Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘historical fiction’ Category

My guest today is Elaine Russell, whose book Across the Mekong River I read and reviewed a few years ago and highly recommend. Today, she is here to celebrate the release of her new novel, In the Company of Like-Minded Women, which focuses on the struggle for women’s rights in the early 20th century. Please give her a warm welcome:

The level of political discord and despicable behavior in 2018 has sadly reached new heights (or maybe lows), prompting large numbers of American women to speak out, run for office, and organize for social justice. I thoroughly enjoyed stepping back over a hundred years to write about another generation of brave women—those who fought for women’s suffrage, access to professional careers, and other basic rights for women and children. The so-called “New Woman” demanded an equal voice, but faced incredible opposition from the men in power and moneyed business interests.

In the Company of Like-Minded Women explores the bonds between family at the start of the 20th century. Three sisters are reunited in Denver, Colorado, after a rift many years before. Mildred and Eva travel from Lawrence, Kansas, to visit Lida and her two children in Denver in June 1901. Lida, widowed two years before, has just graduated from medical school and begun working as a doctor. Eva, only twenty-five, begs Lida to help her overcome the opposition of Mildred and their mother to a match with the handsome Mr. Dearman of Boston. The women’s rights movement and Lida’s progressive friends provide the backdrop as the story unfolds.

Colorado led the charge for women’s rights when Republican, Democrat, and Populist women banded together to win a stunning victory in 1893, which granted women the vote in Colorado—twenty-seven years before national suffrage was approved. In 1901, the rest of the country watched with intense interest to see how this played out, challenging Colorado women to defend their accomplishments since obtaining access to the ballot box.

The story is told in three voices in alternating chapters by Lida (the middle sister), her 16-year-old daughter Sara Jane, and Mildred (the oldest sister). The following is an excerpt from Sara Jane:

I could barely contain my excitement. Aunt Eva’s predicament called to mind the dime novels that my best friend, Rose O’Malley, and I had taken to secretly reading after she found a stash hidden in the armoire in her mother’s sewing room. The romantic novels told complicated sagas of hopeless liaisons filled with improbable plots and unbelievable coincidences. We had found several rather sensational and shocking. Only Aunt Eva’s story wasn’t cheap or unsavory like those books. Her tale was more like a Jane Austen novel of thwarted romance and secret rendezvous, certainly nothing illicit.

The thrill of being privy to Aunt Eva’s intrigue offered an escape from my sheltered world and the dull, monotonous routines and sorrows of the past few years. My aunt had taken me into her confidence, and I could not disappoint her. I thought of Saint John, the patron saint of discretion, whom I had read about the previous week. He had died at the hand of King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia rather than divulge the confession of the king’s wife, Queen Sophie. Such loyalty was to be admired. I would pray to Saint John to help me keep Aunt Eva’s secret.

Mama bit her lip before speaking. “I can talk with Mildred on your behalf.”

Aunt Eva grabbed Mama’s hands. “I don’t want to burden you, but you’re my last hope. You must meet Mr. Dearman first, so you can argue in earnest on his behalf. If we can only convince Mildred to give him a chance. She’s never even talked with him.”

Mama blinked several times. “But how will I meet him?”

“I’m expecting a letter…” Aunt Eva began, but she halted at the sound of heavy, uneven footsteps descending the stairs. She wiped away her tears and took a ragged breath.

Aunt Mildred loomed in the doorway. “What is going on? Eva, have you been crying?”

“It’s only a cinder from the train in my eye. I’ll run some water over it.” Eva bolted from her seat and brushed pass Mildred.

“What has she been telling you?” Aunt Mildred’s tone implied wrongdoing on Eva’s part and perhaps on my and Mama’s as well.

I gave Aunt Mildred my most serious look, frowning slightly. “She was talking about her illness.” This was mostly true. Eva had mentioned concerns over her health.

“Did you sleep?” Mama asked calmly. “Come have some coffee and a roll.”

Aunt Mildred blinked several times. “I didn’t sleep at all. That dreadful feline of yours is somewhere upstairs mewling like a hungry calf.”

I cringed. “I’m sorry, Aunt Mildred. She must have gotten locked in Cole’s room.”

Cole clattered from the kitchen across the dining room and front hall, sliding to a halt next to Aunt Mildred. He lifted his clasped hands toward her face. “Look, Aunt Mildred! I found a frog in the bucket by the water tap outside.”

