Review: All the Light We Cannot See ~ Anthony Doerr

All the light we cannot seeISBN ~ 978-1476746586
Publisher ~ Scribner
No. Of Pages ~ 531 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great-uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

2 Thumbs-UpWhat a confusing book, flipping backward and forward between time periods and not being what I was expecting at all from the synopsis; and it’s not as if the Author gradually leads the reader into all this mayhem, he throws them right into it from the very first chapter.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am not against the multiple thread novel, as I have reviewed other Authors that use this tactic, and use it well; it was just not the case in the book and, in my opinion did nothing to improve or help the novel in any way.

The book has two main protagonists from different sides of the conflict that book is set partly in, World War II.  I’m not sure if it was me, or I am losing my touch but I really found nothing that make me connect to either of these characters; I didn’t like them at all.  In fact the only emotion I had for them was pity that they had been placed in a novel such as this.  Yes, it was sad that the female main lead was blind, but did we have to be reminded of it every few pages; and given the amount of miles her fingers walked they must have been nothing but nubs by the end of the book.  As to the male lead, given he was an orphan he lacked the zeal and love for the Nazi party that many orphans felt, as they found a ‘family’ at last that needed them.

Thinking that this was a historical novel was the reason I picked it up in the first place, so imagine my surprise when it seemed to turn on its heels and become a fantasy mystery; very strange.  In my mind it would have been better if the object of the mystery had been connected with Nazi thefts during the war, rather than some magical and mysterious properties it was supposed to possess.  This added to the tediousness I was beginning to feel over the flipping between eras, and just added to my lack of overall enjoyment of this book.

The saving grace for this novel and the reason for the two thumbs rating was the prose.  With an elegant pen the descriptions of objects, places, sensations encountered by the senses was just beautiful; it brought to the front of the reader’s mind how much we take for granted the sense of touch and smell and results in making them experience the mundane on different level in their own lives.

I’m sure there are some readers out there who will totally disagree with my review, but that is the nature of the world and both sides of a coin have to be seen to get a well-rounded picture.  If you enjoy fantasy, mystery and WWII historical fiction all in one book, this may be a good read for you.  If you like to keep your genres separate unless they are skilfully blended together, I would give this a miss.  I doubt I will be reading anything else by this Author.

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Review: The Guns of Napoleon ~ Peter Lean

Guns of NapoleonISBN ~ 978-1910162668
Publisher ~ Kindle Amazon
No. Of Pages ~ 320 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble

A cross genre (time-travel/historical) novel, based on the short story with the same title.

The Guns of Napoleon takes Victor Sirkov, professor of History at St. Petersburg State University, and passionate scholar of Napoleon, on an adventure through time to meet the very man he thought he knew so well.

Victor is contacted by the mysterious ChronoLab and given the opportunity to witness first hand what he could only have imagined. He is sent back two hundred years through a natural wormhole, and brings his personal demons with him.

Thrust into a world very different from the one he left behind, Victor must fight for survival during Napoleon’s fateful, and bloody, conquest of Russia. Knowing how history should play out, doesn’t always give him the upper hand, as Victor soon finds out.

The Guns of Napoleon deals with the consequences of changing significant moments of world history, and to what lengths one man will go to correct them, not only for the greater good of mankind, but for the woman he loves.

4 Thumbs-UpI was given this book by the Author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, as if I ever do anything else in my reviews but be honest and unbiased.

To be honest I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the title and then read the synopsis, but I can say that this book was well worth the time it took to read it.

The main protagonist is well written and, although he can be a bit of an ass in some parts of the story, he is a well-rounded and likeable chap.  The way in which he reacts to the period of history he finds himself in is very realistic and when faced with events that his interaction with could change the course of history, it is interesting to see which path he takes.  This is a character that makes the reader think, and also makes them examine what they themselves would do if they were in his shoes.  What I particularly liked about this character was the way he was able to accept some of the new facts he learnt about certain historical figures; he was not narrow-minded or blinkered as can be the case with some History Professors.  He appeared to me to fully embrace the notion that History is more about the motivation of those who were around at the time that shaped History, rather than just it being a random series of events.

Blending time travel with actual historical events in a piece of fiction must be a difficult task; the Author pulls this off magnificently.  The way in which they wrote this book reminded me very much of Connie Willis and her Oxford Time Travel books, but without the humour that is apparent in those novels.  My only complaint in this book, and the reason for giving it a 4 thumbs rating was, I felt, it could have done with some really tight editing to correct some of the minor errors in it.  Apart from this everything else about the book was thoroughly enjoyable; the writing style of the Author, the plot and the premise all joined together to show that this is an Author that has what it takes to satisfy an established publishing house, rather than remaining in the self-publishing world.

I would definitely recommend this book to readers interested in both the Historical and Time-travel genres, as it is a wholly engrossing read.

