All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History.. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance.
First Impressions: To be honest with you, I didn’t enjoy this book very much at the beginning. Sure, it was a nice read but boy, if it continued to be this descriptive thoughout… how boring!
Highlights: Once I got into the swing of this book I couldn’t put it down. If anything became too overly descriptive I skimmed it. While I liked the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner, I really loved the narrative strand of Sergeant Major von Rumpel and his quest to find the missing jewel. I wish this had been the focus of the novel, creating a bit more thriller-esque like tension but that would be a different book altogether! On another note, I did like how the various references to radio were weaved together.
If I was an editor: It would be hard to make changes without altering the essense of the novel but as I said above, if there was a ‘cat and mouse’/chase element to the novel linked to the jewel I may have enjoyed it even more. This wouldn’t have even been drawn to my attention without von Rumpel’s search for the jewel as this narrative thread showed the potential for this to occur.
Overall: A dense yet enchanting WW2 story.
All the Light We Cannot See: 5 Stars
Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Two boys, brothers, wake tied and bound in a boathouse by the sea. Their kidnapper has gone, but soon he will return. Their bonds are inescapable. But there is a bottle and tar to seal it. Paper and a splinter for writing; blood for ink. A message begging for help… In Copenhagen’s cold cases division Carl Morck has received a bottle. It holds an old and decayed message, written in blood. It is a cry for help from two boys. Is it real? Who are they and why weren’t they reported missing? Can they possibly still be alive?
First Impressions: Exactly as I would have wanted it to start – intrigue… and Carl Morck!
Highlights: This novel was a bit longer than the previous ones in the series which meant the reader gets to indulge in Carl Morck’s actions and interactions. How fantastic! The effects of his coffee drinking and stereotyping of other Scandis (this time the Jutlanders) never fails to amuse. The investigation in this book was a bit more drawn out which meant I got to enjoy more of Carl, Assad, Yrsa and Rose. Fabulous! I am also glad for the final chapter as I would have been very unsettled as I have a young son myself. However, my heart was racing a bit through these pages I must admit!
If I was an editor: What also made the novel a bit longer was the extra detail from the POV of the perpetrator and victims. It was an interesting (religious) crime but I probably would have preferred not to follow this strand so closely. Rather, to have it referred to in a more mysterious way where I had to fill in some of the gaps in the story myself would have been preferable. This part of the narrative was perhaps a bit overdrawn in my opinion.
Overall: A definite must for fans of the series! Everyone else, start at book 1…
Redemption: 4 Stars
Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami
Here’s a story about a bride who’s no longer sure what to think. All families have their own rituals, secrets, and credos, like a miniature religious cult; these quirks may elicit the mirth or mild alarm of guests, but the matter is rather more serious if you’re marrying into a household. If its’s a Japanese one with a history, the brace yourself: some surprising truths lurk around the corner.
First Impressions: It read like a lot of contemporary Japanese novels. Perhaps not *quite* as engaging but there was more than enough to keep going.
Highlights: Even though this is a rather bizarre story in the end (of course it is!) I think the author really captured the difficulties of marriage for women in modern Japan. The family situation felt stifling and Noriko’s grappling with where her loyalties should lie was believable and I found it a little uncomfortable. Is there really nothing more important than her husband’s family? I was almost surprised the family let her meet with her friend Tomomi. I have since read that Asa Nonami has a decent female following in Japan as she provides searing critiques of Japanese society in her writings. Yes, definitely a feminist novel!
If I was an editor: Well, I knew it would get weird but the revelation was really out there. It wasn’t the supernatural explanation I was expecting and I still can’t decide whether this disappoints more or not. If you can believe it, the family secret is both so offbeat and underwhelming at the same time. There must be some cultural nuances and references I don’t understand (guilty!). Also, while it is a relatively short novel I think it could have been shorter – Noriko wavered one (or two) too many times with her feelings of loyalty to the family.
Overall: Odd but is seared in my memory.
Now You’re One of Us: 3 Stars
Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven
Ellen van Neerven takes her readers on a journey that is mythical, mystical, and still achingly real. Over three parts, she takes traditional storytelling and gives it a unique, contemporary twist. In “Heat,” we meet several generations of the Kresinger family and the legacy left by the mysterious Pearl. In “Water,” a futuristic world is imagined and the fate of a people threatened. In “Light,” familial ties are challenged and characters are caught between a desire for freedom and a sense of belonging. “Heat and Light” presents an intriguing collection while heralding the arrival of an exciting new talent in Australian writing.
First Impressions: Wow. What an amazing and innovative writing style!
Highlights: In addition to getting a small thrill from all the references to place locations in Brisbane and South East QLD…
I loved the originality in the first section Heat. The author has really taken traditional indigenous story telling and turned it on its head. If you made a list of everything you would expect to find in a multi-generational indigenous story, I can assure you that you won’t find any of that here. Leave you preconceptions behind and slam the door on them! The problems and issues faced by the characters are clearly real but not not what I was expecting which made it a refreshing read. To transform a genre so much really should open it up to a wider audience (I hope, anyway). One one final note, telling the stories out of chronological order added to the reading experience.