Aunt Mildred gave a short yelp and clutched her chest with one hand. “Get it away from me. Right now.” She stumbled forward and collapsed onto the green velvet armchair, causing it to shudder with a worrying groan.

Mama jumped up. “Cole, take that back outside.”

“But, Mama, I want to keep him. Just look.” He scooted forward and tripped over the edge of the Persian carpet. His arms flew out as he hit the rug, and the frog sailed through the air. “Jesusmaryandjoseph!” The words slipped out as one from Cole’s lips.

The poor creature landed on the fireplace hearth and remained still as if stunned by its sudden freedom. It was only three inches long at most, a rubbery, gray-green blob with bulging black eyes. Harmless looking, really. I felt rather sorry for it. Cole lunged for the frog, but it hopped across the carpet and under Aunt Mildred’s chair.

Aunt Mildred leaped up, emitting staccato shrieks while shaking out her skirt and lifting her feet as if dancing one of Katherine’s Irish jigs. The frog proceeded to hop into the entry and down the hall toward the library. Cole sprang up and down in hot pursuit, always a moment too late.

There were murmurs and a scuffle. Eva appeared around the doorway with a bemused expression brightening her face. She gently held the frog in her hands. “We’ll be back soon. Cole is going to show me his yard.”

****

About In the Company of Like-Minded Women

In the Company of Like-Minded Women explores the complexities of bonds between sisters and family at the start of the 20th century when women struggled to determine their future and the “New Woman” demanded an equal voice. Three sisters are reunited in 1901 Denver following a family rift many years before. Each sister faces critical decisions regarding love, work, and the strength of her convictions. The success of Colorado women in gaining the right to vote in 1893–twenty-seven years before the passage of national suffrage–and their continued fight for women’s rights, provides the background as the story unfolds.

Buy on Amazon: Paperback | Kindle

****

About the Author

Elaine Russell

Elaine Russell is the award winning author of the novel Across the Mekong River and a number of children’s books, including the young adult novel Montana in A Minor, the Martin McMillan middle grade mystery series, and the middle grade picture book, All About Thailand. Elaine lives with her husband in Northern California and part time on the Island of Kauai.

Connect with Elaine: Website | Facebook | Twitter

****

Giveaway

Elaine is generously offering two copies of In the Company of Like-Minded Women to my readers (U.S. and Canada). To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, October 21, 2018. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

To double your chances of winning, check out Elaine’s guest post on Savvy Verse & Wit, where Serena is also offering a giveaway!

Thank you, Elaine, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new book!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I’m delighted to share with you an excerpt from The Foyles Bookshop Girls by Elaine Roberts, courtesy of Aria. I am very much looking forward to reading this book, as it is set in a London bookshop during World War II. If you enjoy the excerpt, I encourage you to enter the giveaway below!

****

Chapter 2

Alice sighed with relief. Foyles Bookstore frontage was unmissable. The message was clear. They were the largest booksellers in London, with six floors. If a novel was purchased and returned after it was read, there would be a refund of two thirds of the price for each book. They had created quite a name since William and Gilbert Foyle started selling their own unwanted books in 1903. Everyone who started working there was told about their vision of having a bookshop for the people.

She paused for a moment to take a couple of deep breaths, hoping to lessen the heat on her face, catching sight of her reflection in a shop window. Her slender figure was slightly distorted by the glass as she patted down the wide, black-edged lapels of her white blouse. Her hand automatically ran down the small black buttons, twisting each one in turn. She took a deep breath, patted her pinned up hair and stepped towards the open doorway of the shop.

The shutters were being lifted and bookstands were being placed by the entrance and to the side of the store. Customers of all ages were already gathering.

‘Morning, Miss Taylor.’ A slim man towered above her. ‘You only just made it on time.’ He frowned.

Her heart pummelled in her chest. She looked up at his stern expression. His grey hair was greased back. ‘Sorry, sir, I foolishly went to St Thomas’ before I came to work.’ Colour flushed her cheeks; Mr Leadbetter was a stickler for timekeeping.

‘Oh.’ His face softened. ‘Nothing wrong I trust?’

‘No, sir, I’ve so many books indoors, I wanted to give some to the hospital…’ Alice’s voice faded to a mumble. ‘For the patients.’

