They say no man is an island but sometimes you just really want to read a book that takes place on one. All three titles below (plus a bonus review) meet that criteria. So with leaves falling all around and temperatures dropping, curl up and set sail with a good story that transports you to several very different islands in some faraway oceans, both real and some imagined. Have a nice trip, take a bookmark, and don’t forget to catch the ferry home when you’re done reading.
The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman (July 2012). As its title suggests, this story takes place far out to sea on a remote Australian island where Tom, a lighthouse keeper, and his wife Isabelle are stationed. Everything changes one day when a rowboat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying baby. Having tried for years to conceive a child, this offering from the sea seems to be the answer to Isabelle’s prayers. Despite Tom’s reservations, she convinces him they should claim the baby as their own. They name her Lucy and the drama is set in motion as the reader learns of the effect that decision will have on many families as well as on future generations. This is a book about profound love, loss, and how choices shape our lives. Stedman’s writing is excellent, believable, and “unputdownable”. I loved the landscape of this book, from the windswept rock out in the ocean to the western coast of 1920’s Australia where there were fortunes to be made and rugged individuals carving out a country in the post WWI era. I will remember this book and its characters for a long time. Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow
The Vanishing Act by Mette Jacobsen (September 2012). This book, too, is set on a tiny, yet unnamed island with only a handful of quirky inhabitants – and it’s story is also shaped by a body washing up on shore. It’s been a year since Minou’s mother disappeared, walking out of the front door of their cottage in her best dress with an umbrella in hand never to be seen again. Minou doesn’t quite believe that she’s dead and spends much of her days reconstructing her memory, considering her beautifully painted murals, remembering her role in the island’s circus, and trying to solve the mystery of where her mother could be. When Minou finds the body of a boy on the beach, she and her father, a fisherman and philosopher, carry it back to their house and carefully watch over it until a boat can arrive to remove it to the mainland. In the meantime, the two tell the boy their secrets, wishes, and thoughts. A novel of love and loss, and healing, Vanishing Act reads has a timeless, dreamlike s quality to it and reads like a fable or an old-fashioned fairy tale. The writing is excellent, the concept unique, and the overall effect truly poetic. Very different. Very good. A GEM.~Lisa Cadow
Both these books reminded us of perhaps the most famous of all stories about bodies being washed up on shore – Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In this play, a storm washes the live bodies of noblemen onto an island populated by Prospero, a sorcerer and Miranda, his daughter. The tempest that brought the newcomers to this island unveils a tempest of betrayal, secrets and love. ~ Lisa Christie
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor (1989) – This island post seemed like the perfect time to revisit a book that I read so very long ago and loved. This gem? Mama Day – the tale of an island off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina that is part of neither, but whose pull is powerful even on those who leave – uses plain but powerful prose to create a memorable and engrossing novel. Woven around the stories of a young couple – George and Cocoa who meet and love in New York City and Cocoa’s great-aunt Mama Day – Mama Day explores notions of family, community, and love, with a little voodoo sprinkled in. Over twenty years after publication the book still resonates; as the Washington Post proclaimed in their review years ago – “This is a wonderful novel, full of spirit and sass and wisdom, and completely realized.” ~ Lisa Christie