Tag Archives: world war ii

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 12.01.41 PMThis book is one of the rare books on my to-read list that a ton of the people I follow have already read and rated it extremely favorably, so when I was scrounging for a new book to read it was an obvious fit.

In All the Light We Cannot See, a historical fiction book about multiple characters in Europe during World War II, the sentences are absolutely beautiful. The characters are nuanced, and the plot mainly revolving around two adolescents: one is the French Marie-Laure who is blind and must move around and rely on others to help her live during the treacherous times, but is also shielded from how severe some things are because of her lack of sight, and one is the German Werner who is an orphan and is plucked up to join a school that funnels boys into the German military because of his keen interest and intelligence about circuitry and radios.

The stories of the two adolescents, and those who touch their lives is brilliant. I loved the details of nearly every character that was introduced as they all navigate their very different lives, yet move forward in parallel with the war being a steady, terrible event that unifies each of their lives. A theme of mysticism runs throughout one of the storylines and adds some interesting, dramatic turns to the story as well.

The chapters of All the Light We Cannot See are short, which makes it feel like you can control the pacing of this 500+ page book and not feel like you need to push through to finish an idea. In a huge book, this can (and did for me!) make the novel more enjoyable because it’s easy to pick up and put down, without feeling lost the next time you pick it up again. However, the length is what causes this to not be 5 stars for me. Did I enjoy this book thoroughly while I was reading it? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it enough to foist upon another person to read 500+ pages without mentioning the length as a caveat? Unfortunately, no. But if the book already sounds intriguing to you, you should definitely add it to your list for 500+ pages of captivating story.

Publication Date: 6 May 2014 by ScribnerFormat: E-book.

Author: Anthony Doerr web/facebook

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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

manhattanbeachI was eager to read the next novel by Jennifer Egan after loving A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was intriguingly constructed and unique. That story spun from character to character and wove a beautiful, interconnected web. To her credit, Egan tried to establish a similar web with Manhattan Beach, but it mostly fell flat for me. In contrast to the other, the reader spends their time reading the perspectives of three characters instead of a wider multitude and the character spins aren’t as great. While Egan clearly excelled at writing some of the characters, not all of them seemed fully developed. 
Manhattan Beach mostly takes place during the 1940s, but weaves to times before then occasionally, and the war is perpetually on the horizon. A theme of water moves throughout the entire novel with our three main characters all meeting at the beach for the first time, two of the characters diving together to find clues about a third, and one working on a ship.
The main characters are Eddie, the patriarch of an Irish family in Brooklyn who eventually becomes involved with the shadow world aka organized crime, Eddie’s daughter Anna who we follow from youth to her early 20s where she aspires to be a civilian diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Dexter Styles, a prominent figure within New York’s shadow world who employs Eddie. In addition to our three central characters, so many characters are mentioned in passing (particularly those related to Dexter Styles) that it was hard to keep track of who they are, why they matter, and what their relevant traits are when they’re reintroduced. 
I liked all of the bits from Eddie’s perspective the best and if we had followed him throughout the entire novel instead, this book very well could have garnered 5 stars from me. There’s a moving scene with Eddie on a raft that will stay with me for weeks. Aside from Eddie’s bits, the novel trudges along slowly and picks up in the last 100 pages (though it seems like other reviewers disagree with me and felt like the first 100 pages were the most engaging).
Overall, the novel was well written, but the story arcs and setting just weren’t for me. I haven’t been a fan of historical fiction in over a decade (remember that Dear America diary series? *swoon*) and this book didn’t incite me to switch back into the historical fiction appreciation camp. When I was more interested in this genre, I was partial to historical pieces that aren’t based in America so it’s very possible I could’ve liked something like this had it been situated elsewhere, but I simply didn’t find this story all that interesting. If you’re an Egan fan with a hunkering for some NYC historical fiction, this will be great. If you’re not… well, you’re not. 
My favorite quote from the novel is, of course from one of Eddie’s bits, when he is reflecting on his relationship with his daughter Anna:
“It was as if being his daughter had blinded her uniquely, as if anyone else — everyone — had seen and known him in a way she could not.”
Manhattan Beach will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on October 3, 2017! 
Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Scribner via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Scribner or NetGalley.