All the Light We Cannot See | By Anthony Doerr

18143977Book: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Genre:
Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication Date:
May 6, 2014
Pages:
531
Rating: 
★★★★

Synopsis (from Goodreads): 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.

Thoughts: I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about the ending of this book, so I had to take a few days to think it over before giving it a rating. To be honest, I was initially somewhere in between liking it and really liking it (I know, I know – everyone seems to love this book). I’ll talk about my reasons for being on the fence after I tell you about some of the things I loved about this book. For one, the writing is beautiful; some may think that it’s a bit verbose, but I would argue that it has to be at times in order to illustrate Marie-Laure’s blindness. I can’t fully describe it, but I almost felt like I was in Marie-Laure’s shoes while reading, relying only on the sensations of touch, sound, taste, and smell to take in the world around me. Doerr writes in such a way that makes it seem like blindness in itself can be beautiful.

I found myself becoming very attached to the characters in this book, especially Marie-Laure. While I liked Werner’s storyline as well, I always looked forward to getting back to Marie-Laure’s POV. As a quick aside – some other reviewers have pointed out that the frequent changes in POV and the short chapters were bothersome to them, and though normally I might agree, I thought it worked really well for this book. Historical fiction novels tend to be somewhat long and slow-paced anyway, and I think if the chapters had been longer and the POVs more spread out, the book may have dragged a bit. But, back to the characters.

One of the more curious things about this book is how Doerr manages to make Werner, a member of the Hitler Youth, a sympathetic character. How do you ever know that you are doing the right thing? This is the question that Werner struggles to answer throughout the book, and his struggle is what makes him human. As an orphan, Werner accepts the “help” of Nazi who takes interest in his gift of being able to fix any kind of radio in order to avoid his fate as a miner. Werner’s gift ultimately leads him a Nazi military academy, where he fails to truly fit in with his peers and reconcile his beliefs with those of his superiors. Werner makes a friend at the academy who suggests that some German youth may not have had much control over their own lives, further illustrating that everything is not always as it seems.

Though I could keep discussing the good parts of this book, I’ll move onto the things I wasn’t so crazy about. There is a third storyline that follows Sergeant Major von Rumpel, a dying German mineralogist who is on a desperate search for an enchanted diamond called the Sea of Flames. Though this storyline is the source of most of the suspense in the novel, and is seemingly very important in the beginning, I ultimately didn’t understand what the whole point of it was. Another thing I was a little underwhelmed by was how the storylines all came together in the end. Part of the momentum of the story for me was wanting to see how Marie-Laure and Werner would meet, and what happened was not completely what I was hoping for. On the other hand, the story’s ending is definitely more rooted in reality than perhaps the reader wants it to be, which contributes to its literary fiction feel.

Bottom line: The aspects of this book that I was either confused by or disappointed in weren’t enough to keep me from really enjoying this read overall. If you love historical fiction – especially set during WWII – you should definitely pick this one up.

Top Ten Characters I’d Totally Want to be for Halloween

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week’s list is Top Ten Characters Who I Would Totally Want to be for Halloween. I wish that I had a Halloween party to go to this year, because I’d love to try one of these out! Sorry if these aren’t the most original choices, but here we go…

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1. Cersei Lannister from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones 
 Some of you may not like me after this one; but, if there’s any time to dress up like someone totally evil, it’s Halloween, right?

THE GREAT GATSBY

2. Daisy Buchanan from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

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3. Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
This would be fun! And you’d have so many outfits to choose from.

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4. The White Witch from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

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5. Daenerys Targaryen from George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords

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6. Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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7. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I know, I’m only the millionth person to suggest this.

Couple Costumes:

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8. Claire and Jamie from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander
DUH.

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9. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind
Even though their relationship is totally dysfunctional, IMHO. This can be ignored for costume purposes.

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10. Allie and Noah from The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

And Then There Were None | By Agatha Christie

9723667Book: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery, Classics
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: March 19, 2011 
Pages: 300
Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Ten unsuspecting people find themselves on Soldier Island, home to an estate shrouded in mystery and often gossiped about in the news. Among the guests are Mr. Justice Wargrave, an aging, well-known judge; Dr. Armstrong, a renowned doctor; Vera Claythorne, a young woman on a secretarial job; and five other guests with peculiar backgrounds, along with two house servants. Upon their arrival, the guests discover that their elusive host is not on the island, and are urged to make themselves comfortable. When one guest dies from what appears to be a suicide, the guests are shaken; however, when more begin to perish one by one, they quickly discover that a murderer is among them. With no way of escape, the guests desperately try to uncover who among them is the killer, before it’s too late.

Thoughts: Agatha Christie is one of the quintessential mystery writers of the twentieth century, and this novel proves to be a puzzle that is almost impossible to solve. As someone who doesn’t typically read mysteries – and have usually only done so by accident – I decided to change things up and give this classic whodunit a try. Overall, I did enjoy this book, but I’m realizing that most people who have read and reviewed this book love it. I just…didn’t.