Mr Leadbetter raised his eyebrows. His hands linked behind his back, making his dark grey jacket gape revealing more of his blue tie and lily-white shirt. ‘Very commendable.’ He paused for a moment. ‘You do know we sell second-hand books as well as new ones, don’t you?’

The corners of Alice’s lips lifted slightly. ‘Of course, sir, I’ve worked here for a few years now. I just thought it would be a good thing to do, but I should have waited until my day off.’

Mr Leadbetter nodded and stepped aside for Alice to walk through the store to the staff room. Having removed her hat and left it with her shopping bag, she stood in front of a large white clock face with its wooden surround and pulled her clocking-in card from the individual slots next to it. She dropped it into a hole in front of the clock and pulled it out again. Alice looked down at the time stamp, realising she had only just made it on time. Quickly placing it back, she hurried into the shop.

Foyles had an air of a library about it as men, women and children lifted books from the shelves to look at the covers and read the first few pages. People whispered to each other, some louder than others, as their excitement grew. The bookshop had become a popular meeting place. There were shelves upon shelves of old and new books, priced from tuppence upwards. She took a deep breath, never tiring of the smell that came from them. She smiled, remembering how Mr Leadbetter had caught her with her nose in a book, her eyes shut, savouring the smell. He hadn’t questioned her; he understood and they spent ten minutes trying to work out how to describe it. Was it woody? But then there was a trace of something else; maybe it was the ink or dust. If the previous reader had been a smoker, then that also clung to the pages. No one in the store thought it was odd; they were book lovers, after all.

Alice stepped behind the counter and placed her pad of bill payments in front of her.

‘Morning, Alice, everything all right? I saw old Leadbetter talking to you.’

Alice looked up and smiled at Molly. ‘Shh, don’t call him that, he’s quite nice really.’

‘Huh, I am not so sure about that.’ Molly pulled back her shoulders and lifted her chin, showing she was a head taller than her friend. She pushed back her blonde fringe and patted the bun that was neatly formed at the nape of her neck. ‘I don’t think he likes me.’

Alice laughed. ‘He’s probably heard what you call him.’ She reached for a pen and placed it on top of her pad. ‘Right, I’m ready.’ Alice glanced over at the payment booth, expecting to see Victoria sitting there but it was empty. ‘Is Victoria in yet?’

Molly shrugged her shoulders. ‘Vic’s nearly always late. I don’t know how she gets away with it.’

Alice frowned. ‘Don’t call her that, she hates it.’ She took a deep breath; the waft of carbolic soap hit her. In an attempt to clear her throat, she gave a slight cough.

Molly’s bottom lip jutted out as she stared intently across at the payment booth. ‘Well, you can’t deny Miss Victoria Appleton seems to get away with things that no one else would.’

Alice sighed. ‘Stop being mean, she has a lot on her plate, and anyway she probably gets docked fifteen minutes pay every time she’s late.’

Molly’s eyes looked heavenward. ‘As always.’ She frowned. ‘If she’s so poor, you wouldn’t think she could afford to lose money like that.’

‘Stop it. You or I wouldn’t be able to cope with the things she does at twenty years old.’ Alice glared at her friend for a moment before allowing her features to soften. ‘Something’s clearly bothering you but we can’t talk about it now; maybe at lunch time.’

‘What makes you think something’s wrong?’

Alice laughed. ‘You’re obviously not in a good mood.’ Glancing over at the payment booth again she saw Victoria stepping inside and locking herself in. She looked pale and weighed down. Alice smiled and waved at her friend but she wasn’t looking her way.

‘I’m in a perfectly good mood for a Monday morning, thank you very much.’ Molly smiled through gritted teeth.

‘What’s happened?’ Alice turned to give Molly her full attention. ‘Didn’t you have a very good weekend?’

Molly stared down at the counter, her fingers tracing the wood grain. ‘It was fine.’

Alice shook her head. ‘We’ve been friends since we were children; you do know you can tell me anything, don’t you?’

Molly looked up and frowned. ‘We have, but we come from very different backgrounds.’

‘Not that different, and it’s never been an issue before, so what’s happened to make it one now?’ Alice squinted at her, trying to read what was going on.

‘Miss Cooper.’

Molly turned around to see Mr Leadbetter staring at her; she feigned a smile. ‘Yes, Mr Leadbetter.’

‘Is this your post for today?’

‘No, sir, I’m just going there now.’ Molly stepped past him without waiting for a response.

