Saturday, January 31, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York: Scriber, 2014. Print.
My Thoughts
I was a bit intimidated by this book. It is 531 pages! However, I read it in a week. It was SUCH a good story!

The book is written as parallel stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig. The setting is WWII, Germany and France. Their stories take place over many years, events intertwine and finally these two characters come together. It was a satisfying ending in spite of my shock. As a reader, I did not predict the correct ending to their stories.

As I was in a time crunch to get the book read in a week, I took notes to help me stay focused. So much happens, but the way Doerr writes the story, keeping up and remembering wasn't hard to do. I also enjoyed making those connections when an earlier chapter comes full circle to a later chapter. Many "ah ha!" moments in this story. I liked how Doerr shows that life is not made up of coincidences.

Some of the story takes place in Saint-Malo. I've been there, so it was easy to imagine the landscape. Doerr includes French and German. I was glad for the practice for the French. I could understand the German by context clues or the repeating of the phrase in English.

When Marie-Laure was a young girl, she visited the Natural History Museum in Paris. There she heard the story of the "Sea of Flames"--a very valuable, cursed stone. A few years later, Marie-Laure goes blind. Having one of the main characters blind really adds to the suspense of the book. I gained a better understanding of the accommodations Marie needed to make just to function in her house, let alone the outside world. It was very clever how she learned. Her father, a locksmith at the museum, helps her become self-reliant. He helps her navigate by counting storm drains and looping her "finger through the back of her father's belt" (Doeer 28). Her father is a smart, kind, dedicated man. He creates little puzzle boxes with surprises in them for her birthday. He crafts a scaled replica of Saint-Malo to help her learn her new surroundings when they evacuate Paris and must live with Uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo.

"The orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance" (Doerr book jacket).

There are many memorable characters in this book. There are also many references to the way people lived. It seemed so accurate. Doerr did his research. Madame Manec was the comic relief and also a symbol of faith. Without Madame Manec, Marie might have lost faith, too. 'Don't you ever get tired of believing, Madame? Don't you ever want proof?' Madame Manec rests a hand on Marie-Laure's forehead....'You must never stop believing. That's the most important thing'" (Doerr 292). Madame Manec propels Uncle Etienne into action. She gives him the analogy of a frog cooking (Doerr 285). Very clever! Even though Frank Volkheimer and Frederick are opposites, they become Werner's pals in Hitler Youth.

One thing I marked was when Herr Siedler told Werner, "'You know the greatest lesson of history? It's that history is whatever the victors say it is. That's the lesson. Whoever wins, that's who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest'" (Doerr 84). This was the beginning of the Nazi propaganda coming through the book (Is it only propaganda when the "other side" does it?).

I laughed at the description of a "mousy" librarian "in brown shoes, brown stockings, a brown skirt and a brown blouse" who helps Sergeant Major von Rumpel in a geological library (Doerr 142).

The writing is descriptive. I felt myself on the battlefield with Werner, on the streets counting along with Marie-Laure and in the hidden attic with Etienne. As awful as this sounds, here's a wonderful example of the descriptive writing: "[character] has crossed the edge of the field, where he steps on a trigger land mine...and disappears in a fountain of earth" (Doerr 483).

Werner questions things about the training and the war as a whole. He symbolizes the moral compass of the people. What is the "right" thing to do in a situation? It is easy to say what is right when you aren't the one being faced with the dilemma. Page 355 and the "White City" chapter on page 364 addresses Werner's doubts.

This is a novel that MUST be read. The discoveries in the story are so unique. I think I will re-read this book, seeing even more.

Book Within a Book-Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Friday, January 30, 2015

American Sniper

Kyle, Chris, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice. American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most
     Lethal Sniper in the U.S. Military History. New York: William Morrow, 2012. Print.
image from:
My Thoughts
I'm actually glad I read this book. Originally, I got this book by mistake, so I donated it to the school library--thinking I would never read it--not "my thing"--it was immediately checked out all of the time. Since there is now a movie out that I want to see, I decided I should read the book first. It just so happened that I was at the counter when the book returned, and no one was waiting for it. I scooped it up. Later that same day, a student came looking for it. I told him I would have it finished over the weekend. I was pretty close. It only took a few days to read this book.

