the time period that she was living in.

Overall, I felt this book didn’t require 600+ pages to complete the story. I began waning with my enthusiasm by page 400, but pushed on with minimal reward. There are several unanswered questions, which is always irritating, but I enjoyed it enough to grant it 3.5 stars.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Janelle says…

I was similarly intrigued by the premise of this story, but the size of this book meant I was put off again and again from starting it. The new year does feel like a great time to sink in to a massive tome, though! And I’m glad I did.

The story explores how a life can be irrevocably changed through one small movement or decision, which unbeknownst to you, could end up defining your future. Something which is terrifying, yet accurate and fascinating.

I, like Mel, also thought that the book was longer than it needed to be. There were some chapters in the middle of the book that were soooooo long that I started to struggle with them. But it was the uniqueness of this book, my curiosity over where it would go next, and my love for the well-developed characters that kept me going.

This is not a book about only one character, we become deeply familiar with all the members of the Todd family and others around them. Because deja vu is a theme that runs throughout this book, there are links between chapters – sometimes the links are strong and obvious, sometimes so small they’re almost overlooked. I loved this clever trick, it felt like going on a treasure hunt.

I did lag with this book at times but nonetheless I was still keen to sink in to this world again and again to revisit the characters I had grown to love. I was expecting to get a different resolution out of it, but found that at the end I wasn’t completely satisfied that it had been tied up neatly enough. However, ultimately it was the unique format Kate Atkinson employed to pull off this premise that was enough to warrant a four star rating.

 

 Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Lacking – The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

by Dominic Smith

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Published 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary

 

“By the time Gabriel came to her with the commission for At the Edge of a Wood, she had saved close to ten thousand dollars – so she technically didn’t need the money. He said the present owner wanted an exact replica made but couldn’t bear to part with the original. She remained skeptical and told him that copying an artwork was not the same as restoring it. But when he produced three high-resolution color photographs of the painting in its frame she felt her breath catch – it was unlike anything else painted by a baroque woman.”

Split narratives intertwine to reveal the path of Sara de Vos’ illusive 17th century painting, At the Edge of a Wood, and its forged copy. From Sara’s life, struggles and motives, to the most recent owner of the painting, a wealthy Manhattan socialite in the 1950’s, to the naive student skilled in art restoration and living in 1950’s Brooklyn, to the modern-day exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales which could be the setting for the truth to reveal itself.

 

Janelle says…

 

The more time I have to think about this book since finishing it, the more dissatisfied I feel about it. I don’t even have a lot to say about it, because there’s really just not that much to say. Not much happened in this book!

There’s a painting from the 17th century, which has found its way into the home of a wealthy family in the 1950’s, only to be stolen and forged at the same time, and then in the 2000’s both the original and the forgery rise to the surface ahead of an upcoming exhibition on Dutch women painters of the 17th century at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Even after the reading the book though, there are still holes in my mind as to the movements of the painting, so that’s about the best I can do in outlining the story.

I heard about this book and actually assumed it might have a light thriller or mystery-type feel to it, and so I was excited when I found a competition to win an advance copy on the publisher Allen & Unwin’s site. And then even more excited when I actually won the advance copy! I bumped it to the top of my TBR list and started reading it, but I found it hard to stay focussed on the words. I realised I was bored, twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen, but I stuck with it because I was sure something would happen. It had the makings of an interesting and surprising story that I could get on board with – there were literary aspects, the touches of history and culture, museum life which is something to which I can relate to and understand…..all it needed was some kind of event or revelation. So I kept reading (slowly), and then when I got to the end, finally something semi-interesting did happen, but then the book finished quite suddenly in the middle of a scene, and what I thought could actually have been a great scene had it been allowed to continue! What the?

I can sniff undertones of feminism here, in both the scenes from the 1630’s featuring Sara de Vos, and the 2000’s when we follow Eleanor Shipley, but that’s something I’ve realised may have been there only since reading the book and trying to find some kind of message, they weren’t formed ideas that were clear during the reading of it.

It might seem an obvious recommendation to people who are into art or museum culture, but I’m not sure even those people would find this interesting. It wasn’t a total blowout. I didn’t hate it. It just didn’t leave any impression at all. Still, I’m going to stick with the rating I gave it on Goodreads straight after finishing it.

