Review: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty


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Liane Moriarty’s smart and steady adult contemporary best-seller, The Husband’s Secret, entertains and disturbs by portraying and connecting people in the story in ways that make the reader question how relationships, secrets, and choices define its characters and people in real life. The reader experiences a week in the lives of several likable characters from different families living in Sydney and Melbourne whose lives are intertwined in both the past and present. As detailed accounts of character traits and histories unfold, the reader is invested in their experiences and considers the broader implications of their decisions, in part because they are uniquely human and flawed. The reader notices ways the things people let go or carry with them change lives.

The author gains the reader’s interest and consideration by creating a quick-paced and mysterious story with many interesting characters, whose secrets and the choices they make as a result, impact their lives, changing the ways they view themselves, those around them, and the world. Using protagonist, Cecilia Fitzpatrick, who finds an envelope addressed to her from her husband John-Paul, to be opened upon his death, the author asks the reader to consider the results of harboring secrets. The  unanswered questions Moriarty devises about her characters, create a suspenseful story and make the reader think about how choices to be dishonest or truthful govern outcomes of situations in the real world. When Cecilia and the reader learn John-Paul’s secret together, the reader empathizes with Cecilia’s doubts and hesitancy to reveal him; her instinct is to protect her family instead of doing “the right thing.” The characters and the story are intriguing because the reader can both distance him or herself from the fictional characters and still perceive the events happening to real people in real situations.

The reader is invested in, concerned about and affected by the various characters, who are likable and believable because of their mistakes and imperfections. As Cecilia’s family mysteries are revealed, among others, the reader notices in the thoughts and actions of different characters, things they each hide. Tess has Social Anxiety Disorder. Felicity is in love with her best friend’s and cousin’s husband. Connor doesn’t really have an alibi for the day of Janie Crowley’s murder. Rachel Crowely, Janie’s mother, hates her life and most everyone in it. Still, the reader is not disgusted or repelled by these faults and blunders.  Instead, no matter how different a character is from the reader, the character is significant and understandable. As if the lives of the characters are his or her own, the reader is on their side, and he or she finds him or herself wanting to know more.  The reader quickly reads and turns the pages to see how things will end, because no matter the result for the characters, Moriarty makes them and their circumstances genuine.

The Husband’s Secret, is successful and memorable, because it entertains while also posing relevant questions about the reader’s experiences. He or she enjoys the characters for their individuality, yet they stand out because of the ways they excite the reader and make him or her wonder: what decision will she make? how will her choice affect others? would I or could I do the same? The reader sees through the lenses of the characters and story, more than a well written mystery; he or she starts to see how this mystery exists in his or her life too.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


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The Ocean at the End of the Lane relates the reflections of the unnamed narrator’s past through a colorful and entertaining world of fantasy and fairytales to communicate important concepts about a person’s transition from childhood to adulthood and the differences in thought processes and perceptions of children and adults. Gaiman incites feelings, images, and ideas that take the reader back to childhood; and, he unveils the distance, alienation, and longing the narrator experiences as an adult, in attempting to go back and remember people, places, and events exactly as they once were. Through the lens of well-crafted imagination and fancy, the reader absorbs and visualizes the narrator’s unusual tale, ending the journey thinking differently about his or her own relationship with his identity and the past.

As the narrator travels to his childhood home, trying to remember it as it was, he shows the reader that something intangible separates the ideas and perceptions of childhood from the memories and experiences of adults. He points out that in his mind, he only exists as a child in the places from his past, leading to sense of estrangement. Then, he retains the ability to recall his memories as he experienced them, which allows the realization that children have more insight than adults realize. He recollects, “Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have.” (112) He remembers ideas and points-of-view he only knew back then. In this way, the narrator represents a self-awareness that is missing in adults. His pursuit of recollection and truth in moments long forgotten is a reminder for the reader to open-mindedly approach the present as a child does.

