All the Light We Cannot See … a review

This is a hands down brilliant book. I picked this up because I saw a friend reading it and I thought it looked interesting. I am usually not up for books set during the war (unless they are classics like Hemingway or Remarque). But this book is different, because it follows the journey of a young girl in Paris, the blind Marie-Laure LeBlanc – daughter of a Museum employee and a young boy Werner Pfennig in Germany.

Werner and his sister Jutta fix a half broken radio and listen to a Science made simple show, where an older Frenchman breaks complicated concepts down for children. When Germany invades France in 1940, Marie-Laure has to flee Paris and ends up with her eccentric great-Uncle Etienne. The story interleaves between the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner and the amazing thing is that the two central characters don’t meet until 80% of the book is over. Even so, it is a fleeting meeting that doesn’t last long at all. Everything about the story is incredibly well crafted. I loved Jules Verne as a child and this book has snippets of all time favourite ‘20,000 Leagues under the Sea’.

The storyline is incredibly simple, but with Germany invading France during the war, even the simplest of stories take on a larger than life meaning. I would definitely recommend this book, even if it is the only one you read in the summer. It was long after I had finished reading and I couldn’t get the book out of my head, I decided to red up on the author and discovered that this book had won the 2015 Pulitzer!

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Cartes Postales from Greece … a review

I was only meandering through the aisles of my local library and chanced upon another Victoria Hislop novel – since I had enjoyed The Sunrise a lot, I thought I’d borrow it. I wasn’t disappointed – set in Greece and Hislop’s easy style is very engaging.

The story follows the travels of a young English woman as she goes on a whimsical journey around Greece, guided by random postcards that appear in her London flat from a man only known as A. The overall plot is rather incredulous and doesn’t touch upon practicalities of undertaking such an adventure. However, that doesn’t take much away as this story is actually interwoven with fictional short stories from each place. My favourite was the one with the Oracle from Delphi and also the one that featured Lord Byron.

I was quite pleased that this book didn’t take me long to read at all, as at one point I was starting to tire a bit of the repetition in some of the themes, which made the short stories somewhat predictable. And the ending of the book, with Ellie finally meeting A is completely absurd too. But, it’s strange, it was still enjoyable.

I would definitely recommend The Sunrise more vehemently, however, if you are going to Greece or have been, you’ll definitely enjoy this read. It is definitely perfect for summer travels across the continent. Best consumed with some feta and olives!

Sybil … a review

Written by Flora Rheta Schreiber, this book has been on my TBR for years. In fact, it has been on that list since I read Sidney Sheldon’s Tell Me Your Dreams, which is fiction, based on similar fact. Sybil is the story of a young woman, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and has 16 separate identities.

The book is her account as told by Schreiber, who was an academic consult on the case, in association with her therapist. What is notable about this case is that it was a milestone moment for research and further study of DID as a significant mental illness. Before Sybil’s case apparently, it was disproved by some as not a real illness and more of an excuse for criminals to get out of confessions!

Even though this book is non-fiction, the events and episodes described in it are so bizarre that it reads like a fast paced thriller. Understandably, the book is also controversial, with many accusing the therapist of wrongfully diagnosing Sybil’s mother (who was not a patient) and also of the author making millions at the expense of Sybil.

However, all things considered, I’d like to think that highly specialised cases such as this deserve a retelling, to rally public support to fund more research and perhaps help more victims. If it has achieved that, then at least there is some good. I am really glad I finally got around to reading it, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least!

Chance Developments: Stories … a review

I haven’t read an Alexander McCall Smith is absolute ages! It may have been close to five years, I went through a phase of reading his stuff (and it was great with all the Edinburgh references). I got this one on discount on the Kindle, and it is quite an unusual work. There are 5-6 old photographs and what he tries to do is to create a short story out of each one.

In true Smith style, there is a strong central theme, in this case ‘love’ and the author manages to weave the different kinds of love into the lives of the various characters. What I loved about the book was how the characters all seem very ‘everyday.’ They could be the people who sat next to you on the bus or served you at the till. It really brings to life the concept of everyone has a story and when we meet someone or interact with them, it really is two personal story arcs meeting briefly before diverging again.

In particular, I loved the richeness of the first story and how it presents a snapshot of the life of an ex-nun. It was beautifully crafted from top to tail and ends in a bit of a flourish. Very enjoyable reading – I may be getting into that phase again!

Under the Harrow … a review

This book by Flynn Berry was a quick read. I picked it up because it was on a list with Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The novel is about a girl who is about to go visit her sister, but when she gets there, finds her sister and her dog both brutally murdered. I enjoyed how the author had described the crime scene very graphically, I do like that in crime novels, it sets a strong scene.

Turns out, the sister Rachel had also been brutally attacked in the past (and nearly died) but the perpetrator was never caught. The book is then the protagonist’s attempts to find her sister’s killer. And in true, crime fiction style, there are cops with personal issues of their own. Rachel’s past begins to surface, and we find that not a lot of people knew many things about her and many suspects with strong motives begin to emerge.

Overall, the book did not impress me. I found the revelations from the past rather predictable (perhaps I have been reading too much in the genre)! I also found the ending rather bland. The initial excitement of the plot did not carry through and the repeat crime sub-plot quickly lost steam. So I’d give this one a miss if I were you, but it isn’t a very long read either way, so it was okay.

The Road to Little Dribbling … a review

I was very fortunate to see Bill Bryson in person at a live interview about a year ago. Believe it or not, it was at a Microsoft conference! Anyway, it was his casual wit and his obvious intelligence that made me miss his Notes from a Small Island and I decided to pick up its sequel. That was about 5 months ago.

This book is about the more detailed journeys that Bryson undertakes, to the most quirky offbeat places on mainland Britain. Most of it is set in England (about 95%) which to me is a bit of a disappointment, because I’ve never lived in England and its quirks and cultural connotations are slightly lost on me. However, I could not help but snort on planes and trains as Bryson’s extremely sardonic style of writing struck again. His observations are hilarious, especially the one about the Microsoft Windows Updates (yes, he even writes about that sort of thing!) and the gag about the John Lewis shopping experience.

I would very much recommend this book in fits and bursts, it is not meant to be read in one sitting. Rather, if you have ever been to any of the places mentioned in the book, you must revisit them with book in hand! Now that would be a laugh. It was a bit monotonous in parts for me and I would have loved to read a bit more about Scotland in there too. But hey, for the most part, I enjoyed it.