Alice watched him smile after Molly. The smile vanished as quickly as it arrived. He turned towards Alice. ‘We could be in for another busy day today, so please keep your eye on things. I don’t want half the stock going missing.’ He gave a curt nod and stepped aside, allowing a customer to be served.

Alice smiled at the lady standing in front of her. ‘Good morning, isn’t it a glorious day?’ She took the book the customer was holding out towards her.

‘It certainly is. Too nice to be shut inside.’

‘You’re right, but I do love being surrounded by all these wonderful books.’ Alice smiled. She looked down and completed the bill payment form before giving it to the customer. ‘If you would like to take this slip, together with tuppence, over to the payment booth.’ Alice indicated to her left. ‘Make your payment and then come back to me with your receipt.’

The lady gave a toothless smile. ‘I will.’ A gnarled hand reached out and took the slip of paper. ‘Thank you.’

Alice watched her hobble over to the payment booth; she hadn’t noticed her leaning heavily on a walking stick. She should have done and offered to take her payment over there for her. A low sigh escaped; it was too late now though, and she’d probably have been dismissed for trying to be helpful. Frowning, she recalled another assistant getting the sack for the same thing. They had all been reminded that it’s clearly stated they were not to handle any money outside of the payment booth. With her smile permanently fixed, Alice moved onto the next customer.

****

About The Foyles Bookshop Girls

London, 1914: one ordinary day, three girls arrive for work at London’s renowned Foyles bookshop. But when war with Germany is declared their lives will never be the same again…

Alice has always been the ‘sensible’ one in her family – especially in comparison with her suffragesupporting sister! But decidedly against her father’s wishes, she accepts a job at Foyles Bookshop; and for bookworm Alice it’s a dream come true. But with the country at war, Alice’s happy world is shattered in an instant.

Determined to do what she can, Alice works in the bookshop by day, and risks her own life driving an ambulance around bomb-ravaged London by night. But however busy she keeps herself, she can’t help but think of the constant danger those she loves are facing on the frontline…

Alice, Victoria and Molly couldn’t be more different and yet they share a friendship that stems back to their childhood – a friendship that provides everyday solace from the tribulations and heartbreak of war.

Perfect for fans of Elaine Everest, Daisy Styles and Rosie Hendry.

Buy links: Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

****

About the Author

Elaine Roberts

Elaine Roberts had a dream to write for a living. She completed her first novel in her twenties and received her first very nice rejection. Life then got in the way until she picked up her dream again in 2010. She joined a creative writing class, The Write Place, in 2012 and shortly afterwards had her first short story published. Elaine and her patient husband, Dave, have five children who have flown the nest. Home is in Dartford, Kent and is always busy with their children, grandchildren, grand dogs and cats visiting.

Follow Elaine: Facebook | Twitter

****

Giveaway

Aria is offering 2 ebook copies of The Foyles Bookshop Girls to my readers. This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, June 24, 2018. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Read Full Post »

Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

But I do know there is no justification. No possible rationalization for what the Nazis did, for what civilian Germans permitted and encouraged to happen.

And yet: you. Here you are. You have the temerity to sit in my home, at my table, with your lights and your cameras and your questions and your historical credentials. You dare to seek some explanation. You dare to record the stories of the butchers and those who abetted them. You dare to seek some exoneration of a people who committed wholesale slaughter of an entire race!

(from Those Who Save Us)

Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us focuses on a broken relationship between a mother and daughter who lived in Weimar during World War II. The book centers on Anna Schlemmer, who has spent 50 years in silence about her wartime experiences. Her daughter, Trudy, who was just a baby during the war, remembers only bits and pieces of her life then.

The novel opens upon the death of Anna’s husband, Jack, the American soldier who married Anna shortly after the war and brought her and Trudy to Minnesota. Trudy, a professor of German history, does her duty in caring for her mother, but the distance between them is palpable. Her unanswered questions and desire to understand her mother’s wartime choices prompt her to take on a project in which she interviews Germans about their experiences during the war, including how they survived and what they knew about the Nazi atrocities.

Trudy has long been haunted by a photograph she found in her mother’s drawer as a child: what looks to be a family photo of Anna, Trudy, and an SS officer. The truth behind the photo is revealed over the course of the novel, which shifts back and forth between Anna’s wartime story and 1997 as Trudy interviews subjects for her project and navigates her mother’s coldness and silence.