The author uses inventiveness and creativity to build a world, which takes the reader back in time, and allows him or her more receptive, youthful thoughts. Gaiman introduces the reader to the adult narrator, who dismisses the magic from his past as unrealistic and invalid. Next, he exposes the reader to the child’s memories, so the reader is challenged along with the narrator, to see and feel how memories change, are lost,  and distorted with time. Now, the reader sees the divide between concepts and events a child thinks and believes and those an adult accepts, such as the idea, “I was no longer cold and I knew everything and I was not hungry and the whole big, complicated world was simple and graspable and easy to unlock. I would stay here for the rest of time in the ocean which was the universe which was the soul which was all that mattered.” (145)  Gaiman asks the reader, to think like a child, which allows for a different kind of incite. The author uses imagery and invention to distinguish between the emotions, thoughts, and experiences of child and adult in ways which connect the reader to both. Thus, the reader understands and relates to the child who accepts the reality of his circumstances without question, and the adult who does not believe in the accuracy of his own memories or in the possibility of the unexplained.

Gaiman’s novella is a successful journey in the heart and mind of the reader, whom Gaiman wisely observes, always maintains elements of both child and adult. With this keen observation in tow, he shapes an original universe, where the adult mind enjoys, ponders, and participates in the wondrous recollections of a child. It is common knowledge that the past is gone, and you can’t go back in time. Gaiman proves this concept wrong.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Review: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene’ Brown


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The Gifts of Imperfection is a well written, thoroughly researched, compassionate must read book from the perspective of a seasoned and trustworthy professional, which contains a plethora of concrete information about how to live more genuinely and capably in the face of fear and self-doubt. Brene’ Brown writes her guide to achieving self-acceptance, self-esteem and well-rounded living, by focusing on her years of research on shame, fear, and vulnerability, providing the reader with specific ways people think and act that either challenge or welcome the topics. She highlights both hindrances and aids to living fully in ten guideposts or chapters, in which she explains ways people can use the information she’s learned from her research to let go of negative thoughts and emotions and let in the things that provide joy and contentment. The author’s ability to communicate, her status as an empathetic peer, and knowledge as a practiced researcher and social worker, shine through her writing, expertly bringing together her writing style and the useful information she imparts.

Brown writes intelligently and from the heart about the findings of her decade long research, providing personal anecdotes to frame the information, which humanizes her ideas, making the research less scientific and more relatable and applicable for the reader. The author tells the story of her own journey of curiosity, exploration, and growth which develops alongside her shame research. Brown tells about using her data to assemble a “do” and “don’t” list for feeding shame, fear, and vulnerability, and realizing, “This is just great, I’m living straight down the shit list.” (xii) When she admits that this led to her “2007 Breakdown Spiritual Awakening,” the reader feels comforted and less overwhelmed by learning he or she is living similarly. By telling her own story and those of family, friends, and contributors to her blog, Brown powerfully and positively influences the reader’s experience of reading, processing, and retaining essential concepts.

This book provides its reader with a wealth of helpful and applicable information to be used now and in the future, not only planting the seeds for thinking about changing perspectives on shame, but providing the building blocks for developing new ways of thinking, acting, and living. Brown doesn’t simply suggest that a reader combat shame, for example, she tells how the people in her research live successful, complete lives in the face of it: with courage, compassion, and connection. In this example, one of many in the book where she shows not tells the reader how to enact change, there are clear definitions of the three C’s. The reader learns about living courageously and compassionately by the research Brown cites and examples she gives from people’s personal experiences. Brown efficiently communicates using similar methods for teaching the reader her other topics, which range from cultivating a resilient spirit, cultivating creativity, to cultivating meaningful work. The reader finishes the book both satisfied with the results and ready to read it again, knowing new ideas will be available each time through.

The winning combination of Brown’s personality, expertise and wisdom is irresistible and not to be missed. Both her personal and work experiences stand alone as readable material, but together they are entertaining and therapeutic. Any person looking to make his or her life better should look no further than The Gifts of Imperfection, as Brown has discovered in her research an area of sociology from which we can all benefit in a myriad of ways.