I really admired the innovate middle section Water. Again, highly original and with the added bonus of human-plant gay sex which has been mentioned on other blogs (it shouldn’t be sexy or graphic enough to alarm). This story in a way reminds me of a zany cross between Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things (establishing the anthropology of the Plant People) and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (for the tone and work of the narrator). The sheer creativeness of the story compounded my enjoyment. I particularly liked the background of the Plant People’s existance – so fitting for such a work.
In the final section Light I loved the very first and very brief short story (the name of which I don’t have with me now). One word: atmosphere. I wanted to learn more.
If I was an editor: This collection would confirm my opinion that there are many brilliant undiscovered writers out there. One niggle I had with Water were the few paragraphs early on providing the a political and cultural overview of Australia in the future; in my opinion, not really needed as the story immerses you in this world. The final section Light was a great collection of short stories but I don’t think they really added to the effect of final product which is unfortunate to say as van Neerven’s talent shines through. These stories did start to feel a bit similar after a while and I would have loved this section of stories to be linked too, ideally beginning with the first story I loved for the atmosphere! I guess I was anticipating a more profound conclusion to the collection but it’s hard to be disappointed with such innovative writing.
Overall: Cutting edge – and it works!
Heat and Light: 5 Stars
The Golden Age by Joan London
It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia. At The Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent Home in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond. The Golden Age becomes the little world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs. It is a place where children must learn they’re alone, even within their families.
First Impressions: London’s writing style really transports you back to the 1950s. To say it is beautifully written is an understatement.
Highlights: This is a very thought provoking novel. I hadn’t ever considered the polio epidemic so I found that really interesting, particularly how each polio patient has their vivid ‘onset story’. The additional layer to the story about Frank’s family being migrants from Hungary and their experiences both in Europe and Perth really added an extra dimension to the story telling. I really felt for Frank’s parents as they adjusted to life in such an alien city and landscape. New country, new start, yet burdened with polio – you really feel for the Gold family. One moment from the novel that will stay with me for a while is when Frank’s mother Ida laments that much to her despair the few errors she makes in her otherwise perfect piano playing wouldn’t be noticed by Australian audiences; such errors would not be tolerated by elite musicians or audiences with keen ears in Vienna, and rightly so! One other thing I liked about this novel was that the chapters were told by a variety of characters all linked to The Golden Age hospice. You learnt about their private lives and were often surprised.
If I was an editor: It is hard to think of how to improve this novel. I don’t know if ‘where are they now’ final chapters always work. This one was interesting but perhaps didn’t add to much to the novel as a whole.
Overall: A beautiful and perfect example of melancholy.
The Golden Age: 5 Stars
Long Way Home by Eva Dolan
A man is burnt alive in a suburban garden shed. DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to investigate the murder. Their victim is quickly identified as a migrant worker. Zigic and Ferreira know all too well the problems that come with dealing with a community that has more reason than most not to trust the police, but when another migrant worker is attacked, tensions rapidly begin to rise as they search for their killer.
First Impressions: From the first few pages I could tell this would be an engrossing crime read. The setting in particular was well described. For a number of days I squeezed in as many pages as I could between finishing my gym workout and collecting my son from the creche!
Highlights: I found a lot to like in the start of this series. I liked the Peterborough setting and the way the different parts of the greater area were described. Perhaps Peterborough may start to get some literary related tourism? It’s also a good reminder that not all immigrants head straight to London. It’s easy to forget this. I liked the two detectives – they are an interesting mix of personalities and ethnicities – and the way they investigated the crime within their Hate Crimes unit. The author had obviously done a lot of research on the lives of migrant workers and this paid dividends as the novel was both informative and believable. I definitely learnt a few new things about migrant workers such as the renting out of garden sheds. Not the sort of business venture I’m keen to get involved in but it did make me take more notice of my neighbours’ sheds :-) Oh, and very importantly, the twists are good.
If I was an editor: I would say that while the first and last third of the novel required quick page turning, the middle did lag in parts which is surprising as the investigation kept moving at a reasonable pace. However, this didn’t necessarily hinder my enjoyment of the novel, and to be honest with you, as this is a bit of a belated review, my memory of the novel in hindsight doesn’t involve any lagging.
Overall: An original and believable crime novel to start a series that I can see myself comfortably working my way through.
Long Way Home: 4 Stars
Thank you to Vintage for a copy of the title to review.
Hardboiled and Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto
This book contains two novellas possessed by the ghosts of love found and lost.
In Hardboiled, the unnamed narrator is hiking in the mountains on an anniversary she has forgotten about. As she nears her hotel and stops on the way at a hillside shrine and a strange soba shop, a sense of haunting falls over her.
Hard Luck is about another young woman whose dying sister lies in a coma. Kuni’s fiance left her after the accident, but his brother Sakai continues to visit.
Hardboiled definitely has fantastic gothic undertones. It is a little creepy with that anticipation of doom just hanging over you. It would make a great film. In fact, I enjoyed the dark side to this novella so much I was disappointed when it ended. Couldn’t it be a full novel??!! On another note, I liked the flashbacks to the narrator’s past relationship too.
Hard Luck didn’t grab me so much at first. I found it rather depressing and slow. However, towards the end of the novel I was hit with the narrator’s pain and emptiness with regards to her sister and therefore the ending really affected me.
Overall: Beautiful, simple writing.
Hardboiled and Hard Luck: 4 Stars