Book Review ~ “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman

light-betweenMy Rating / 4.5 Stars

“The Light Between Oceans” is the first novel M. L. Stedman has written and it is an extraordinary story of the difference one decision can make; how the future must be lived and the past cannot be changed, and how love can blur the boundaries between right and wrong.

I liked how the author recognizes that so much of life unfolds in shades of gray, not simple black and white. Even the Lighthouse almost become a character, which is stationed between two very different oceans, the Great Southern Ocean (cold and treacherous) and the Indian Ocean (warm and calm), is named for Janus, the two faced Roman God of doorways, “always looking both ways, torn between two ways of seeing things.”

This idea of seeing things black, white or grey is mirrored throughout the story. The idea of honoring those who came home from the war but ignoring the scars, the idea of nature versus nurture and the love between husband and wife, parent and child, especially mother and child.

The story takes place after the first World War in Australia, after four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock. Janus is an isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a quarter and shore leaves are rarely granted. Before heading to Janus, Tom meets Isabel, a young, audacious women, who eventually becomes his wife and solitary partner at the Lighthouse. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

When the choice is made to keep the baby, instead of reporting the tragedy it eventually has a devastating effect that reaches far beyond the craggy shore line of Janus Rock!

Tom, who retreated from war to find peace in the solitude of the Lighthouse, miles from anyone, is soon confronted with conflict on a deeper and more intimate level than those he faced in war.

Isabel, who has had so much taken from her, the loss of her brothers at war and her three babies, see this “miracle child”, as a way to bring back a balance to her and Tom’s life. However, she failed to see the unbalanced effect, this decision would have on others, especially Hannah, the child’s birth mother, and the little one, Lucy.

The eventual reunion of birth mother and child takes place, however not smoothly. At one point Hannah makes a decision to give the child back to Isabel, “for the good of the child.” This reminded me of the bible, 1 Kings 3:25, the woman that loved the child did not want it to suffer, therefore was given the child. I felt that Tom decision not to report the death of the father and the discovery of the child, was for the same reason – the love for his wife. But ultimately, he could no longer live with his choice. I do feel that Isabel, while she had moments of regret and sorrow for Hannah’s loss, could have lived her life very happily with her original decision.

Putting aside what I thought was the morally right decision – I found myself developing empathy for each character. They are so well defined that, at one point or other throughout the book, I that sympathize with each of them and their internal struggle to do what’s right versus want. I especially like the development of some of the minor characters, Ralph, Bluey and Gwen to name a few.

A good story, a bit slow to start, but definitely picks up, I did find myself crying through the last 50 or so pages!

My favorite quote ´”You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.”

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Book Review ~ The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

by Alice Hoffman

My Rating / 3.5 Stars

museum-hoffman

This was my first Alice Hoffman read – I know, hard to believe! While I didn’t think this book was “Extraordinary” it certainly hasn’t turned me off picking up another Hoffman book to read.

The story, “Museum of Extraordinary Things” is connected by two great fires, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Dreamland Fire in Coney Island, and the two young lovers from different backgrounds cultures finding each other in the melting pot of New York City.

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister entrepreneur behind “The Museum of Extraordinary Things”, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show. Born with a “deformity” herself, webbed fingers, Coralie’s father conditions his daughter to become an exceptional swimmer and ultimately a mermaid in his side show. Coralie’s father shelters her from the real world however he exposes her to some harsh reality. One night Coralie stumbles upon a young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River and from there their lives intertwine. Ezekiel Cohen (Eddie), a Russian immigrant, came to America with his father and they find themselves at odds with each other and Eddie runs away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and becomes a photographer. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.

I liked the way the author tied the characters together through the two separate story lines of the two fires. However I felt at times there was too many characters that may have not been necessary, the hermit and Juliet Block are a few. I would have like to see more depth to the main characters such as Maureen and Sardie himself. (I must admit was confused about the trout I the bucket! LOL)

I didn’t the “love at first sight” between Eddie and Coralie – it was too easy. I never truly felt connected with the characters. While I found myself routing for Coralie and Eddie and some of the other minor characters, I never really felt that I knew them as well as I should have. I thought some of the antagonists, Sardie and the factory owners – came across as too one dimensional. If the characters had drawn me in more I probably would have rated the book higher!

I loved all the history in this novel, the descriptions of the sights of the boardwalk, Coney Island, the freak shows. Not being American, I had little knowledge of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Dreamland Fire in Coney Island, however this book has made me want to learn and read more about those events (that is was best thing about this book.)