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Don’t get me wrong – I liked it! My reasons for not loving this book most likely stem out of the fact that I’m just not a huge fan of mysteries in general. This book very plot-driven and primarily revolves around investigating and solving crimes committed; although each character’s background story provides potential clues to solving the mystery, it isn’t what I would call a character-driven novel. For me, a book has to be character-driven for me to get really invested, and I didn’t particularly like or relate to any of the characters. There were a few characters that I simply didn’t like at all, and was generally indifferent toward the rest.

As far as the plot goes, I decided about halfway through that there was no way I was going to be able to solve the mystery. I suspected all but maybe two or three characters to be the culprit, and as I continued to be proven wrong, I finally decided to sit back and let the mystery happen. I tried to pick out clues here and there, and would probably notice a lot more if I were to reread the book. I was kind of annoyed by the ending, as I felt duped by the somewhat unrealistic outcome; however, if I were to read it again and pay more attention to the clues, I might feel differently. With that said, I still think Christie deserves applause for the complexity of her writing, and can see why this book is so popular amongst readers who like mysteries.

Bottom line: Although I didn’t love this book, I really did have fun reading it. I would definitely recommend it to someone looking to read a classic murder mystery, or who enjoys plot-driven novels.

Top New Series I Want to Start

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week’s list is Top New Series I Want to Start. I tried to come up with a nice variation of genres, but ended up picking a lot of young adult and fantasy books; let’s face it, those genres typically do really well in the series format. I didn’t quite make it to ten, but hopefully I’ll have another series to add after I read your lists!

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1. Alex Wayfare Series by M. G. Buehrlen
First Book: The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction (Time Travel)
Publication Date: March 4, 2014

186660472. Shattered Sea Series by Joe Abercrombie
First Book: Half a King
Genres: Fantasy
Publication Date: July 15, 2014

157910853. The Falconer Series by Elizabeth May
First Book: The Falconer
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

101941574. The Grisha Series by Leigh Bardugo
First Book: Shadow and Bone
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication Date: June 5, 2012

180900825. John Gower Series by Bruce Holsinger
First Book: A Burnable Book
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publication Date: February 18, 2014

173991606. Snow Like Ashes Series by Sara Raasch
First Book: Snow Like Ashes
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication Date: October 14, 2014

160690307. The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski
First Book: The Winner’s Curse
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication Date: March 4, 2014

179991088. Kingmaker Series by Toby Clements
First Book: Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims
Genres: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: April 10, 2014

158399769. Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown 
First Book: Red Rising
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publication Date: January 28, 2014

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Book Journey.

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1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – I just picked this one up today! This book was released earlier this summer and has great reviews, so I’m looking forward to reading it. Also, I can’t think of a book I’ve read recently that is set in Paris, so I’m excited to have a change of scenery.

2. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon – I HATE that it has taken me so long to get through this! I’ve typically devoured these books as they’ve come out, but I just don’t have as much time to devote to just reading one thing at a time. I picked it up the day it came out back in June, but I keep having to set it aside because of schoolwork. I guess I could look at it as a way of shortening the time I’ll have to wait between finishing it and the release of the next book (or, until the show comes back on in April!).

What are you reading on this Monday?

Book Bites: Dark Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

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In addition to reading, I also love to cook; I’d even considered doing a recipe blog before choosing to do this instead. I’ve occasionally wondered how I could incorporate recipes here on Paperback Wanderings, but always decided it would be a bit too off-the-mark for a book blog – until now! I was reading a novel recently in which the character eats a piece of sourdough bread drizzled with honey, and my mouth started watering like no one’s business – and I don’t even like sourdough bread that much! That’s when I realized how I could incorporate recipes on my blog without being completely random.

I’ve decided to start a feature called Book Bites, where I will post recipes that are inspired by the books I read. The recipes may be based on a type of food specifically mentioned in a book, or on something as simple as setting (i.g., making an Italian dish inspired by a book set in Italy). All I know is this: if there’s anything better than reading, it’s reading and eating!

My first recipe for dark chocolate crinkle cookies is inspired by Gillian Flynn’s Gone GirlFor any of you that have read the book (or seen the movie), you will recall this scene from Amy’s first diary entry:

As we turn the corner, the local bakery is getting its powdered sugar delivered, funneled into the cellar by the barrelful as if it were cement, and we can see nothing but the shadows of the deliverymen in the white, sweet cloud. The street is billowing, and Nick pulls me close and smiles that smile again, and he takes a single lock of my hair between two fingers and runs them all the way to the end, tugging twice, like he’s ringing a bell. His eye­lashes are trimmed with powder, and before he leans in, he brushes the sugar from my lips so he can taste me. 