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Loveable – Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus

by Steven Rowley

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Published June 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary

 

“….Thursday nights are the nights my dog, Lily, and I set aside to talk about boys we think are cute.”

Ted lives with his long-time companion, his dog Lily, and through their years together they see relationships come and go, they share heartbreak, they have adventures and they ponder cute male celebrities. But with the arrival of the octopus, their world could completely change.

 

Janelle says…

 

It was the wonderfully weird synopsis on Netgalley that enticed me to read this book – “…a struggling writer finds himself unable to open up to the possibility of love – except through the companionship of his aging dachshund Lily. But with the unexpected arrival of a small octopus that affixes itself to Lily’s head, it soon becomes clear the invader is strangling the life from his dog and threatening the bond with his one true friend.”

Now who wouldn’t be intrigued by that?

I don’t really want to say too much about the story here for fear of giving away spoilers. What I can say is that this is the story of a long friendship between a single man and his dog, and that for both of them the relationship is the most important one in their lives.

The animal lovers among us will know that our pets are there with us through our challenges and triumphs, like any other member of the family or close friendship circle. You’ll empathise with the bond that these two characters share, although perhaps you might not have been absolute best friends with your pet like Ted is with Lily in this book.

The book certainly is strange, but there is a sad logic to the strangeness. Overall I just found it to be very sweet and I was immediately endeared to Ted and Lily. I laughed out loud in spots, and then in others I teared up. At times this book felt like a great big hug, and at other times I felt like I had been punched in the chest. And I’m not saying anything more! Other than if you’ve ever loved a pet, and even if you haven’t, I think this book is well worth your time.

Lily and the Octopus will be published in June by Simon & Schuster.

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

*I was provided with an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review*

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Buddy Read – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

February 2016 – Mel’s choice

All The Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

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Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary Fiction / Historical Fiction

“..maybe the Germans are advancing as inexorably as lava, but Marie-Laure is slipping into something like a dream, or perhaps it’s the memory of one: she’s six or seven years old, newly blind, and her father is sitting in the chair beside her bed, whittling away at some tiny piece of wood, smoking a cigarette, and evening is settling over the hundred thousand rooftops and chimneys of Paris, and all the walls around her are dissolving, the ceilings too, the whole city is disintegrating into smoke, and at last sleep falls over her like a shadow.”

For Marie-Laure, blind since age six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the priceless diamond that is guarded in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.

 

Mel says…

This book has received so many rave reviews, as well as being the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction, so naturally I was eager to read this book and see what all the fuss was about. Initially, I must admit, I dragged myself through the first hundred or so pages and thought ‘meh’. BUT, I did change my tune as I pushed on.

The first thing you must know is that this book is not a quick, easy read. It is very deep and emotionally driven, which you would expect as the story is based during WWII, and the Nazi invasion of France.

This is a beautiful story of two innocent children, Marie-Laure and Werner. Marie-Laure is a young, blind girl who relies heavily on her father to assist with daily life tasks, so once the invasion of Paris begins, her story and life become very different from many others.

Werner is a young, German orphan who grows up with his sister, Jutta, and who is led into a life of service by the Nazis. He is still a child when he is enlisted and I believe he is fairly unaware how much of an impact on the war his engineering skills actually make.

This story is generously flecked with beautiful metaphors, and the meaning behind the title just makes Anthony Doerr’s work that much more exciting. All The Light We Cannot See is a must read for anyone wanting to read something with a little more depth and meaning.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Janelle says…

Like Mel, I was keen to read this based on the positive reviews I’d heard, and the fact that it had won the Pulitzer. And my reading experience was actually the opposite of hers – starting out of the gate, I was really engaged with the characters but I became less motivated as the book went on. I really did like the format of very short chapters all throughout this book, it meant that I could read small snippets if I only had a short amount of time to spare, and it was always possible to simply read to the end of a chapter before putting the book down, rather than stopping mid-chapter. However, it felt like it took me FOREVER to read this (it took me two weeks), and I started to feel twitchy to finish it and move on. I’m beginning to think that perhaps I just lose interest with long books!

War stories are not a genre I’m that interested in reading (surprising, given that I worked in a war museum for many years. Perhaps I’ve just had my fill of them). But I did appreciate that this story was delivered from an angle a little different to most. Our protagonists are two children – one a German orphan boy, the other a blind French girl. And it’s in the development of these two characters where this story really shines. I was taken with both of them immediately, especially Marie-Laure. I had never wondered before about what it might be like to experience something as life-altering as living through a war, if you had a sensory impairment like blindness.

