Archive for : April, 2015

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – A Review

Blinded at the age of six, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is the heroine of this novel by Anthony Doerr. All the Light we Cannot See is an elegant book set in France in the 1940’s. It tells the story of love and desperation, war and hope during the time leading up to, and in the middle of, World War II.

Marie and her father, a locksmith who had overseen all of the locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, have escaped the city to find refuge in Saint Malo, on the Brittany coast. When the reader first meets Marie, she has not yet met Werner Pfennig, a Nazi soldier sent to Saint Malo to track down radio transmissions. The city has been heavily bombed, and Werner is barely five blocks away from Marie in the ruins of a hotel.

Marie-Laure’s family is involved in the resistance. The museum has entrusted her father with the Sea of Flame, a rare and probably cursed diamond. The Nazis have this gem on their list of things to find. Marie’s great uncle is also in Saint Malo, using his radio transmitter to help the Allies.

Doerr uses flashbacks to help us understand what got the characters to where they are now, which is a week in August 1944. We see the human experiences, from the horrendous conditions of France in the occupation to the strict military Hitler Youth School.

The two young protagonists, Marie and Werner, have little in common. Although both are motherless, Marie has grown up in a loving home with a father who did everything he could to make her life as normal as possible. He even went so far as to build miniature models of everything she might see, so that she could commit them to memory and navigate by feel.

Werner lost both parents early on, and grew up in an orphanage. Once he reached a certain age he had been expected to go to work in the coalmines, but his genius status made him stand out e was selected to work with the Nazis. The detail about his schooling under Nazi rule is riveting, and we are let in on some of the possible motivations for the German population to have done what they did, either as active or passive participants in the Nazi efforts.

There are other interesting characters in this extremely readable book. A page-turner, this well-written story of France in midst of the German occupation keeps us interested in knowing what comes next.

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GoodReads Review is not everything that it’s cracked up to be. They claim to be one of the biggest communities for avid readers, but honestly, I feel like it’s more of a mess than it should be, and I wasn’t happy with what I found there.

First, I had a hard time finding communities that I could get involved with. For being a social site, you’d think that they would make it easier for you to find suggestions like that. On top of that, you would also think that people would be friendlier when you got there, but I found the communities to be sort of clique-ish and just unpleasant to utilize. Overall, I was unhappy with this aspect of the site.

Another problem that I had was that their suggestions were rarely, if ever, from smaller publishers and/or lesser known authors. I would get these suggestions that were related to big name writers, even if I had indicated that I disliked a book by that author at some point in time. They don’t really pay attention to your ratings when they make suggestions from you – they just send you whatever they feel like sending you. Speaking of sending you things – you wouldn’t believe the amount of email you get from these guys. I unsubscribed from their stuff several times, just to get more email spam from them later on. Ugh.

Overall, I was really unhappy with what GoodReads had to offer. They didn’t live up to the claims that they made when they put everything together. Sure, they have communities and they offer suggestions, but they don’t seem to really care about you as the individual, instead they are looking to push stuff on you that is going to end up making them the most money in the end. I don’t want anything to do with a company like that.

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The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot – A Review

Set in Victorian England, The Mill on the Floss is a novel about family relationships that are psychologically complex. Eliot’s characters grow and change over a lifetime and the relationships must change as well.

Jeremy Tulliver owns and runs the Durlcote Mill on the River Floss. The mill has been in his family for over 300 years.  His wife, Elizabeth, is a dullard who is only concerned about insignificant matters. Their daughter Maggie with exotic dark hair and eyes is bright, outgoing and clever. She longs for intellectual challenge and growth while her brother is more practical and realistic. Maggie is favored by her father and misunderstood by her mother but she is very close to her brother.  The siblings are very different but Maggie comes to be emotionally dependent on Tom during their early years.

Although Maggie is the brighter of the two children and would love the opportunity to study, Jeremy decides to send his son for the additional schooling.

The conflicts in the book are centered on the clashes between characters as well as financial stresses and change.  Elizabeth Tulliver’s sisters have loaned Jeremy money and the debt is held over his head. His in-laws are as small minded and petty as his wife is. To lessen the power his sisters in law have over him, Jeremy endeavors to pay off the debt. He also decides that he will not ask his own sisters to repay money they owe him. He knows they are not able to pay it and forgives that debt.  A lawyer in the town, Mr. Waken, is Jeremy’s mortal energy who helps to destroy the family business.  Eventually Jeremy Tulliver falls ill due to the financial stress and so the mill is lost.

Later Tom tries to regain the family business and fortunes. This leaves Maggie freer to start living the life of her own choosing. The associations she develops during that time, especially with Mr. Waken’s son change her relationship with Tom.

The characters and their relationships are well presented and developed in the early chapters of the book.  The psychological depth and complexity of each character is typical of the Victorian novel. The portrayal of a strong, intelligent and outgoing young woman is typical of Eliot’s books. She chose to write under a male nom de plume so that her work would be appreciated and accepted and so that she felt free to write without worry of harsh judgment because of her gender.

The characters in the later years seem less developed and there is a bit of a disconnect when the plot jumps forward by 15 years. The reader may feel as if there is something missing because of the abrupt jump to the future.

The Mill on the Floss pulls the reader into the lives of the Tulliver family. The characters are multidimensional and they are changed by the events and by the evolving family dynamic. The reader comes to care about what happens to them.