Rating: 5 out of 5

Review: Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up by Harriet Lerner


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Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up is not so much a typical self-help book as it is a set of helpful suggestions, for maintaining a healthy relationship or mending a broken one pieced together, by a seasoned expert in the fields of psychology and family relationships. Harriet Lerner doesn’t waste time with wordy prose, instead she effectively provides a list of 106 rules, divided into ten chapters, which suggest concrete examples of common issues and ways to alter perspectives and behaviors to improve relationships. Despite the sound information she gives, it is difficult as a reader to learn about all the possible missteps he or she is making without feeling overwhelmed and defeated. Still, if the reader wants to learn and change, Lerner imparts something to take away from each example.

Lerner’s rules are diverse, concrete and are sure to contain advice which applies to every reader looking to improve his or her relationship. The author gives the reader ideas about how to change his or her own behaviors in ways that will positively impact both partners. She gives specific examples of how to create a more loving and positive atmosphere by pointing out things many people do in relationships that cause tension and suggests alternatives, such as only criticizing once per day or telling your partner things you admire about him or her. She points out important aspects to maintaining successful relationships over time, which most people are not aware of, such as: marriage expert Goldman says a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions are necessary for a lasting marriage. The reader may feel like he or she is doing many things wrong, or that this might lead to a break up, but Lerner has suggestions for every situation.

The author gives advice for happy couples, those who don’t get along, or those on the verge of splitting up, which is a bit unsettling, but also means any reader can take ideas from a variety of examples and apply them for his or her own purposes. By showing couples at different stages, Lerner, gives the reader a chance to reflect on his or her own relationship, roles within the relationship, and how it might change in the future. The reader wonders, for example, if he or she exhibits the problem behaviors that lead to divorce. In allowing the reader to consider different options, for failure and improvement, Lerner literally helps the reader make better choices for his or her relationship. Her rules support and empower decisions for the reader.

No one ever says marriage is easy. We know all relationships take work. Most partnerships don’t have a guidebook like this one, with straight-forward advice. If you’re ready, use it and welcome it. No matter what the circumstance of the reader, Marriage Rules is a start to making changes from within you’ll need to improve your life with another person.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


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The Goldfinch is an epic triumph of contemporary fiction, in which Tartt perfectly captures and executes, her coming of age story of protagonist, Theo Decker. After a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, kills his mother, Theo’s life, his emotions and actions, are inextricably tied to Carel Fabritius’s masterpiece painting, The Goldfinch, his mother’s favorite, which he carries out of the museum. Tartt conceives an expert combination of characterization and storytelling; and, as time passes by in the novel the reader grows more invested in Theo’s decisions, fate, and the ways they connect to the painting. She writes with a detailed and gritty specificity of the repeated unfair and unlucky events Theo endures. Through Theo’s maturation: his life without his parents, relationships, perspectives, emotions, and actions, Tartt reflects not only Theo’s circumstances, but larger existentialist concepts. It is through her honest and sad portrayal of Theo and his similarity to The Goldfinch, that the reader understands the symbolism, beauty and the tragedy, both in Theo’s life and the broader human experience.

From the start, Tartt wisely binds Theo and the painting and establishes separate plotlines, so that the themes merge and diverge: the reader is invested in Theo’s future and the implications of his relationship with the painting. The author tells Theo’s story of love, loss, and growth, with wisdom and articulation, that keep the reader empathizing with his weakness and humanity and anguishing about his poor choices. The author writes of the crude and rough reality of situations in ways that show that even in unhappiness and loss, there is beauty too. Tartt associates the painting with Theo’s loneliness, despair, and memories, as she describes it’s aesthetics and history. The reader sees and feels as Theo does; the painting and what it embodies are very special. It comforts Theo and plagues him, it keeps the past in the present, but it also builds a new story and significance along the way.

Tartt makes important and intriguing existential arguments, regarding the human experience, for the reader to consider through her character and story choices. As the painting becomes part of Theo’s life, the reader identifies the struggles of protagonist and goldfinch, as symbols of the human plight. Tartt asks the reader to consider whether a person’s actions determine fate. Theo and his best friend Boris, reference the premise of Dostoyevsky’s, The Idiot, when they propose that being good doesn’t mean good things will happen to you. Tartt makes a powerful statement about the nature of life and fate when she allows good things to happen to bad people, while Theo strives to do the right thing, but is always discontented. The goldfinch supports her argument; it  remains indefinitely chained to its perch, as if to represent the hope we carry only to realize we have been confined all along. The novel is never uplifting, but it’s intelligence and gravity keep it intriguing and exciting from the first page to the last.