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From Tear-Jerkers to the Warm and Fuzzies…

As regular followers of my blog will know I am not a lover (excuse the pun) of the romance novel genre.  However, as today is Valentine’s Day I thought I would share with you six of the greatest love stories of all time, and which I fully intend to bite the bullet and read, or reread as in the case of Bronte, to review at a later date.  As always this list is in no particular order.

Wuthering HeightsTitle ~ Wuthering Heights
Author ~ Emily Bronte
ISBN ~ 978-0141439556
Publisher ~ Penguin Classics

One of the most passionate and heartfelt novels ever written, Wuthering Heights tells of the relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, the orphan boy her father adopted and brought to Wuthering Heights when they were children.

While Catherine forms a deep attachment to Heathcliff, her brother Hindley despises him as a rival. Heathcliff becomes torn between love for Catherine and the rage and humiliation he suffers. Finally he can stand it no longer and, in the violence of a summer storm, leaves the Heights for three years. During his absence Catherine has married, but her tormented heart belongs eternally to Heathcliff who is now prepared to exact his tyrannical revenge.

With its freedom from social convention and its unparalleled emotional intensity, Wuthering Heights is a highly original and deeply tragic work.

Anna KareninaTitle ~ Anna Karenina
Author ~ Leo Tolstoy
ISBN ~ 978-1593080273
Publisher ~ Barnes & Noble Classics (June 1st, 2003)

Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover. Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable to escape an increasingly hopeless situation.

Set against this tragic affair is the story of Konstantin Levin, a melancholy landowner whom Tolstoy based largely on himself. While Anna looks for happiness through love, Levin embarks on his own search for spiritual fulfillment through marriage, family, and hard work. Surrounding these two central plot threads are dozens of characters whom Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together, creating a breathtaking tapestry of nineteenth-century Russian society.

From its famous opening sentence — “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—to its stunningly tragic conclusion, this enduring tale of marriage and adultery plumbs the very depths of the human soul.

Doctor ZhivagoTitle ~ Doctor Zhivago
Author ~ Boris Pasternak
ISBN ~ 978-0679774389
Publisher ~ Pantheon (March 18th, 1997)

This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak’s complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it. The book quickly became an international best-seller.

Dr. Yury Zhivago, Pasternak’s alter ego, is a poet, philosopher, and physician whose life is disrupted by the war and by his love for Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. His artistic nature makes him vulnerable to the brutality and harshness of the Bolsheviks. The poems he writes constitute some of the most beautiful writing in the novel.

Sense and SensibilityTitle ~ Sense and Sensibility
Author ~ Jane Austen
ISBN ~ 978-0141439662
Publisher ~ Penguin Books (April 29th, 2003)

‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

Dangerous Liaisons - Les Liaisons dangereusesTitle ~ Dangerous Liaisons: Les Liaisons dangereuses
Author ~ Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
ISBN ~ 978-0192838674
Publisher ~ Oxford University Press (March 18th, 1999)

The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. The subject of major film and stage adaptations, the novel’s prime movers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game – a game which they must win. This new translation gives Laclos a modern voice, and readers will be able a judge whether the novel is as “diabolical” and “infamous” as its critics have claimed, or whether it has much to tell us about the kind of world we ourselves live in. David Coward’s introduction explodes myths about Laclos’s own life and puts the book in its literary and cultural context.

Hunchback of Notre DameTitle ~ Hunchback of Notre Dame
Author ~ Victor Hugo
ISBN ~ 978-0140443530
Publisher ~ Penguin Classics (October 26th, 1978)

In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo’s sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century.

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Review: Photographs: A Journey Through Space, Time, and More ~ Peter Lean

PhotographsWhat is the connection between an old photograph, a planet with three moons, four friends travelling back home from Cornwall, and the number eleven?

And what ties together a battle on the lunar surface two thousand years from now, a Russian time traveler, and Napoleon?

Photographs is a journey through space and time by which the reader has the opportunity to remember that real life and fiction are truly not that far apart.

5 Thumbs-UpThis novella is a compilation of short stories… or is it?  The answer to this question lies in the hands of the reader as they progress through the stories that cover topics as diverse as dreams, choices, existence and time travel.  This book covers all these topics and more, and the Author skilfully tackles any questions that they cause by challenging the reader to stretch their mind and look at them from an angle they may not have considered before.

As with all short stories that only cover 20-30 pages, there isn’t enough time in any of them to develop any of the characters to a great degree but this isn’t an issue in these stories, as the Author manages to breathe so much life in the few pages allocated to each that the reader is drawn to the characters and, in some cases is even made to feel something for them, in the short time they share with them.  This shows great writing skill and an ability to engage the reader on the part of the Author.

I know it is clichéd to say that to write a review on this book would be hard without giving away spoilers or including excerpts, but that is truly the case here; this collection of cleverly interlaced stories will have the reader questioning their perception of what is reality and what is fiction.  The Author deftly ties everything together in a way that makes the reader think.  This is definitely a unique book filled with unique stories, despite the confusion that the settings can sometimes cause as the reader is taken from one unfamiliar place to another.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good sci-fi, time travel, and parallel universe read that is not too bogged down with minutiae.

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