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So, this recipe is specifically inspired by – you guessed it – powdered sugar. These dark chocolate crinkle cookies are a delicious cookie/brownie hybrid doused in powdered sugar. They’re are really easy to make, albeit a bit messy. Despite being completely covered in sugar, these cookies are the perfect balance of bitter chocolate and sweetness. The best part: they are amazingly gooey.

Dark Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
Recipe adapted from The Glass Dish

What You’ll Need: 

  • 2 oz bittersweet baker’s chocolate
  • 2.5 oz unsweetened baker’s chocolate
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 & 3/4 cups powdered sugar, divided (see directions)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or one tablespoon cornstarch)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg whites

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet (I used non-stick baking spray, but butter or coconut oil would also work).
  2. Melt bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate, either in a double-boiler on the stove or in the microwave.
  3. Combine 1 cup powdered sugar, cocoa, flour, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Beat the egg whites with a hand-mixer on high until stiff peaks form (about 2 minutes). Then, gradually add 1 & 1/4 cups of powdered sugar to the mixture until blended and creamy.
  5. Gradually add the dry ingredient mixture to the meringue, beating slowly. Stir in the chocolate chips and the melted chocolate (it should be lukewarm by now). Once the mixture is very stiff, it’s ready!
  6. This is the messy part: Add the remaining powdered sugar to a bowl. Roll your cookie dough into balls (about an inch around, but you can make them as big as you want). Then, drop the dough balls into the powdered sugar and coat completely.
  7. Evenly space the cookie dough balls on the greased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes (mine actually took about 13 minutes – just keep an eye on them).

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Enjoy! Do you ever get food inspiration from books? Feel free to leave suggestions for future Book Bites!

Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I really enjoyed coming up with this week’s list! The topic this week is Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit, whether fictional or real. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of these places already, and I took a lot of inspiration from books when I was planning where I specifically wanted to go. I hope my picks inspire you as well, and I look forward to reading everyone’s lists!

Real Places

1. Greece
Ever since studying Greek mythology in high school (and a couple courses in college), I’ve been fascinated by both real and fictional accounts of Greece. One novel that comes to mind in particular is Helen of Troy by Margaret George, which is a beautifully written novel that brings Helen of Troy’s legend to life. Check it out on Goodreads!

2. Venice, Italy
Italy has been at the top of my travel list for a really long time, and my fiancé are planning to go for our honeymoon next summer. I feel like Venice is just one of the cities that you have to visit at least once, and it is the setting of The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips. The Rossetti Letter is the first in the Claire Donovan series (I believe there are only two so far), and it is historical fiction with a touch of mystery.

3. St. Petersurg, Russia
I never considered visiting Russia until I read The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. St. Petersburg truly is its own character in Kearsley’s novel, and she paints it so well that you can really imagine what it looks and feels like. I’ve mentioned The Firebird a couple times on my blog, which speaks to how much I liked it; you can read my review here.

4. Scotland
I mentioned how much I love the Outlander Series in last week’s Top Ten Tuesday, which is (at the beginning of the series) set in Scotland. I was fortunate enough to visit the UK a few years ago, and visiting Scotland was a must for me, largely thanks to these books. We weren’t able to make it up to the Scottish Highlands during our trip, but we did stay in Edinburgh for a few days, and ventured as north as Atholl to go white water rafting (we were told that Atholl was somewhat of a gateway to the Highlands). Outlander starts out in Inverness, which I’d like to visit when I go back one day.

5. Tower of London, England
I’ve read a lot of historical fiction set in England (so I won’t try to pin down just book), and the Tower of London is a frequent setting in the genre. Known for its famous prisoners and high profile beheadings, the Tower of London is a must-see if you ever get the chance to visit (even if it is a bit morbid). Visiting the Tower of London was probably my favorite part of our trip to England. I would highly recommend tagging along on one of the tours given by the Beefeaters at the Tower (they really know their stuff).

6. Hampton Court Palace, England
Hampton Court Palace was another destination in England that I insisted we visit. Home to Henry VIII and illustrated in Philippa Gregory’s Tudor Court Series, Hampton Court Palace is just a short train ride away from Central London and makes a perfect day trip.

7. Stratford-upon-Avon, England
So, this isn’t inspired by a particular book, but by a particular author; as you probably all know, Stratford-upon-Avon was home to William Shakespeare. We were not able to make it over during our trip to the UK, so this is another place I’d really like to visit if I get the chance to go back.

Fictional Places

8. Pemberley
Pemberley is the fictional estate of Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and PrejudiceAlthough Pemberley is not a real place (if only!), some believe Austen based it on the Chatsworth House, which is located in Derbyshire, England.

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9. Narnia
Who wouldn’t want to visit Narnia?! I mean, if you can talk to animals there, count me in (from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia).

10. Westeros
Okay…so I don’t think Westeros from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series would actually be a pleasant place to visit. But, if I could ride a dragon over Westeros and see the sights from a safe distance, I would.