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.”

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.)

Book Review / The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jamie Ford)

WHotelhile I found the book to be a slow read at first, it did finally win me over. It wasn’t the “Romeo / Juliet” storyline of Henry (Chinese) and Keiko (Japanese) during the high of the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II (although I found myself routing for them). It was the story of the three different cultures, the fears and friendships that I found myself drawn into and the reason I kept reading. The story as told through the eyes of Henry, a young Chinese American boy, and through his eyes we see the disparaging effects of prejudice and bigotry. It gave a good perspective into the difference beliefs and traditions and how they grow and evolve from parents to children.

Jamie Ford’s secondary characters were just as strong as the prominent ones and added so much to this book. I would have loved to have read more about the characters of Sheldon and Mrs. Beatty the “lunch lady”– but I was glad to hear that Ford had developed short stories from each of those characters. I shall seek them out!

The authors note at the end of the book actually made me appreciate the book even more! Knowing that the “I Am Chinese” pin was worn by the authors father as a child, that Panama Hotel is real and still exists today holding many artifacts from Japanese American families, that Oscar Holden was truly a forefather of Northwest jazz and that Bud Jazz Records still sits in the Seattle’s Pioneer Square – brought me closer to the characters and pulled me further into the story even thought I had already completed reading it. It makes me want to walk those streets and enjoy tea at the Panama Hotel one day!

Overall I found this to be an engaging and interesting read! 4 Stars!

Book Review ~ Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir

By Jenny Lawson

My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

lawsonOh Jenny, you had me at “Stanley, The Magical Talking Squirrel”!

How can you NOT love  a book with Chapters such as “Jenkins You Mother F*#ker”, “If You Need An Arm Condom, It Might Be Time to Evaluate Your Life Choices”, “That’s Why Neil Patrick Harris Would Be The Most Successful Mass Murderer Ever”, “My Vagina is Fine, Thanks For Asking”, “Thanks For The Zombies, Jesus” and many more!

Jenny Lawson wicked humor is addictive!  I loved this book because it read like a Monday morning email from a one of my crazy friends … “you’ll never believe what happened to me this weekend!” It was hilarious, actually had me laughing out loud.  A great break from the stresses of the day!

What doesn’t kill us – like those things we’d like to pretend never happened – are in fact the things that truly define us.  We may not all deal with talking squirrels, big metal chickens or wild dogs, but we all have our own life battles that we deal with but what makes us strong is our ability to laugh at them.

Easy read, very conversational, with a dose large of crazy. (kind of like my life LOL)! A perfect combination!

P.S. Victor is a Saint – I think I love him!!

Book Review – Light A Penny Candle – Maeve Binchy

lightpennyMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

Evacuated from Blitz-battered London, shy and genteel Elizabeth White is sent to stay with the boisterous O’Connors in Kilgarret, Ireland. It is the beginning of an unshakeable bond between Elizabeth and Aisling O’Connor, a friendship that will endure through twenty turbulent years of change and chaos, joy and sorrow, soaring dreams and searing betrayals. Through those years of friendship Aisling and Elizabeth wind in and out of each other’s lives. As they grow, fall in love, through happy times and disappointments, they come to realize that not all troubles will be solved, nor all wishes granted by lighting a penny candle.
I first read Light a Penny Candle years ago when I was a teenager, it was the first Maeve Binchy book I read and by far my favorite, and through the years I have re-read it several times. I have read all of Binchy’s books, most are what I would call “easy reads” – light hearted and warm but a bit predictable.  However when I recently read Light a Penny Candle again and remembered why I loved it so much and I still find myself completely immerse in the story.

The characters are well written and strong; the story is one of friendship and the growth, struggle and joys that happen along the way.  Maeve Binchy paints a glorious story of the lives and loves of two women bound together by friendship.  I felt as though I was right alongside Aisling and Elizabeth in Ireland watching them grow into adulthood and confront family conflicts, love affairs, and failed marriages.

The story evolves over 1940s to 1960s, and illuminates the stifling lack of privacy typical of small-town life.

The only thing I disliked was the abrupt ending – it left me thirsting for more (a sign of a good book if you ask me), I wanted to know what happened to Aisling and Elizabeth after the book ended.

Over the years, each time I would reached for a new Maeve Binchy book I found myself thinking of the girls of “Light a Penny Candle” where were they nao and how were they doing.  I still have my original book (I got it from a church book swap) – it is old, tattered, and worn, but opening up its pages brings me home to a place I feel happy and comfortable, home to Kilgarret!

Book Review – Out of the Easy – Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy The 1950 French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

 Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

I loved Ruta Sepetys debut novel ”Between Shades of Gray”,  a phenomenal story line and incredibly crafted characters, therefore when I saw in the GoodReads newsletter that Sepetys had another novel coming out I couldn’t wait to read it! I was not disappointed!

In “Out of the Easy” Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.  “Out of the Easy” is the kind of story that brings you in, wraps you up and doesn’t let you go until the end. The setting of 1950 New Orleans, a touch of murder, mystery and romance adds to the layers to the storyline. The characters are rich, fully developed and surprising becoming so much more than you first suspect.  The interpersonal relationships build throughout the novel and the main character Josie grows to overcome hardships and challenges while she decides who she is and what she wants from life.

A Good Read!

Book Review – 419 – Will Ferguson

419: A Novel419: A Novel by Will Ferguson My rating: 4 of 5 stars

419 takes us in a completely different direction then Will Ferguson’s previous books (travel / humor). 419 is a big, sprawling novel, that is many things – a mystery, a thriller and a social commentary.

419 refers to the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, particularly the infamous Nigerian internet scam.

In Canada, Laura Curtis is heartbroken when her father is killed in an auto accident. But on further investigation, it appears he committed suicide – why – because he had become embroiled in a 419 scam and lost everything. Laura decides to find the man responsible for her father’s death.

In another world, Nigeria, we follow the story of the 419 scammer, Winston – Nnamdi, a young man from the depths of the Niger Delta and Amina – a young pregnant woman walking her way across the country, escaping from something. We read as their stories evolve and entwine.

The 2012 Giller Prize Winner.

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