Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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Book Review: 
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Scribner. May 2014. ISBN: 978-1476746586

I waited a long time in line for this book at the library. When I first put myself on the holds list, I was 213th in line, and with a little bit of patience (and a lot of copies in circulation!), it finally landed on my desk. Problem was, when I got it I really wasn't in the mood for a WWII historical novel that was over 500 pages long, and I had a bunch of other books to read as well. I let it sit on my desk, silently judging me for not passing it on to the next eager patron on the waiting list, and just before I was about to check it in and send it on its way, I had a sudden urge to give it the benefit of the doubt. I would prove that I wasn't interested! I would just read a few pages...and now here I am, writing this review.

This book was beautiful in every aspect of the story - the characters, the plotting, the language, the detail. The language was especially incredible to me - all at once poignant, but not overwrought - leaving little images, or sounds, or textures, lingering in your head. The feel of being in Saint Malo smelling the sea air as a thousand snails crawl at your feet. The sense of dread as you wait in a truck beside Werner in a field full of sunflowers. It was easy to get hooked right away - Doerr's short chapters alternate voices, giving you a new perspective every few pages. This is great for short attention spans, and for short chunks of reading time (me on my lunch break, for example). Even as the story shifts from 1944 Saint Malo on the day that it is being barraged with bombs, to 1940 Paris as Marie-Laure and her father evacuate the city, Doerr's use of present tense makes everything feel crisp and of-the-moment.

It's a gorgeous story through and through, and those 531 pages were worth every word. Moreover, as does good literary fiction, it really reminds you that not everything is black and white, and makes you question what you would do under similar circumstances.


This book follows the stories of two children before and during WWII and leads up to their ultimate convergence in the occupied French town of Saint-Malo. Spanning several years, the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of orphan Werner Pfenning, who grows up in the mining town of Zollverein in Germany, and a blind French girl named Marie-Laure, whose father works as a locksmith for the Natural History Museum in Paris. Werner lives in a children's home with his sister Jutta, and becomes especially good with radios. He gets the attention of the Third Reich, and is eventually recruited into a Hitler Youth school. Marie-Laure meanwhile, learns how to navigate without sight through Paris with the help of her father, who builds her a small replica of the city. She and her father eventually must flee Paris due to the occupation, and go to live with her great-uncle in Saint Malo, a tiny island off of the coast of France.

You'll like this book if you like:
  • great characterization
  • descriptive language
  • historical fiction
  • realism with no sugar coatings

And just for kicks, check out this video of author Anthony Doerr talking about All the Light We Cannot See!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: Absolute Beginners by S.J. Hooks

Absolute Beginners by S.J. Hooks
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Professor Stephen Worthington's structured routine gets a wrench thrown in it when unruly and outspoken Julia takes a seat in his English lit class. He starts seeing her against his better judgment, and it turns out that there is a lot that he can learn from her.


This book is like a light-hearted and sexy version of The Rosie Project. Stephen is a stuffy, over the top, and lonely young English professor who acts older than he really is. At first, he thinks his student Julia is obnoxious - she's crass, she dresses terribly, and she is disrespectful in his classroom, even if she is whip-smart. She ends up getting the better of him when she shows him that not being type-A isn't always a bad thing. 

What I really liked about this book was that even though I often thought that Stephen was over the top at times with his type-A personality, I liked Julia's character a lot. She was nonchalant, easygoing, and there were plenty of humorous exchanges between her and Stephen that carried that story for me. Moreover, the storyline actually carried it well enough so that even though it is definitely erotica, I didn't feel like the author was just trying to string me along from sex scene to sex scene. 

In addition, this is erotica that I think works for women. Julia shows Stephen what she likes in bed, which he appreciates since he's had such little experience.  I like the message of healthy sex and openness that this book espouses. Since Fifty Shades of Grey, the market's had a huge influx of similar erotica, with domineering but often jealous and controlling men that want to oversee every aspect of the leading woman's life. Not super healthy, but it definitely has a niche. This was a nice alternative for popular erotica, and the writing was pretty good too. 

I would definitely read the second installment of this series.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a free advanced digital copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

Book Review: 
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How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. May 2015. ISBN: 978-0544411633

Lisa Lutz sizzles with this story of friendship between an eccentric trio of women - dashing back and forth in time from their days in college and throughout their lifelong friendship, they are shaped by their ups and downs and their undeniable flaws, but you’ll root for them every step of the way. Her characters are all at once razor-sharp, witty, and compelling - each with a unique story and hilarious dialogue that will make this book hard to put down. Much funnier than the The Spellman Files for me, and a real winner as a summer read.


When quirky roommates Anna and Kate rescue George from her passed-out stupor on a neighboring lawn at a freshman-year party (in a stolen shopping cart, no less), they begin a life-long friendship that persists despite calamity, lies, and murder. With chapters jumping back and forth through time, it drives the narrative while you attempt to piece together how these characters came to be in their present states. How does Anna, the ringleader with slightly manic episodes, deal with her inner demons - find herself living with her parents after her once-successful career? How did she piss off everyone around her? Why is Kate, the steadfast eccentric, on a road trip with no destination? Who does George, the beautiful down-to-earth outdoorswoman, settle down with?

You'll like this book if you like:

  • character-driven plots
  • quirky characters
  • eccentric plots
  • ridiculousness
Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a free advanced digital copy of this book in return for my honest review.