I can see why this book won the Pulitzer. Doerr’s writing is beautiful, he sets the scenes so vividly and delivers his characters with tenderness. If you enjoy fiction surrounding WWII then you should definitely give this a read. Personally, I did like this book, but I had trouble maintaining enthusiasm and focus from about mid-way onwards, and unfortunately it just didn’t “wow” me.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Unfulfilling – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies

by Lauren Groff

fates and furies

Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary

 

“Up there rose the ghosts of parties, of themselves when they were younger, too dumb to understand that they were ecstatic.

Whatever happened to all of those friends of ours? Lotto wondered. The ones who had seemed so essential had faded away. Nerd princes with their twins in strollers, Park Slope and craft beers. Arnie, who owned a bar empire, still doing girls with plates in their ears and jailhouse tattoos. Natalie now a CFO of some Internet start-up in San Francisco, a hundred others faded off. The friends had been whittled down. The ones who remained were heartwood, marrow.”

Lotto and Mathilde meet in college and marry soon after, seemingly star-crossed infatuated lovers. And despite the trials of adulthood – financial stress, lack of job stability etc. – their love for each other seems steadfast. Lotto is the star, an actor-turned-playwright, beloved by all, centre of many a crush. Mathilde meanwhile plays the supportive spouse – happy to linger humbly out of the spotlight, taking care of household matters. But out of the spotlight, is that how they see it?

 

Janelle says…

So far, I’m the only person I know who was underwhelmed by this book which has otherwise been raved about. Maybe it was just a case of “wrong book, wrong time”, but I couldn’t wait to reach the end of it.

Fates and Furies was released in late 2015 to much acclaim – it was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award, a finalist as a fiction nominee for the 2015 Kirkus Prize, and a nominee for the 2015 Goodreads Readers Choice Award for Fiction. All this in the 5 months since it was published.

In case you haven’t heard about it, to quote the beginning of just about every review of this book so far – “It’s a book about marriage”. Although I believe that’s subjective. Maybe it would be more accurate to say it’s a book about the cliched heterosexual marriage. The husband is the shining star, the proud breadwinner, the very obvious head of the partnership. The wife – his admiring supporter, discreetly managing the many little details of life behind-the-scenes so that the surface displays a tidy, perfect, well-managed operation. Although how they each see themselves and each other are not necessarily aligned.

The book is split in two – the “Fates” half told by the husband, Lotto, with “Furies” told from Mathilde’s viewpoint. To be honest, I was bored about halfway through “Fates”, but I forced myself to stick with it in the hope that “Furies” would bring grand revelations and plenty of shocked gasping. It did not. For me anyway, I’ve heard other people have had this reaction to it though.

 

“Somehow, despite her politics and smarts, she had become a wife, and wives, as we all know, are invisible. The midnight elves of marriage. The house in the country, the apartment in the city, the taxes, the dog, all were her concern: he had no idea what she did with her time.”

 

I certainly understand that the author is trying to make a feminist point, and that it’s a commentary on the union of a traditional marriage – the purpose of a man in a relationship, and the purpose of a woman. The man in this book doesn’t live up to what he believes his purpose as a husband is supposed to be (for some of the book anyway), and the woman does believe she is living up to her supposed purpose as a wife but doesn’t necessarily agree with it. That’s how I interpreted it anyway.

But try as I might, I just couldn’t gel with the author’s abstract way of writing. I had to read over many paragraphs at least twice, my mind just couldn’t latch on to the words a lot of the time and it was too easy to be distracted by other things. And I think this could be an issue with me and this particular author in general. I started listening to another of her novels on audiobook at the same time that I was reading this in print, and I couldn’t stand to listen to it for more than about half an hour before I was completely lost and frustrated.

Also, the characters. I couldn’t have cared less for them and just wanted them out of my life. Total narcissists, although one was worse than the other. I know it goes against the moral of the story, but at times I just wanted to yell at them – “Hey guys? #firstworldproblems, ok?”

Maybe I just completely missed the point because the writing style wasn’t for me. Anyway, I truly am very disappointed to be the only person in the world who didn’t love this book, but hey – that’s what’s wonderful about the reading experience. You don’t have to love what everyone else does!

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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