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review 2014-03-13 07:24
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The Light Between Oceans: A Novel - M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans is a timeless, heartbreaking and deeply-moving novel about good people who thrust themselves into a world of confusion, despair and tragedy because of their bad decisions, and who try to redeem themselves at the cost of their loved one's trust and loyalty. What bores into our minds and hearts is the uncertainty of how far they would protect each other and to what extent. This results in a novel that is both thought-provoking and suspenseful, making you want to turn the pages, demanding your full attention.


I like the unhurried pace of the story- slowly building its plot with vivid descriptions of a place and time I will never have the chance to experience. It is in those vivid descriptions that I felt swept up in the story, offering a lucid and distinct world that had my imagination running wild. The attention to detail is evident throughout the book and the author did this very well - thorough and simple, but never boring. By the first few pages, I found myself wanting more, unable to set the book aside. I found myself immersed in the story; engaged in the narrative as the author slowly unfolds the thoughts and motivations of each character. It's fascinating that the author can evoke a variety of emotions so easily from me. I held my breath while a myriad of twists and turns and surprising revelations unfold. I felt the dread and desperation the characters felt when the truth was revealed. I was afraid for them.


I found that the author developed the characters brilliantly. These are rich characters that engage you right from the beginning, and as I saw their 'moral decline', I can't help but be a quiet spectator - joining them in compassionate and sympathetic silence, as if this will help them in any way. I felt a deep connection with these characters and I was really hoping for the best, but also expecting the worst. Somehow it felt like me and the characters were in a dark room together, trying to feel our way with our outstretch hands, trying to catch any hint of light, or in this case, for any sign of redemption. I kept telling myself that these characters are good and how unfortunate it was for them to become tangled in a web of lies because of their circumstances and love for each other. The complexities and transformations each character possesses and undergoes were fascinating. The author has captured their distinct voices, individual characteristics and variety of emotions so well.


It is a great story and M.L. Stedman has told it incredibly well. She has brought together all these elements that make me consider a book to be a great one - a great story, beautiful writing, rich and interesting characters, and a thought-provoking and powerful narrative. I loved how the story affected me emotionally and how it endeared me to the characters, no matter how 'flawed' they'd become. I am not shy to admit that I cried in most parts of the book. The emotions, tragedies, regret and confusion were so real, I had to convince myself that these are not true people, living in our modern times. And that is one thing that made me like this book even more - it is timeless. It makes us think of what we would have done had we been subjected to the characters' circumstances.


The Light Between Oceans is a book to savor and immerse in. It is a compelling and touching story that makes you reflect on your own values and beliefs. While the themes in the book reflect on mistakes and regrets, the book also portrays the power of forgiveness and reminds us that people are essentially good. I loved this book and I highly recommend it.


Original review can be viewed in my blog.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-01-09 03:27
The Good Lord Bird - James McBride



Date Started: January 2, 2014 | Date Finished: January 7, 2014


First lines: I was born a colored man and don't you forget it. But I lived as a colored woman for seventeen years.


Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction | A Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Oprah Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year



Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in Kansas who was ‘rescued’ by John Brown, the famed abolitionist. Because of Henry’s features and clothing, he was mistaken for a girl and was later known as ‘Henrietta’. This eventually became 'Onion' after he ate an onion considered by John Brown as a lucky charm. Onion reluctantly traveled with the Old Man (as Onion calls him) and his army, accompanying them in their incursions. To survive he needed to pretend he was a girl. He ends up liking the advantages of being one, such as not being assigned to do heavy tasks and getting pampered by the Old Man and  certain people he meets along the way.


The story follows John Brown in the last years of his life through the eyes of Onion. As the story moves along, we find out that the Old Man’s focus was eliminating slavery through insurrection and violent means. John Brown was much feared by people of that time. His character was developed as a strong and unstoppable presence who inspires hate, adoration and fear in people. Some consider him a madman, a fanatic, a zealot or a martyr, but Onion later sees the Old Man in a different light. The Old Man was kind and accepting like a father, but feared and misunderstood like a wild animal. John Brown was a man of unbridled ambition and enthusiasm, who has a liking to praying for significant amounts of time, and referring to bible verses when lecturing his men and justifying his actions and cause. Through the Old Man’s leadership, sheer determination and perhaps even luck, he managed to lead his small army to some successful missions even in unfavorable conditions.  However, his plans were often doubted even by his own sons and allies. In their eyes, he is an impractical and idealistic leader, risking all of his men’s lives through unrealistic decisions and plans. Despite this, a reader may find him/herself drawn to John Brown because of his ideals, way of doings things, and most of all his kindness. You sympathize with him because you know that people betrayed him and he was very dedicated to the cause. John Brown's character makes you wonder to what extent can we dedicate ourselves to a purpose. Are we willing to sacrifice everything for what we are fighting for? How much is enough? Onion often intuited that John Brown’s reckless actions, gullibility and susceptibility to bad luck (even in Onion’s presence) was a portent of the events to come.


The book allowed us to enter Onion’s mind and vision not merely to see the world as he sees it but to also identify with him. In Onion, we see a young man who is constantly debating with himself. There are times when he wants to run away from the John Brown’s army and his cause, but there are also times when his conscience confronts him, making him do the right thing, at least according to him. We also see a young man who has the capacity to love truly and care for another person. We are witness to his heart being broken and privy to the thoughts that inspire his decisions. There were times when Onion had to seek ways out of a dilemma, which often resulted in humorous moments that made me laugh out loud.  With its brilliant, somewhat sarcastic dialogue, one can't help but find the book funny at times. Towards the end of the book, and inspired by a chance meeting with the Harriet Tubman, Onion has an inner dialogue where we became a witness to his thoughts about identity. Through these realizations, Onion confronts the enormity of the war he was helping to fight while also questioning what it means to be true to one’s self. I especially liked that part when Onion ran back to Harpers Ferry to join John Brown because for him, it was the right thing to do, even if it means risking his life.


At a very deep level, you can sense hope and faith amidst the struggles encountered by the characters. This is not merely a tale of John Brown and his fight against slavery and the struggles he faced. Most importantly though, at least for me, is that it's a story about the quest for identity where Onion tries to piece together the importance of 'being a man' and being true to yourself. It's also about sacrificing one's self for the greater good. At the end of the story, when John Brown was executed, Onion tells us about people singing John Brown's favorite song "Blow Ye Trumpet" inside a church while a Good Lord Bird circled up above it. The Good Lord Bird as John Brown described it before his execution is a bird that flies alone looking for the right tree to gnaw so as to give life to other trees. One would get the idea then that John Brown's fate wasn't necessarily a failure but something that would give life and motivation to future events.


While reading the book, I felt that I was somewhere else. James McBride’s writing has the ability to transport you into a new world and a different time, while engaging you with the story through the characters and events that transpire. Onion is a unique and original character. Surely he will linger in the minds of many a readers after they are done reading. The book makes you reflect on big issues about life and survival while providing insights about slavery, gender, racism and faith. This book propelled me to a world of adventure and suspense, while teaching me a thing or two about American history, but also of the importance of being true to yourself. The Good Lord Bird tells a great story and tells it brilliantly. What a great read!

Source: wp.me/s49b4C-660
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