The Goldfinch provides enjoyment and appreciation for the reader who values an honest account of life’s trials; it is ripe with the grace, sorrow, and meaning of a true human experience. The author’s narrative style and subject clearly depict her vision and range for penning essential and provocative ideas so impeccable that I sometimes stopped to re-read sections, in awe of her capacity for conceptualizing and communicating. This novel conveys timeless notions that will conserve its relevancy for many years to come.

5 out of 5 Stars

Review: Euphoria by Lily King


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With Euphoria, King crafts a statement on cultural norms, perspective taking, and emotion with precision and purpose, supported by her use of elements of style. It recalls the story three anthropologists, Fen, Nell, and Bankson who are living, loving, and researching in New Guinea among native tribes. The author recalls their struggles to maintain typical western lives and customs in the jungle, while also remaining objective, unbiased, and fitting in with the locals in order to document most accurate ethnographies. King uses setting, characterization, letters, journal entries, and point of view to convey their stories. The result is a visionary achievement that reflects both differences and similarities in peoples and cultures regardless of geographical location or economic status.

King uses elements of language to support her story and theme, as she literally provides the reader with alternating perspectives within the text. The story is told through Bankson’s first person point-of-view, Nell’s journal entries, letters sent from Bankson’s mother and Nell’s girlfriend, Helen. The native perspective is viewed only from the outsider point of view, indicating a distance and misperception of his or her thoughts, emotions, or ideas. Fen, Bankson, and Nell all have distinct ideas about the native experience. The reader is never limited to one way of viewing the story for long, and when it changes, the author highlights ways in which people think about the same situation differently.

Perspective is the central theme of the text, it’s the goal of the characters as researchers to maintain objectivity, despite the a priori assumptions, ideas, and emotions they have as humans. The author poses the question, are people always limited by subjectivity? The characters are never truly able to gain the knowledge and access they need through observations or interactions with natives. The reader sees, perhaps more clearly than the characters, their westernized ways of thinking, living, feeling, separate them from doing fieldwork and interacting with the natives, in ways that eliminate subjectivity. The author details the three anthropologists using alternate approaches to living among, understanding and bonding with the natives, which ultimately shows that even people from similar backgrounds and places think, act, and feel distinctively. King proves that despite similarities of all humans, perspective is unique to the individual and is easily misinterpreted by others.

In Euphoria, we see the human struggle to balance logic and emotion mind. It is human nature to socialize and to want to learn and grow from the experiences of others. But, it is the goal of the scientist, the anthropologist, to understand another culture without judgement. King tells her story with a proficiency that reminds the reader that even within our own culture, it is extremely difficult for people to observe others objectively. She encourages the reader to reflect that a large part of what makes us human; and therefore, illogical, is our capacity to experience emotions. In the novel, the reader decides if this is  hindrance or a gift.


Star Rating: 4 out of 5

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


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Eleanor & Park is appealing to young adults and adults because of the writing, the pace of the story and the relatability of the characters-they are outsiders who find comfort and love in each other. While young adults undoubtedly seek different qualities in novels than adults, Rainbow Rowell finds ways to satisfy the needs of both in her Michael L. Printz Award selection. The author appeals to both audiences in composing a book that is fast-paced and easy to read with likable teenage characters who have problems navigating the challenges of life at school and at home. Does this sound familiar? Most notably, though, readers of all ages, are drawn to the feeling of not fitting, in experienced by both characters.

In order for an author to capture the hearts and minds of different age groups, she must appeal to both groups with her writing style and themes. Rowell keeps the book simple and steady enough for a younger reader yet complex and engaging enough for an older one. The author’s laid back prose and colorful descriptions of life as a teenager engage any reader: the awkwardness of puberty, bullying, not knowing how to kiss, difficulties with parents. She finds things all readers have in common to highlight about her characters; the complications they face in navigating life as teenagers is something we’ve all experienced and tend to remember. We also empathize with their plights as outsiders.

