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The Light Between Oceans–Book Review

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lighthouse“A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below.”

It’s the second sentence of the novel and immediately caught me. How could it not? It’s a beautiful line, and I love how Ms. Stedman repurposed the word “snail”. She doesn’t disappoint with the rest of her imagery and phrases. Her descriptions capture the imagination and you feel not only as if you’re on Janus, but also as if you’re inside the persons of Tom and Isabel. Their joys and anguishes become your own.  I could write the whole review just giving you quotations that I’ve highlighted in the novel. . .but I’ll try not to.

From a technical point of view what I found incredible was the character of Tom–in the fact that I didn’t find him incredible. I read the book unaware that ML Stedman was a “Miss.” I am always impressed when an opposite gender writes such a believable character.  I can mimic my boyfriend’s behavior for a short time, even predict what he’s going to say or do sometimes, but to maintain that for the duration of the lifetime of a novel, not so much.  It’s not just in how the author describes the character or how the character talks.  It’s being able to think like that gender because we are wired differently. We consider different things. We prioritize in vastly different ways, and while eventually we may end up with the same thing as number one, we get there on such a variety of paths. Ms. Stedman created Tom and Isabel with such a perfection. I understood where Tom was coming from–I could see his thought process even if I didn’t like his path–and didn’t feel at all that it was “colored” in a feminine way.

Tom and Isabel suffer loss at the beginning of the book–three miscarriages. These are personal–and isolated on the island with no one around–and told in a heart wrenching way. Tom’s loss of how to help and Isabel’s ache of physical loss. But Stedman also deftly and beautifully describes how both struggle with their own feelings of failure. She doesn’t beat you over the head with it, but weaves the story expertly.

Then the miracle of Lucy, the baby who lands on the lighthouse island so soon after the third miscarriage that rules, black and white, are blurred.

“You could kill a bloke with rules. . . .could he deprive Isabel of this baby? If the child was alone in the world? Could it really be right to drag her away from a woman who adored her, to some lottery of Fate?”

What I also love about this novel is how Stedman revealed Tom’s past, his WWI involvement, and how that influences his present.

“He’d been on death’s books for so long, it seemed impossible that life was making an entry in his favor.”
“. . .to be beside her had made him feel cleaner somehow, refreshed. Yet the sensation leads him back into the darkness, back into the galleries of wounded flesh and twisted limbs. To make sense of it–that’s the challenge. To bear witness to death, without being broken by the weight of it.”
The details don’t seem gratuitous but are matter of fact. Manly, perhaps?

As it turns out, Lucy’s mother is alive and still searching for her almost five years later. I was struck by the impossible choice Tom is faced with. And the decision and fall-out he will live with.

“We live with the decisions we make, Bill. That’s what bravery is.”

I think it’s impossible to talk about this book without admitting that it is indeed a sad book. Each of the main characters grip my heart. . .Isabel, Tom, Hannah. I have faced difficult choices but never anything like these three faced. I was lost in what Stedman created. It was believable. Not that this situation may ever happen to anyone I personally know, but the excruciating need to make choices such as these and to know that lives are eternally affected.

“Like Russian dolls, these lives sit within him.”

I’ve read other sad books. But this one doesn’t actually leave me feeling sad. It ends the way it has to.

It is real.

It is beautiful.

And it illustrates perfectly what I think is the message.  A lighthouse can not  be it’s own light.  It doesn’t provide guidance for itself, but for others.  So, each of us need a lighthouse between oceans but in order for that to happen, we have to each BE a lighthouse.  What an awesome responsibility and privilege.  And Tom’s father points out to him filled with no easy decisions, but yet, the alternative is to be left in darkness.

Between the Covers: the Beauty of a Book Club

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seasonedbookclubI’m a teacher, who met a group of ladies almost fifteen years ago that became integral to my development.  We talked over the years of creating a book club, but it never happened.  Well, until all but two of us entered that wonderful land of retirement.

Timing–it’s everything.

So, meet the girls:

Cathy: oh, to describe Cathy–she’s the most kind-hearted, sweet, finds the positive in everything, build you up, fantastic woman.  I’ve never heard her raise her voice, and I always feel good when I’m with her.

Carolyn: our no-nonsense, stubborn to a fault, fighter who knows more about literature than I will ever dream of knowing and embedded a love of travel in me that burns bright.  Before her I was afraid I’d get lost in airports.  Now I dream of getting lost in Rome.