What struck me most about this novel was how the war resulted in a sense of guilt and isolation for both Anna and Trudy. Anna stands by her actions during the war, both good and bad, as a means of survival and protecting her daughter, though the shame and the lingering trauma closed her off to both her husband and daughter. Trudy carries guilt based on her interpretation of the photo, and her mother’s refusal to revisit the past has left her without a support system. It was interesting how both of them carried the weight of guilt, though Trudy was too young to remember the war.

Those Who Save Us is a rare instance for me in which both the past and present aspects of the novel were fascinating. Although it is hard to connect with Anna and Trudy, as they keep themselves at arm’s length even from each other, Blum enables readers to understand their motivations and empathize with them as the story unfolds. Blum also doesn’t shy away from detailing the violence of war, and there were several times that I had to put the book down and calm my emotions. I had hoped for more resolution in the mother/daughter relationship at the end, but Blum stays true to their characters while giving them and readers a sense that healing is on the horizon. Those Who Save Us is a well-crafted, thoughtful novel that takes on some pretty ambitious subject matter but handles it with care and without assigning blame.

Serena and I featured Those Who Save Us as the June/July readalong on War Through the Generations. Our discussions can be found here (beware of spoilers): Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4. Stay tuned for an interview with author Jenna Blum, which also will be featured on War Through the Generations sometime soon.

Read Full Post »

Source: Cedar Forge Press
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Robbie reached across and touched my arm. When he didn’t draw his hand back, I told him about my frights. “Maybe,” he said, “we all practice our dying, in different ways, at different times, but there’s no way to avoid the thought. Write it if you can.”

(from The Belle of Two Arbors)

The Belle of Two Arbors is a sweeping historical novel that takes readers on a journey between Glen Arbor and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and sometimes beyond, from 1913 to 1978. The book is presented as a memoir of the fictional poet Martha “Belle” Peebles, whose entire collection of poems, or “songs,” are found in a trunk, along with the memoir, after her death. The novel chronicles Belle’s life, from her mother’s tragic death when she was 14 until the end of her life and beyond.

Belle’s mother was a fan of Emily Dickinson and encouraged Belle to write. Although devoted to her younger brother, Pip, and her Papa, Belle decides to leave Glen Arbor to attend college in Ann Arbor, where her lifelong friendship with Robert Frost begins. Her friendships with Robbie, Ted Roethke, and Wystan Auden enrich her life and inspire her work, and they share their poems and letters over the span of many years. Dimond chronicles Belle’s work, her role as a caregiver, her complicated love life, her desire to preserve the natural habitat in Glen Arbor and expand the family’s stove works, her battle with sexism in academia, and more.

The Belle of Two Arbors is an ambitious novel that was just a bit too long for me at nearly 700 pages. Dimond’s prose is great, and Grimes’ poems (Belle’s poems for the purpose of the novel) are well done, but it felt like there were a lot of scenes and details that, though well written, just did not further the plot.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the novel overall because of Belle. What a fantastic heroine! She was brave, strong-willed, ahead of her time, a pillar of strength among her friends and family, a source of encouragement and love. She had dreams and figured out ways to achieve them. She managed the ups and downs of love without being overly romantic or dramatic. Her interactions with historical figures were fascinating. If it weren’t for the extraneous details that hindered the flow in certain places, I would have loved this novel, but even so, I think it is worth giving a try for Belle alone.

Check out The Belle of Two Arbors on Goodreads and Amazon, and click the banner above for more details about the book and to follow the blog tour.

Disclosure: I received The Belle of Two Arbors from Cedar Forge Press for review.

Read Full Post »

Source: Review copy from HarperCollins
Rating: ★★★★★

For here, in this battered and stubbornly beautiful city, where death and destruction fell from the skies night after night, she had finally found a home. Here was the one place in the world where she truly belonged. And that alone, she decided, was reason enough for thanksgiving.

(from Goodnight from London)

I really enjoyed Jennifer Robson’s trilogy set around the Great War (check out my reviews of Somewhere in FranceAfter the War Is Over, and Moonlight Over Paris), so when I saw that her next book was set during World War II, I knew I had to read it — and I was not disappointed! Goodnight from London is the story of American journalist Ruby Sutton, who arrives in London in 1940 to cover human interest stories for Picture Weekly. She left behind a lonely life in New York to pursue her career, and she soon comes into her own with the help of her new friends, editor Kaz, photographer Mary, and the secretive Captain Bennett.