Eleanor and Park speak to readers not only because we have things in common, but their entire experience sends a message that outsiders can find a sense of belonging too. The author portrays Eleanor as the fat, weird kid. At school kids are cruel and bully her; they have no idea she has a life at home in which she’s lonely and abused. Through Eleanor’s exclusion, Rowell speaks to the place inside readers where, despite our place among the rest of humanity, we all feel alone. When Eleanor finds happiness and love in Park, we feel satisfied. Their story says something about all people who don’t belong, we think.

Whether we are in high school or middle aged, stories about other people in pain resonate. Even if Eleanor and Park are very different from you or me, we see similarities in them that make the book worth reading. When we see ourselves in characters, we learn from their experiences. A well-written story adds dimension to our own lives.  At the end of the novel, we find have learned any number of lessons about ourselves, others, love or life.

4 out of 5 Stars

Review: All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks


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All About Love: New Visions discusses the ways society traditionally views love and the roles it creates for love in our lives; but, the information is recycled and some of the perspectives are biased. The author , bell hooks, provides helpful information and personal stories, which describe how repeating incorrect patterns of behaviors lead to unhappiness. However, as opposed to other self-help books, many of her suggestions for living with more love, lack applicability. Perhaps most lingering, her feminist background gets in the way of her positive, loving message.

The author suggests definitions of love commonly held in society, which influence the ways we learn to love, are flawed. hooks points out that standard romantic or familial norms indicate that love is natural or a gift, when in reality giving and receiving love takes work. She uses M. Scott Peck’s definition as a guide, “Love is an act of will-namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice, We do not have to love. We choose to love.” (4-5) With this new description, the reader sees that love is about choices and effort. hooks asks the reader to consider how his or her life can be different by choosing instead of expecting love.

hooks wants people to individually and globally choose more love, which, despite several admirable suggestions, is difficult to implement in the real world. hooks uses her own past as an example of how she repeats incorrect behaviors she learned from her parents in her own life. She recommends recognizing old patterns, making the choice to change, and forgiving.  She more broadly, discusses the ways that individuals can change the world through love. She also recommends sacrificing money, job security and personal happiness for the betterment of others, society and world peace. But, none of this is practical. Most important, she fails to provide concrete information about how to achieve these goals. Finally, her message of love is clouded by her feminist views.

While most of the text asks the reader to love more, hooks gets carried away with insults and negativity in Chapter 3: Honesty: Be True to Love. hooks is famous for her feminist text, Feminism is for Everybody, in which she asserts just that-feminism is all inclusive and unbiased. But is it? Her chapter on honesty is a harsh rant about how men lie in relationships in order to keep power and maintain the patriarchy. Saying that “men” do this is as biased as saying all “women” think, do say, similar things, it’s incorrect, biased, judgmental. Accusing an entire group of people of dishonesty, especially for such a manipulative reason, certainly isn’t about seeing the best in people or choosing love.

hooks asks her reader to think about how his or her choices and actions related to love are influenced by the past and will make an impact in the present and future. She succeeds in making the reader think about love in his or her life. Actually making changes is always easier said than done. Nothing in this text is groundbreaking. In fact, any information that provides tangible examples to promote change and access is common sense or has already been covered in other texts. This is not bell hooks’s best work.


2.5 out of 5 stars

Review: The Tin Drum by Günter Grass


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I read The Tin Drum twice; I admit, that both times I read this novel, I forced myself to read it.  The first time I only made it to page 100, then stopped. The second, most recently, I tried again for a classic book club and finished. Both times I read it because it is considered a classic; Grass is a Nobel Prize in Literature winner. As with other masters of the craft, Grass’s work is complex, multi-layered, and difficult to comprehend for the average reader. Despite my experience with German history and literature, I miss many of the messages the author is trying to convey. I spend a lot of time analyzing the text, re-reading, and wondering how the characters and stories are meant to be interpreted? While other novels require analysis, which is rewarding in the end, this text requires the reader to constantly assess and reconsider the characters, stories, historical and cultural contexts, which makes for a frustrating reading experience.