Lina: my official mentor when I started teaching–I want to be like her when I grow up.  She is the one who “brings it” as the youngsters would say, but she does it with class, and people feel encouraged by her and never berated.  She was the first to retire, and we all wished we had made a book of Linaisms to keep around–because we miss them and can’t remember them now.

Gail: my lovely Gail who has been by my side in NYC, Paris, Madrid, Rome, and our little corner of the education world. She writes as well, publishing poems.  She challenges me to economize words.  She loves Hawthorne and Hemingway and me, even though I don’t care a hoot for the fellas.

and Donna: who I have known since I was seven and is the only one of us who isn’t an English teacher.  We need her.  She keeps us grounded so we don’t float away into the “Blue Curtain” too often.  She opens the door every time I unexpectedly show up at her door.

So far, we’ve read nine books (well, eight, the ninth is for August). There’s not enough space in one blog for me to review them all here.  I’ll give a brief synopsis of my thoughts and a recommendation for reading.  I was trying to think of something cute for that. . .something like “seasoning.”  So, we’ll go mild, medium, and spicy: mild, wish I hadn’t spent the time on it; medium, not bad, worth the time; spicy, would read again and you should immediately read.

October 2012: The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom-  An interesting weaving of science fiction and faith with three life stories.  I liked the book and found it challenging to my thought process, but BtC had mixed reviews of it.  MEDIUM

November 2012: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: a Novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows- This book is in letter format and quite good.  It left me slightly upset about some main characters and their stories, but otherwise ok.  BtC was united on liking this one. MEDIUM with a hint of SPICY

January 2013: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh- I was looking forward to this book because of the blurb and because two members (Gail and Cathy) had read it previously.  But I was disappointed.  I liked the premise of it with that flowers were used to convey messages that the main character couldn’t say herself–communication is difficult.  But I kept getting mad at the main characters and wanted them to get over themselves. MEDIUM but just barely

February 2013: The Paris Wife by Paula McClain- Ah, this one was historical fiction and set in Paris and I loved it.  It is told from Hadley Hemingway’s first person perspective. Hadley was Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. It’s well written and just lovely.  The passion of Hadley and Ernest’s relationship is raw in the beginning and you get swept away by it.  Then you get tumbled into the twists of their life in Paris and his attempt to break into the writing world outside of his journalistic identity.  I don’t particularly care for Hemingway, the man or the writer, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the insight it gave me. SPICY

March 2013: The Round House by Louise Erdrich- Native American Reservation life and the conflict of law and how it governs the reservation at a time of need.  I liked the premise of the book–the idea of a young boy wanting to defend his mother when it seems no one else is doing anything, or maybe can’t because of the blurred lines.  But I didn’t finish this one.  It was laborious to read. INCREDIBLY MILD

April 2013: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty- I LOVED this book. What happens if you wake up and forget who you are or how you became who you are? I found myself do a lot of self-reflection.  Would 27 year old Season be happy with who 37 year old Season is? Would she think she’s being represented well?  Would what the younger Season wanted still be what the older Season wants? And would the way I’m getting those things be acceptable? SPICY

May 2013: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom- How do you balance who you are and who you want to be when society demands and rules are so rigid? A fabulous book that is a new look at the slave life of the south. I liked this book a lot.  I got angry at the characters quite often.  I tend to do that especially when one character falls into the pattern of another–but don’t we do that as people? SPICY

June 2013: The Aviator’s Wife: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin- While I liked the content of the novel for the most part, the writing style frustrated me (if you want to teach simile, here’s your chance). I also enjoyed the learning about Charles Lindbergh I gained.  You don’t get much about him in history class other than he flew straight to Paris and his baby was kidnapped.  I did find I didn’t care much for Anne or Charles as people.  Perhaps I can give Anne some grace because of the time period and the expectations of society, but eh, not much.  I did find myself contemplating if this was the beginning of the press’ power over American society. MEDIUM

for August 2013: The Light Between Oceans: A Novel by M. L. Stedman- This is my favorite by far and in August I will post a full review.  But read it now.  Seriously, go out now and buy it, download it–whatever your favorite way to read a book is these days–I think this one is available in audio form as well.  I LOVED this book.

This is what we’ve done so far.  And sometimes we actually talk about the books.  It’s the beauty of a book club with people you love and who know you.