I felt like I was having a conversation with Chris Kyle as I read this book. He wrote about episodes in his life and career. The timeline is mostly chronological, but he does flip back and forth sometimes--as natural as a conversation would.  However, I was reading the book knowing that he's dead, so I was reading with that in my mind--parts of the book seemed prophetic. I thought about Taya, Chris' wife, and wondered if she is so happy that they wrote this book.
There are many "f-bombs" dropped in the narrative.

I learned that "confirmed kills were only kills that someone else witnessed, and cases where the enemy could be confirmed dead. So if I shot someone in the stomach and he managed to crawl around where we couldn't see him before he bled out, he didn't count" (Kyle 265). I saw Chris' sense of humor and his frustration.

Taya interjects throughout the book. One part I marked showed the tension between the two. "Show me now. Make it real. Don't just say some sappy shit when you're gone. Otherwise, it's a load of crap" (Kyle 275). I'm sure it is very stressful to have your husband in such a dangerous place. My own heart raced at times reading this book.

I thought it was funny when Chris gets the nickname "al-Shaitan Ramadi--the 'Devil of Ramadi'" (Kyle 277).

When Chris' friend Ryan is injured and blinded in both eyes, he gets a prosthetic eye. "One was a 'regular' eye; the other had a golden SEAL trident where the iris ordinarily would be" (Kyle 363). I thought that was pretty cool.

Again, prophetic--he mentions at the end of the book that he and some friends started Craft International. Their corporate offices are in Texas and training sites in Texas and Arizona. His partner Mark Spicer is discussed. I think I've driven by his firing range and wondered if one of these Texas training sites Chris mentions is there. Or, when Chris writes, "I've gotten together with some people I know around Texas who have ranches and asked if they could donate their places for a few days at a time...We've had small groups of servicemen disabled in the war come in and spend time there hunting, shooting guns on a range, or just hanging out. The idea is to have a good time" (Kyle 372). Again, I wonder how strange that Chris died on a ranch helping a serviceman.

The trial of his killer starts this month.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Reality Boy

King, A. S. Reality Boy. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2013. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts:
This was an ARC (advanced reader copy) that I got at library conference a couple of years ago. I heard the author speak and thought this might be an interesting, "one day" read. During December, I kept thinking about this book--running across this book--seeing images of the book, so I decided it had to be my next read. I find it funny how books find me at the right time to read them.

This is Gerald Faust's story. When he was five, a reality television crew came to his house and filmed Network Nanny. The actress playing the nanny had no care of really helping the family. She was after the ratings. When Gerald starts saying that his older sister Tasha tried to kill him, no one believes him. He then starts retaliating by "taking a crap" at various places. These messages were great for ratings, but not so good on the now 17 year old Gerald who is known by classmates as "The Crapper."

To help Gerald cope, he creates a fantasy world called Gersday. "That's what Gersdays were all about. Happy tears.  Ice cream. Mom not ignoring Lisi and me because she was too busy fussing over Tasha. That couldn't happen on a Gersday because on Gersday, Tasha didn't exist" (King 30). WOW!
But what's crazy and what's sane when everything is possible and yet nothing ever happens? (King 139).
Gerald works at a concession stand, and one night a patron says, "'I am so sorry for what those people did to you'" (King 38). This is a turning point for Gerald. He's never had someone seem to understand that the show wasn't what it seemed. Someone gets that this little boy was not helped at all by the nanny. The woman hugs Gerald, and a realization happens. "I am being hugged. In ten years, I have been recognized, scrutinized, analyzed, criticized, and even terrorized by a handful of the millions of Network Nanny viewers. Never was I hugged" (King 39).