Grass composes a work that is both stand-alone story and historical and political commentary, making the story more complex and requiring the reader to delve deeper to gain understanding. The Tin Drum is the story of protagonist, Oskar Matzerath, a boy growing up in Nazi occupied Poland, who cannot grow. It is littered with metaphors, analogies, anecdotes, which keep the reader guessing about the concepts of truth and reality for the characters in the story and more broadly, for German society. In using figures of speech so abundantly, Grass achieves a tone of confusion and misunderstanding that stays with the reader throughout the story. The intricacies of the text can either be valued by the reader, or viewed as a hindrance.

The novel requires that a reader constantly question the motives of the author in telling Oskar’s story. The stories about Oskar are too odd to be real, so the reader knows there must be underlying messages to interpret from them. There are overarching cultural and historical themes, which seem obvious, such as Oskar’s guilt and shame mirroring those of the German people. But, there are many more situations, characters, events, where the reader must guess about the author’s intentions. For me, never being certain of where or how the author intends the story to proceed makes the reading less enjoyable. Although any interpretation is subjective, I feel incompetent for not knowing, for certain, the messages I should take from the text. I prefer a novel with symbolism clear enough that I can eventually interpret it. Much of The Tin Drum still baffles me, and this makes it hard to like the book.

So, is the novel worth reading? The answer depends on what kind of reader you are and what kind of literature you prefer. Those who enjoy the investigation and breakdown of the narrative and character traits will certainly enjoy the complexities of The Tin Drum. If you know a lot about world history or German history and culture, this novel would probably be less intimidating for you. But, if you like reading that’s straight forward and fast-paced you might want to avoid this one. For me, the amount of time I spent thinking about what I should get out of it made it too hard to experience the pleasure of simply reading the book.

3.5 out of 5 stars


Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


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All the Light We Cannot See, a Pulitzer Prize Winner and National Book Award Finalist, lives up to it’s reputation as a creative and innovative work of historical fiction. The Word War II setting, while overused and poorly written in the past, shines in for Anthony Doerr as he creates a tale filled with likable and relatable characters and an equally accomplished narrative. Marie-Laure, a blind girl from Paris, lives with her veteran Uncle Etienne in Saint Malo, France, where they protect a precious gem from the Museum of Natural History collection in Paris. Marie-Laure and her Uncle own one of the only radios left in Europe. Werner, an intelligent orphaned German boy from a mining town, is trained by the Hitler Youth to track radio signals for the Nazi’s; He helps them hunt resistance fighters. The reader begs for more, finding both ideas and words swiftly flowing, as she speeds through this text. She discovers a wealth of refreshing content, which holds up until the end.

Doerr’s characters are carefully selected and unique in their traits and contributions to the text. The part each person plays in the novel, when pieced together so skillfully with those of the other characters, reveals that the right characters and narrative can make even the most popular subject matter new. The characters possess vulnerabilities, for example, Marie-Laure, is blind, that make them human and fragile and their stories unpredictable in the face of: struggle, war, the unfairness of life. Perhaps most important, the protagonist characters earn the trust and esteem of the readers, while the antagonists are loathed.

The reader develops an interest and investment into the future of the characters and the story, in part, because Doerr uses his plotlines and settings, so efficiently. The readers sees Doerr combine and overlap several divided stories, which eventually come together to create a cohesive whole. Throughout, the reader is challenged to analyze the events and actions of people, to question the concepts of good and bad, light and dark. The narrative is full of twists, there is never certainty for the characters or the reader. What will happen to these people whose struggles are so accessible? The reader needing to know more and hoping they will make it through makes for a great book.

This novel is good for a number of reasons, but it stands out because of the reader’s attachment to the characters and their special plights. Often people read a book and most of it’s contents are soon forgotten. This is a different sort of story, and it’s contents stand out, because the reader takes the journey with the characters. Doerr finds a way to keep his audience thinking and remembering long after the last page is turned.

4 out of 5 Stars


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