Monthly Archives: September 2015

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

This novel has been wildly popular with book clubs. Friends recommended it enthusiastically. It has 17,000+ reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 5.4/5! And guess what? It really is that good!

This is the story of two youngsters caught in the maelstrom of World War II in Europe. Lesson #1 – there is no childhood during war.

What did I find especially appealing? The relationship between Marie-Laure (who is followed from about age 6 to 17) and her father is touching and idiosyncratic. At a time when (as far as I know) the handicapped were often marginalized, the father pours so much energy and careful thought into his blind daughter’s training and education.

Werner, on the other hand, was an orphan, raised in a Children’s House that takes in the offspring of German coal miners who die on the job. Their caretaker is kind, but the living provided is barely above the subsistence level. Werner appears to have no alternative to becoming a miner when he turns 15. But, against the odds, he educates himself, finding and fixing a broken radio and learning a surprising amount of mathematics and physics from a battered textbook he salvages. The promise of education at a government school transfixes him. He steps onto the path to success within the Nazi party.

Marie-Laure and Werner meet at the very end of the War. He knows he is supposed to kill her. But the War is basically over and he is sick of killing. They are swept apart as the remnants of the German military machine are taken prisoner and French civilians are liberated.

War is hell. Survival is the exception. So don’t read this book when you are feeling emotionally vulnerable. But do read it!

“One Red Thread” by Ernie Wood

This is the second of the fiction-with-a-supernatural-twist novels I promised to review. (See blog entry of July 1, 2015.) Instead of a mere hint of the supernatural, this book goes all out.

The plot is complex, and it took me a long time to read the book. It would be just the thing for a long, rainy weekend at the beach.

Every family has a “past”. But how important is it? How interesting? I grew up with repeated admonitions like “don’t shake the family tree, who knows what will fall off?” Possibly my mother felt our recent immigrant status was not a source of pride. As far as I know, there wasn’t any real “dirt”. If there was, it’s now to late to dig it up. And I don’t care.

Protagonist Eddy McBride had much more in his past to ponder. Why did his father leave? What was wrong with his “fragile” uncle? Why did his childhood friend return?

And Eddy McBride learns, over time, that he can visit the past. He begins to wonder if he can change it. That’s when things get crazy. Life threateningly crazy. Things settle down (after a fashion) when his first child is born. But she also has the “gift” of time travel…

This novel was published by Tyrus Books, a new and relatively small press. I think they made a good choice in publishing Ernie Wood’s first novel.

Mount Cuba Center (Hockessin, Delaware)

To end Summer on a high note, we joined a field trip to the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. It’s a garden dedicated to native plants, and a place of astonishing beauty! Their slogan is “gardening on a higher level”. Certainly it’s a garden on a higher level than I can aspire to.

“Native plants” require some definition. The garden goes a little beyond what is truly native to northern Delaware, including some specimens from other parts of the eastern United States. There are no “exotics”. Everything I saw could be maintained by an average gardener, except perhaps pitcher plants and lady slipper. I was happy to see that a few things I consider “delicate” were spreading abundantly there, like Pine Barrens lobelia and cardinal flower. (Forgive my use of common names, I know you can puzzle out the correct nomenclature if you need it.)

Mt. Cuba was wonderfully free of the invasive species, like autumn olive. They have a large staff of volunteers to care for the plants.

The day was hot and sunny, so butterflies were out, especially on the thistle flowers. Some of my favorite fall flowers were getting started, like Joe Pye weed.

A first for me was a look at Monks’ Hood in the wild, a plant so toxic we were advised not to touch any part of it, though its danger is greatest if you eat it.

Perhaps my favorite flower was the bottle gentian, which I never saw in the wild before except in Vermont.

I was simply dazzled by Mt. Cuba. When I figure out how to download pictures from my phone, I’ll post some. Meanwhile, you can gaze at the web site and dream. http://www.mtcubacenter.org