The book is divided into three parts. I marked so many things in this book like each time Tasha tried to kill Gerald (or Lisi). I marked how Gerald felt he had a family in the special ed classroom. I marked things that I couldn't believe the mother did (or didn't do) about how her oldest was destroying the entire family. The mother really made me mad. Her concerns are "what will people think...they'll think we don't care and that we don't take care of our house" (King 90). She was talking about her kitchen.

At Gerald's job, he likes "Register #1 girl" who is named Hannah. Hannah also has a tough home life. They become friends and hatch a plan to run away with the circus--really! There happens to be a circus at the venue that Gerald & Hannah work at, so they decide to follow. Hannah helps Gerald in so many ways. One thing is he starts to "demand" things. His first demand is a new mother (King 251). The list grows as he gains confidence in himself, and he realizes that he can make changes for himself.

I think King makes some great comments about reality television through the story. One of my favorite comments is "This should be a reality TV show. Except nobody would watch because it's no fun to watch normal people do normal things. Because happy stories aren't all that interesting. Because everyone wants to eat that...sandwich, or watch other people eat it, along with exotic bugs and rotten eggs and diesel fuel and everything else producers can think of to keep viewers' thumbs away from the channel button on the remote control" (King 213). So true.

The resolution of the book was satisfying. This is a book I will easily pass along to kids. Curse words are used, and there is some violence, but it does not distract from the story.

The title reference is on page 146.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Andrews, Jesse. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. New York: Amulet Books, 2012. Print.

image from:

My Thoughts:
In spite of the title and the girl dying, this book was FUNNY! There is quite a bit, and I mean LOTS of "mature language" included, so reader be warned.

Greg Gaines tells the story of how he perfected getting along with everyone in high school without actually becoming friends with anyone. "I know. I know. This sounds insane. But it's exactly what I did. I didn't join any group outright, you understand. But I got access to all of them....I could walk into any group of kids, and not one of them would bat an eye" (Andrews 8). This worked until his mom asked him to visit Rachel Kushner, a girl he went to Jewish school with as a youngster.

Chapter 3: "Let's Just Get This Embarrassing Chapter Out of the Way"

This is Greg's explanation of his interactions with girls. "Failed Girl Tactic #1: The Non-Crush," "Failed Girl Tactic #2: The Nonstop Insults," "Failed Girl Tactic #3: The Diversion," "Failed Girl Tactic #4: The Boob Compliment," "Failed Girl Tactic #5: The Gentleman." Each tactic gives a vignette of his interaction. FUNNY!

Chapter 7 is an introduction to the Gaines Family. Each member is described by Greg. We meet Earl Jackson in Chapter 9. They attend the same school. "Earl and I are friends. Sort of. Actually, Earl and I are more like coworkers" (Andrews 61). We learn that Earl and Greg make movies together--terrible, awful, nonsense movies. Their entire friendship is based on this. Earl's world is vastly different than Greg's. "In some ways our friendship makes no sense at all" (Andrews 77). We learn the back story in Chapter 11. It is funny that Greg later refers to Earl as his moral compass. "I need to rely on him for guidance, or else I might accidentally become like a hermit or a terrorist or something" (Andrews 160).

I learned what "yinzers" are from reading this book. "People with heavy Pittsburgh accents...[who] wear Steelers apparel at all times, including in the workplace and at weddings" (Andrews 86).

Greg's "job" is to make Rachel laugh. He does an amazing job. At one point, he shows her his belly. "I'm not as fat as a lot of kids, but I'm definitely fat, and I can definitely grab two different rolls of my stomach and make it talk like a Muppet....It had a Southern accent for some reason" (Andrews 188). HA! When he leaves a book with her, Greg explains that if she were more motivated, she "would have discovered the secret Yale preparation high school that is buried deep beneath your normal high school" (Andrews 192). I've thought there is a secret knowledge my entire life.

So, there are so many funny descriptions in this book. He talks about the pep rally where Rachel the Film is shown. Hilarious description of the principal's speech! I bookmarked several passages in the "Aftermath" chapters. Truly witty. Again, a funny read with a ton of cursing that makes the characters real.