Spoiler-free review: ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr

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4.5 stars out of 5 (5 on Goodreads)

‘Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’

I picked up this book in my favourite bookshop (Book Cycle in Exeter), having seen it all over Instagram in previous months. I had no idea what to expect other than that which was written on the blurb, and other bookstagram users telling me that it was beautiful – so my hopes were high!

‘All The Light We Cannot See’ is set during World War Two in mainland Europe, and is divided between the stories of: Marie-Laure, a blind French girl; Werner Pfennig, a talented German boy; and Von Rumbel, a Nazi whose time is running out.

Marie-Laure is a wonderful character through whom Doerr can play with the reader’s senses. Marie-Laure cannot rely on her sight to tell her about the world, so the reader is instead given descriptions of smells, sounds and textures, making for very sensory reading. The writing of this book is rich and descriptive and therefore beautiful to savour as you read.

The most outstanding aspect of this book for me was the structure and how time was handled. I think the easiest way to explain it is to describe it as a running race: there are two main timelines, the earlier one eventually catching up with the later one, with some later epilogue-style chapters. I found this so effective as Doerr really teases the reader – we know what’s coming but not how the characters will get to this position. Clever stuff. The last 100 pages or so (this book is somewhat hefty at 530 pages) are thrilling and worth the somewhat slow-paced previous 400 or so. The earlier slow pace is why I knocked off half a star – for the majority of the book I wasn’t gripped. I was interested enough to read on, but it dragged a little before the climax.

I have to say that I haven’t read another book that deals as honestly with war as this one (except perhaps Markus Zuzak’s ‘The Book Thief’, which has some similarities with Doerr’s novel). Personally I come from a family that went through atrocious things in Germany in the 1940s, so I was glad to see that not only was Nazism dealt with from an outsider’s perspective of Marie-Laure, but also from the insider’s perspective of Hitler Youth recruit Werner. I think the treatment of sensitive issues was perfectly done and I learned a lot about occupied France, though I already knew a fair amount about 1940s Germany as my family lived through it. An incident with the Russian men was particularly personally striking. I was genuinely moved to tears near the end of the novel, and it takes quite a lot for me to do that!

I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy WWII fiction such as ‘The Book Thief’, or those who enjoy lengthier, deeper novels.

4.5 stars out of 5

Let me know your (spoiler-free) thoughts on ‘All The Light We Cannot See’!

Anna x

Spoiler-free review: ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir

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3.5 stars (4 on Goodreads)

‘There aren’t many people who can say they’ve vandalized a three-billion-dollar spacecraft, but I’m one of them.’

I saw the film adaptation of ‘The Martian’, directed by Ridley Scott, earlier this year and it was good. Really good. So when I saw the source novel on sale in Waterstones I knew I had to pick it up.

This sci-fi story follows botanist Mark Watney, an American astronaut who is accidentally left behind on Mars following a storm. The reader quickly becomes engrossed in Mark’s fight for survival. He’s a botanist so what does he do? He grows potatoes. All hail the Martian Potato. (See, there’s a reason for there being a potato in the above picture…). He also does a heck of a lot of science-y stuff.

I’ll admit I have mixed feelings about this book. Firstly, some things I liked… Holy moley, the amount of research that must have gone into this book. The level of detail and scientific analysis and information is staggering. I had to look up whether Andy Weir had ever been involved in NASA or at least consulted them but no, he mainly did a lot of research by himself. It really is incredible how you feel you could almost be on Mars with Mark. I also really enjoyed the humour in the novel – it really helped lighten the tone and make for a more entertaining read. I feel like Mark Watney is someone I want to be friends with, however I feel like Andy Weir could have fleshed out his background a little more. There are only a few references to his parents and there are only around two moments in the novel where Watney seems to miss them or feel emotional about his situation. Perhaps that’s his astronaut training or perhaps it’s an unintended character flaw – after all, his caring personality (not wanting the crew to feel guilty for leaving him behind) doesn’t seem too consistent with his lack of emotions for most of the book. But maybe that’s just me. I’d also have loved to see more development of the secondary characters in the novel. I enjoyed the little insights into the other astronauts’ emotions and personalities such as Beck and Johanssen and probably would have appreciated the book a little more had there been more of this.

Something I think worked very well was the multiple perspectives. The narration switches between Watney’s first-person Log and various third-person perspectives of the employees at Nasa and in Hermes, the ship Mark was supposed to be a member of. These multiple perspectives really help ramp up the tension and create beautifully strained dramatic irony at various points throughout the book. However, there were also moments when I was bored by Watney’s long, highly scientific or mathematical explanations of how he went about repairing things and keeping himself alive. Some might see this as a good thing as Weir isn’t talking down at the reader, but I found it a little dull I must admit.

Overall, I did enjoy ‘The Martian’, even though this review might seem quite critical. I think it made a better film than a book (and I almost never say that!) because the soundtrack and cinematography added a LOT to the story. Plus Chiwetal Ejiofor. Who doesn’t love Chiwetal Ejiofor?!

3.5 stars out of 5

Let me know your (spoiler-free) thoughts on ‘The Martian’!

Anna x

 

 

Spoiler-free review: ‘Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J Maas

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4 stars

‘Meet Celaena Sardothien. Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.’

After seeing posts about and reviews of the ‘Throne of Glass’ series all over Instagram and Youtube, I thought I should give it a go, especially as I adore Maas’s other series ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’. Going in knowing nothing about it other than that it was about an assassin, I was not disappointed!

The first novel in the epic ‘Throne of Glass’ series follows Celaena Sardothien, the most deadly assassin in the land of Erilea, as she is forced to compete in an almost ‘The Hunger Games’-esque competition to become the King’s Champion – his official assassin.

This book is a classic YA fantasy novel in that the protagonist is a teenage girl who is in some way ‘special’ and is faced with a huge responsibility. However, I not only enjoyed the book but also found that I rather liked Celaena – she’s a badass with a bad past (say that five times fast…) who refuses to be defined by the term ‘Mary Sue’; she’s not perfect. In fact, she’s rather vain and conceited, but it fits her character and personality well. She felt realistic. I also liked the two main male protagonists, Chaol and Dorian. Looking forward to seeing more of them!

I thought the pacing was pretty good for the first novel in a series – there was lots of world-building but we only really had one setting (the castle of Rifthold). Hopefully in the rest of the series the world will be explored more. I also found the novel a little slow in the middle as not a lot was happening other than Celaena training for the tasks of the competition. This was more than made up for in the last part of the book though: boy does Sarah J Maas know how to build up the tension! I love her action-packed fight scenes which are perfectly balanced with aching romance.

I had a bizarre conversation with someone on Instagram who INSISTED I read the prequel ‘Assassin’s Blade’ before reading ‘Throne of Glass’, even though ‘Assassin’s Blade’ was published later. However, I’d already started ‘Throne of Glass’ and had heard from others that starting with the first book in the series is fine – and everything made sense when I read it so… I’ll read ‘Assassin’s Blade’ for sure, but I don’t think it’s necessary to read it first.

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Throne of Glass’. It’s good fun read and I’m definitely going to be reading the rest of the series while I wait for the third book in the ‘ACOTAR’ series.

4 stars out of 5

Let me know your (spoiler-free) thoughts on the ‘Throne of Glass’ or ‘ACOTAR’ series!

Anna x