Hornblower and the Atropos by C. S. Forester

Find in catalogI picked up this book on one of the “Read and Return” racks at the Eugene Public Library. It is #4 in the Hornblower saga. Horatio is now a captain and is given the Atropos, a lively frigate to command. Horatio lives up to his reputation as a swashbuckler and saves the day more than once with his intelligence and daring yet calculated decisions. He is ever observant of those around him and his situation and more than a little self-critical, making him quite human and an appealing character. He is one of those who becomes a hero because the choice is to either try to succeed or suffer the consequences of in-action. A good adventure and escape to another place and time. Happy reading!

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Find in catalog“All the Light We Cannot See” is a very thoughtfully written book. It takes place before, during and after World War II. The main protagonists are a blind french girl and a German boy. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, which in this case makes the difficult scenes of the war-time period easier to bear. It tells the experiences of these two separate lives and the brief time when their lives intersect. There is beauty and grace but also the grimness of the war period. Though the book is thick, it is not a long read as much of the prose is dialogue, and the chapters switch from the girl’s story line to the boy’s. I hope you will pick up this book at the library and enjoy reading it.

San Miguel, by T. C. Boyle

Find in catalogThis is the story of two families who homestead on the Island of San Miguel, the farthest of the Channel islands off the coast of southern California. The first family moves there in the 1880’s, ostensibly as a cure for the wife Marantha’s tuberculosis. This turns out to be folly as the cold, wet, fog drenched island is far from healing. Marantha struggles with her health as well as the isolation as her husband plays sheep rancher. In the 1930’s a young married couple move to the island, seeking a home during the Great Depression. The island is still a harsh environment, but they make it a home for their family. The characters are based on real people who lived on the island. I enjoyed the book, it is very honest about the difficulties of living in a remote place.

Coronation Summer, by Angela Thirkell

Find in catalogThis was not in my usual reading genre, but it was an interesting read. Two young girls in the time of a royal coronation, the excitement of the big city and all the things to see was a new to see historical London. I thought the writing and dialects was a little hard to understand and times, it may have been historically and locally accurate – just hard to read.

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

Find in catalogThis is a beautiful work of historical fiction, and surprisingly also a page turner. Using a backbone of real historical persons and factual events, Kidd uses the eyes of two women to tell a story of the forging of a kind of friendship between two women who live parallel but vastly different lives due to forces beyond their control. Kidd alternates the chapters between the slave Hetty and her reluctant owner Sarah Grimke. The book is fairly short, and a fascinating introduction to these important female historical figures during pre Civil War Charleston. Perhaps the one thing I wished for more of was additional exploration of Sarah’s other relationships, although some deeper elements of Hetty’s relationships were rewarding on this front. One of the most enjoyable parts of this book was the reader being drawn in to observing and continually evaluating or reflecting on: what is possible in a friendship, how and when to do the right thing, what surprising similarities subtly exist in people’s lives as well as dreams realized and not.

Outlander by Diane Gabaldon

Find in catalogThis is the first of the Outlander series on which the Starz movie is based. The movie is good and follows the book well, but the book is outstanding. It has a rich storyline with a complex female main character who is strong and determined to lead her life by her own standards. It’s also a great way to learn more about Scottish history.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Find in catalogThe two main characters could not be more opposed but are so appealing and so finely drawn that in spite of ourselves we can’t help rooting for both: Werner, the Nazi, on the hunt, and Marie-Laure, the young woman drawn into the resistance in  occupied France. Doerr manages to avoid the usual cliches while describing the horrors of World War II. His descriptions of the  physical details of life, from snails at the ocean’s edge to the sounds from an old Victrola, made me feel that I was in the setting.

Questions this book raises: what is the value of art, music, stories, nature, in holding a life together? And what keeps us going? Werner lives for his radio; Marie-Laure, for her father and for her shells; and the frightened, reclusive uncle finds he is alive again when he engages with the struggle.

The time shifts in the book confused me and I don’t see their purpose, but that seems like a small weakness in a gripping yet sensitive book.

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

Baker TowersBaker Towers and its sequel follow families in a coal-mining area of Pennsylvania. The style of the book is very straight-forward and unadorned as it unfolds the problems of each character. We watch the characters changing through the years, but they often seem to drift, live with regrets, although perhaps that is exactly what these people would do. “Bakerton did this to people: slowly, invisibly, it made them smaller, compressed by living where little was possible, where the ceiling was so very low.” Because many characters vanish and re-emerge over time, I found it hard to track their development. One pleasure in the book comes from its setting, which shows the quality of life in those mining towns in the 1950s: the ethnic identifications, the lack of opportunity and limited aspirations, and the attitudes toward sex, marriage, and divorce.

Reviewed by Sarav

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

thousand autumns“The Thousand Autumns…” introduced me to a setting that I’d heard little of, that of Dejima (in Nagasaki Bay), the Dutch East India Company trading post in 1799, in a period when even to bring a Christian book into Japan was a crime. Through Mitchell’s character, the clerk de Zoet, we learn about everyday life – medical treatment (rough), life on the post (rough), the role of women (rough), crime and punishment (extremely rough) – and how to flirt across cultures.

I found Dr. Marinus and Captain Penhaligon more interesting than de Zoet or Orito, presumably the main characters. However, I found the plot excessive, convoluted, and implausible, with too much emphasis on action and a naval battle. The scenes are well-written, but I felt I was flying between them with scanty connections.

Mitchell frequently presents actions or thoughts of his characters interspersed with rich descriptions – birches shivering, sounds of a street vendor, wind rattling screens “like a deranged prisoner.” These had a cinematic quality to me – the camera or microphone swiveling back and forth between the character and the settlng.

Reviewed by Sarav

Vancouver: a novel by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths

Historical fiction of Vancouver, British Columbia, from the end of the Ice Age 15,000 years ago up to this century, the authors keep it personal, amusing, and interesting by using stories of historical and invented characters that represent many of the diverse groups populating present day Vancouver. These include First Nations peoples, British and Europeans, Chinese immigrants, East Indians previously part of colonial India, and others. The stories pass through the centuries viewing the Vancouver area through the eyes and experiences of about 12 main characters. A precious artifact of the first people, which is imbued with spiritual significance and origin legend and is said to be powerful enough to ‘bring the people back,’ appears and re-appears throughout the saga. Very beautifully written and surprisingly personal for so vast a theme, this is a fun way to learn others’ history and cultures and could well enhance your enjoyment on future visits to the area.

Reviewed by Laura R.