Ruby believes she will bring an outsider’s perspective to her stories, which are being sent back to her New York weekly as “Dispatches from London,” but it’s not long before London feels like a real home to her. She endures the Blitz along with everyone else, finding comfort in Londoners’ ability to “keep on keeping on” even after they’ve lost everything but their lives. Robson follows Ruby over the course of the war as she finds love and friendship and matures as a writer and a person, forcing herself forward even as the war and her past catch up to her and threaten her newfound happiness.

I loved Goodnight from London, especially its plucky heroine, Ruby (who was inspired by Robson’s grandmother), and her determination to make something of herself no matter what. Robson has created a strong supporting cast of characters as well, especially in the sweet but mysterious Bennett and his charming godmother, Vanessa. Robson beautifully sets the scene of London during the Blitz, making readers feel like they are truly accompanying Ruby as she seeks out the good in the midst of so much destruction and is brave enough to move closer to the action in order to understand the importance of sacrifice, not only by the soldiers, doctors, and nurses but the everyday person as well.

Robson is a true storyteller, whose passion for her subject matter shines through in every page of the novel. If I hadn’t been so busy and distracted lately, I likely would’ve devoured this book in one sitting. Goodnight from London is an emotional tale for sure, and while I enjoyed the romantic aspects of the story, I’m glad Robson kept Ruby, her courage and determination, and her wartime experiences at the forefront. Definitely a contender for my Best of 2017 list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Goodnight from London. Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received Goodnight from London from HarperCollins for review.

Read Full Post »

Serena and I are hosting a readalong in June for the 2017 WWII Reading Challenge on War Through the Generations. Even if you are not participating in the challenge (and even if you’ve already read the book), we encourage you to join us for our group discussions of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. The discussions will be posted on War Through the Generations each Monday, from June 12-July 3.

For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy’s sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer. Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the heartbreaking truth of her mother’s life. Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

Here is the read-a-long schedule, with discussions here on each Monday.

  • June 12: Discussion of Prologue – Chapter 15
  • June 19: Discussion of Chapters 16-29
  • June 26: Discussion of Chapters 30-45
  • July 3: Discussion of Chapters 46 – End

We look forward to reading what sounds to be a fantastic book, and hope you will join us!

Read Full Post »

Source: Personal library

“Father needs me at Schulpforta. Mother too. It doesn’t matter what I want.”

“Of course it matters. I want to be an engineer. And you want to study birds. Be like that American painter in the swamps. Why else do any of this if not to become who we want to be?”

A stillness in the room. Out there in the trees beyond Frederick’s window hangs an alien light.

“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”

(from All the Light We Cannot See)

Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, is set during World War II and alternately tells the stories of two teenagers caught up in the confusion and chaos of war. The novel follows Marie-Laure from her days as a young girl accompanying her father to the museum where he worked in Paris to her life in the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where she lives with her great uncle. Meanwhile, readers watch Werner as he grows up in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany with his younger sister, where his love of learning takes him on a journey from fixing and building radios to attending a school for the Hitler Youth to designing and using systems to weed out the resistance.

The novel opens in 1944 as the Americans drop incendiary bombs on Saint-Malo, forcing both 16-year-old Marie-Laure and 18-year-old Werner to separately fight to survive. Doerr takes readers back and forth in time, gradually peeling back the layers of each story and making readers anxious to see how they will converge. There is so much depth to this novel, from the legend of the Sea of Flames to the mini-cities Marie-Laure’s father painstakingly creates to help her navigate the world after she loses her sight, from the haunting voice of the French professor that Werner’s first radio picks up to the brutal lessons he learns as he joins the military to achieve his dreams and avoid a bleak future in the mines.

Doerr’s prose is beautiful and haunting as he portrays two characters who are thrust into impossible situations, alone, at such a young age. It was both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch Marie-Laure and Werner navigate their strengths and weaknesses amid so much terror and helplessness and evolve from those experiences. I was able to connect with both characters at various points in their journeys and feel their emotional turmoil, knowing that, given the setting and time period, the ending would be bittersweet at best. All the Light We Cannot See is a strong contender for my year-end roundup of the best books I read this year.

Serena and I hosted a six-part readalong of the book at War Through the Generations. Here are the links if you’d like to read and/or participate in a more in-depth discussion of the book, but beware of spoilers: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, and Week 6.

Disclosure: All the Light We Cannot See is from my personal library.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »