Day 1: Lodging in Europe

It seems rather prosaic to start this series with something like lodging, but it was one of our biggest items in planning our trip, and our choice of lodging made a huge difference in the overall success of our grand adventure.

The view from our tiny studio in Paris.

The view from our tiny studio in Paris.

I had a hunch that we would want to go with apartment rentals rather than hotel rooms, and all of our preliminary research agreed, so rather than scouring for budget-friendly hotel rooms (nearly impossible, especially in London!), we opted to look for short-term rental of an apartment that would accommodate all five of us. Sharing the expense made this an extremely appealing option for us.

As Americans, we are accustomed to “family” style hotel rooms with two queen beds — or even suites with the option of an adjoining room with a sofa bed or at least a roll-away bed — as a fairly standard option, but the plain fact is that European hotels, in general, don’t have those options! Rooms are single (1 person), double (2 people), or triple if you’re very, very lucky (3 people). Additionally, since our stay would be somewhat lengthy, we loved the idea of having conveniences like a full kitchen and a washing machine.

Cozy bedroom in our flat in Dublin.

Cozy bedroom in our flat in Dublin.

In the end, we had terrific success with booking through sites like Vacation Rental By Owner and HomeAway. Our apartment (or “flat” to be more European in terminology!) in Dublin turned out to be smaller than we anticipated from the listing pictures, but we couldn’t have asked for a better location–literally steps from Dublin Castle and the Temple Bar area. London’s sky-high prices forced us to look slightly outside of central London, although in the end, the extra cost of transit in and out of the city every day might have offset the lower rental cost. (In hindsight, I should have researched this more thoroughly–but we did enjoy our daily adventures on the Tube and the DLR!) By the time we reached Paris, Kate had returned to the States, so the four of us shared a tiny studio just a few blocks from the Seine and the Île de la Cité – again, we could not have asked for a more central location!

Our one major “rude awakening” with the whole experience was learning that American washing machines and European washing machines are NOT created equally. I could have predicted the size difference (since nearly everything in Europe is smaller than in the States), but what I did not realize was that in all three apartments, we would have a combination washer and dryer machine that a) took a minimum of 3 to 5 hours to fully “process” one load, and b) used a steam drying process that never seemed to fully dry anything and also had the nasty tendency to shrink clothes! Needless to say, we ended up doing far less laundry than we might have otherwise — and one of the first things that I absolutely could not wait to do when we got home was rush to my gloriously large, thoroughly American washing machine and start a load of laundry.

Oh, international travel, what wondrous and strange perspective you have given me on the most ordinary of life’s conveniences!

Do you have any European lodging tips or horror stories to share? Join me in the comments!

This is Day 1 in my 31 Stories From Europe series. To read the rest of the series, please visit the introductory page — and subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss anything!

Photo Credit: Megan Weakley

Photo Credit: Megan Weakley

31 Stories From Europe: Welcome!

I shared yesterday about my intentions for the 2015 Write 31 Days Challenge, and today is the day! The first of October has dawned dark and rainy, and after experiencing a long stretch of painful drought here in CA, I couldn’t be more delighted to see the rain. And I’m delighted that you’re here as well!

This will be my “landing page” for this challenge, so to speak, so if you’re interested in following along, bookmark this page, as I will add live links for each day as the corresponding post is published. Additionally, remember that you can subscribe to my blog via email (look for the widget on my home page) so you don’t miss anything!

For those who are new to my blog, I am writing about the recent trip that my husband Austin and I took to Europe, along with my sister Megan and brother-in-law Taylor, and another dear friend of ours, Kate. Over the course of 15 days, we visited Dublin, London, and Paris, and we came home with a wealth of stories and memories to last a lifetime.

I’m so excited to share this series, and I look forward to both the hard work that will push me past my comfort zone, as well as the great joy of sharing memories from this trip that was truly the trip of a lifetime. Thanks for joining me for 31 Stories From Europe! 

Photo Credit: Megan Weakley

Photo Credit: Megan Weakley


Day 1 – Lodging in Europe
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Introducing: 31 Stories From Europe Series


Photo Credit: Megan Weakley

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve had a particular reason for the increasingly slow trickle of posts recently, and today I’m happy to share with you all what I’ve been working on! Starting tomorrow, I will be linking up with the Write 31 Days challenge, a blogging challenge started by The Nester in 2009, and hosted this year by the lovely Crystal Stine.

For 31 days during the month of October, I will endeavor to post every day and share a wide variety of stories from our recent trip to Europe. I’m so excited, not only to share these stories with you all, but to have a wonderful record (hopefully including some photos!) of our trip here on the blog.

Some of you might remember that I participated in this challenge last year, writing for 31 days about my favorite books, and although I had days last October when I thought I would never finish, in the end, it was my favorite thing I’ve ever done on my blog. This year, my October looks extremely busy for the first week and a half, for sure, so I’m trying to show myself grace and not freak out about it. This is supposed to be fun, right?!

My goal is to write 31 brand new posts, whether I finish on October 31st or not… even the first week of November will still count as “success” in my mind. I’ll need a lot of encouragement, for sure, and I look forward to interacting and seeing comments along the way.

Here’s to a new adventure! If you would like to follow along, please submit your email address to the widget on the top left side of my home page and subscribe to my blog, so you don’t miss anything!

September 2015 Favorites

Well, things have been a bit radio silent around here lately — but I promise I will share why, and soon! In the meantime, I can hardly believe that it’s time for my September Favorites post. The end of the month keeps sneaking up on me. As always, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for these monthly favorites posts, and they have become some of my favorite posts to write. I love sharing my favorite things with you all!

Things I Love:


The “Cinnamon Sugared Doughnut” candle by Bath & Body Works. My sweet friend Audrey sent me one of these earlier in the summer, and I am completely obsessed with this fragrance. It is sheer delight. Unfortunately, Bath & Body Works seems to have decided not to release this scent again this year, so it’s no longer available, which is such a bummer! (I did see it on Amazon, but I don’t know how much longer you could find it even there.)

My library books. I’m still on a huge library book binge, and with 10 titles currently checked out, I have put myself on probation as far as requesting any new titles until I finish what I have. It’s just so much fun that I can’t help myself!

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens. I’ve seen several of my favorite bloggers / fellow planner addicts recommend these pens recently, so I finally ordered myself a set, and I can see why everyone raves about them. For writing / journaling, I need a fast-writing, super smooth pen (my favorite, and pretty much the only thing I use these days, is the Pilot G-2 gel pen – it’s a magical combination when used with a Moleskine notebook), but for my planner and other miscellaneous writing, I am loving the Staedtler pens. I also discovered that they are perfect for my journaling Bible, because they don’t bleed through the pages at all. Score!


Periscope! I’m late to the party when it comes to this live video streaming app, but after following some of my favorite authors / bloggers and tuning in to broadcasts for about a month now, I’m hooked. I do have some issues with the app and the way it works, but I might delve into that more deeply in a future post. In the meantime, I think it’s a fascinating tool that can be terrifically enjoyable.



I read constantly in September, but once again, I bounced around between a bunch of different titles and haven’t actually finished any books for this month. So instead, I will share my list of titles that I’m currently reading – and hopefully this will hold me accountable to share that I’ve actually completed these by next month’s post!

— A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg
— Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach
— A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
— Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury
— Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
— When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation by Ronald Rosbottom
— The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
— Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge
— The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
— The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
— Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
— Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See


Austin & I still have a handful of episodes left in the final season of Chuck and I think neither of us really wants to let it go. It’s been such an enjoyable show, and I for one am sad to see it coming to an end.

I’m still slowly working through Parenthood whenever I can, and I’ve started re-watching Gilmore Girls during mindless housework tasks like dishes and laundry. I think I laugh even more the second time through. I’ve also (finally, I know) started watching Parks & Recreation, and I’m absolutely loving it. Austin has seen most of it, and I’ve seen a few scattered episodes, but I finally started watching from the beginning, and can confirm that all the rave reviews are completely justified. It’s fantastic.



“Papaoutai” by Pentatonix with Lindsey Stirling. Sometimes I come across songs that just so catchy that I can’t. stop. listening. This is one of those songs. It’s also, in my opinion, one of PTX’s most clever music videos. I love it. I have my hubby to thank for this one!

My friend Audrey’s Acoustic Audrey playlist on Spotify. The perfect accompaniment for a workday afternoon. On repeat recently.

That brings me to the end of my September Favorites! What have you been into recently?! Share with me in the comments! 

9/11: 14 Years


It’s hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since that fearful day… The time has passed so quickly. This is one of my favorite photos from the aftermath of the attacks, an image that became famous because of the way it reflects the way our nation came together with patriotic solidarity over the weeks following that beautiful, tragic Tuesday.

One of my favorite parts of our 12 hours in New York City this summer was visiting the 9/11 Memorial Pools – one of the most sobering and deeply moving experiences of my life. It’s hard to fathom the number of lives that were lost until you stand next to the pools and see so many names…



This beautiful wall dedicated to the NYC fire fighters brought tears to my eyes.


And the breathtaking 1 World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the place of incredible devastation.


But my favorite thing was the incredible story of the Survivor Tree, which I knew, but it was such an amazing experience to stand in front of it in person, look up into its branches, touch its vibrant leaves. What an unbelievable example of God’s protection in the midst of terror and disaster – like the story I shared last year on 9/11.


We will never forget… 

August 2015 Favorites

I’m a little bit slow on sharing my August favorites, but the first week of September started out with a bang, and I’ve barely had time to breathe! Still, I definitely have some favorites that I’ve been excited to share, so here goes.

Things I Love:

  • My new planner: the Day Designer! I’ve been following Whitney English for ages, and drooling over her beautiful Day Designer for quite some time. When her collaboration with Blue Sky became available at Target, I was so thrilled, and I’ve been eyeing the various designs at Target for months now. I finally decided which one I wanted, and so far, I’ve been loving it. The streamlined layout lends itself to daily productivity, and the aesthetically lovely design makes me want to just keep it open and next to me all day long – which is, after all, the point of a planner, right?! I love it.

Photo credit: Day Designer gallery

  • The library! For whatever reason, I sometimes forget that the library is literally one mile from our house – it doesn’t get much more convenient than that! I shared my library stack on Instagram a few weeks ago, and it pretty much sums up how excited I’ve been about rediscovering my library privileges. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but it’s worth it!


  • Snail mail! I recently started writing letters with a couple friends, and I am remembering how delightful it is to receive a real, honest-to-goodness letter in the mail ~ such a sweet change from the junk mail that usually crowds our mailbox!
  • My Moleskine journals. My sweet friend Audrey gave me my very first Moleskine for Christmas last year, and I absolutely adore writing in it. I had heard rave reviews about Moleskine journals for so long, but I’ve always been too cheap to buy one myself. Now I don’t know if I’ll ever write in anything else!
  • Anthony Doerr. I reviewed All The Light We Cannot See last month on my blog, and after reading it, I resolved to read everything Doerr has ever written. So far, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Four Seasons in Romeand I just started reading The Shell Collectorone of his short story collections. 2 down, 3 to go!


In the last month, I’ve read (this includes finishing a couple books that I’ve been working on for quite awhile)…
— Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman
— Bloodroot by Amy Greene
— Four Season in Rome by Anthony Doerr
— The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
— Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
— The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

I have a fantastic “to be read” stack building right now, several titles fueling my continued WWII obsession, and I can’t wait to fly through these. I’ll definitely share thoughts as I finish them!



I’m still slowly watching episodes of Parenthood here and there, and still loving it. Austin & I are into the final season of Chuck, which has proven quite… different. We still enjoy it, but I can’t say that it’s quite as compelling now – although compelling enough that we certainly want to finish it! I’m also stoked for new seasons of all our favorite shows: Castle, Arrow, Flash, and Supernatural. Yay for fall TV premieres!

My sister was appalled to discover that I had yet to see Mockingjayso we watched it together this week, and I was pleased to find that they finally did what the previous two films should have done: took a mostly-decent book and made quite a good movie out of it. Hunger Games is a total guilty pleasure for me, but I certainly enjoyed sharing this one with my sister.


I don’t have a lot of new music on my rotation this month, but my friend Katie alerted me to “Undisclosed“, a follow-up podcast to last year’s “Serial“, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. It’s certainly not the same caliber as Serial in terms of journalistic quality, but I found myself so involved with the case after listening to Serial, and it’s fascinating (in a heart-wrenching sort of way, admittedly) to hear how things have progressed since then. Certainly a must if you enjoyed Serial!

Additionally, I started a “Classical Guitar” playlist on Pandora, and it’s pretty much the most relaxing thing ever. Perfect for de-stressing at the end of the day.

What have you been into in August?! Tell me in the comments!

My Favorite Podcasts

thesimpleshow-banner-820x380I’ve been on a major podcast kick recently. I wouldn’t want to call it an obsession, but… it might venture in that direction. I have ripped through a huge number of podcasts in record time over the last few weeks, mainly due to two considerations.

First, I listen during heretofore unoccupied and mentally unproductive times of “busy” work throughout my day. What times fall into this category? Doing the dishes, putting on my makeup in the morning, folding laundry (+ vacuuming, + dusting, + any other bore-me-out-of-my-skin housework!), driving in the car — any pocket of time that already existed in my life, but that didn’t require any real mental exertion on my part and thus could easily become a place to multi-task.

Second, I listen in 1.5x speed. I use the built-in podcast app that came pre-loaded on my iPhone, and the app makes it super easy to change the speed setting for listening. Now, I admit, this only really works if I’m listening with earbuds so that any background noise doesn’t disrupt my understanding, and it certainly does take a little bit of adjusting to accustom your ears to the speed. However, once I got used to it, I realized how much more content I could get through in shorter periods of time, and I love it!

I’m amazed by how much I have learned just by making a productive use of these times during my day and listening to a variety of podcasts! I’ve enjoyed listening to a few of my favorite bloggers and getting to hear their “in real life” voices, and let me just say it again – I’ve learned so much.

It’s a little overwhelming to look at the sheer volume of podcasts available these days, so I thought I would share a handful of my favorites. If you’re new to podcasts, or if you’re looking for a new one to listen to, I hope this list will be helpful.

  • The Big Boo Cast with Melanie Shankle and Sophie Hudson. This is probably one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, and still one of my favorites. Melanie & Sophie are 1) both brilliant and wonderful authors, 2) riotously funny, and 3) completely and utterly Southern. I think I once heard them refer to the Big Boo cast as “the Seinfeld of podcasts” and it’s an apt description. I love it so much.
  • That Sounds Fun with Annie Downs. I don’t know what it is, but Annie Downs cracks. me. up. Maybe it’s her deep voice and her boisterous laugh, but she is just precious, and her podcast never fails to make me happy.
  • Hope*ologie with Emily Freeman, Myquillyn Smith (the Nester), and Gary Morland. Two of my favorite bloggers, plus their dad! It is scientifically impossible to hear Myquillyn’s laugh and not laugh along. I dare you to try it. The description for Hope*ologie is “Let’s chip away at discouragement and find delight in our right-now homes, families, and souls.” AMEN!
  • The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins – I have learned so much about blogging and becoming a writer from Jeff Goins, and I always learn something when I listen to The Portfolio Life. I love the concept of what Jeff calls a portfolio life; if nothing else, at least listen to the very first episode in which Jeff describes this concept.
  • Sorta Awesome with Megan Tietz – She’s a Harry Potter lover, a MBTI geek, and she over-uses the word “awesome.” She’s adorable, and I love listening to her show.
  • The Simple Show with Tsh Oxenreider – Tsh is one of my very favorite bloggers, and a big inspiration when it comes to simple living and dreaming big. Listening to her podcast always makes me want to meet her in real life. I just think she would be amazing.
  • Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie – Tsh recently interviewed Sarah Mackenzie on The Simple Show, and I absolutely fell in love with Sarah, her smiling voice (just listen to her and you’ll understand!), and her bubbling enthusiasm and passion for reading, particularly for reading aloud to her children. I immediately went and subscribed to Sarah’s podcast, Read-Aloud Revival, and I’ve been on a binge of catching up with all 28 episodes. I’m almost there, and I’m actually sad that now I’ll have to wait for a new episode like everyone else! Sarah’s heart for building family culture around books is absolutely inspiring, and I cannot say enough good things about her podcast. It makes me increasingly grateful for my own very literary upbringing, and also makes me excited about reading to my own children one day.

What about you? Do you have any favorite podcasts?! Tell me in the comments!

It’s Simply Tuesday party!


I woke up with butterflies this morning.

Many of you know that I have had the privilege of participating in the launch team for Emily Freeman‘s latest book release, Simply Tuesday – a first for me, and what a great experience! I woke up this morning knowing that today is her launch day, and I had butterflies because I’m really and truly that. excited. about. this. book.

Sometimes I fly through books at an alarming pace; for example, I recently read Bloodroot by Amy Greene and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and I positively raced through both of those titles, desperate to reach the conclusion and find out what would happen to the characters. Other times, though, I don’t want a book to end. Simply Tuesday is one of those books. I’ve always felt that Emily’s writing demands slow attention and a deliberate reading that leaves space to contemplate – after all, her blog’s tagline is “creating space for your soul to breathe.”

When it comes to nonfiction, I tend to read with a highlighter and/or a pen in hand, because I process best when I can make notes and ask questions and otherwise mark up the book. I felt like I spent half of my Simply Tuesday reading time marking up the pages! If you could see my Advanced Reader Copy, you would see post-it notes sticking out everywhere, highlighted passages on practically every page, and notes scribbled in the margins.

In the midst of a world that advocates hustle, busy, and ladder-climbing, Simply Tuesday is an invitation to sit still, build a bench, and embrace your smallness. Instead of constantly allowing the chaos to overwhelm us, rushing just to keep up with life, Simply Tuesday calls us to slow down, to pay attention so we actually notice the small & precious moments of life that, someday, we will wish we had given more attention. Our culture’s obsession with bigger, better, & faster is slowly but surely spinning us out of control, and for anyone who has ever looked at our hectic pace of life and asked is there a better way?! – this book is for you.


And because nothing says it better than Emily’s words, here are some of my favorite quotes.

“The deepest need of my soul isn’t a personal organizer or an empty inbox. The deepest need of my soul is Christ. But the problem is, I often forget where to find him. What if God’s intention for the world and me begins here, on my regular Tuesdays? What if we decided to take back Tuesday from the wasteland of to-do lists and give it a prominent place in our walk of faith? What if, instead of thinking we have to choose between our ordinary life and an extraordinary life, we began to realize they’re the same thing?”

“Instead of forgetting or running from my own smallness, what if I chose instead to look it in the face, to settle down into the place where I am, to notice what is happening around me on my ordinary days? What if these small moments are the very portal into experiencing the kingdom of God? I believe they are–and if we miss them, we miss everything. We run right by the kingdom’s doors, and no matter where we go, we have missed the door that leads us home.”

And another beautiful visual of one of my favorite quotes:


I don’t usually gush like this (well, okay, let’s be real – I gush about books a lot!), but y’all, I simply cannot say enough good things about this book. I have adored all of Emily’s books so far, and each one has spoken profound truth into every corner of my life, but this one… well, this one is her best yet. I know I just begged you to buy All the Light We Cannot See, but here I am again–urging, exhorting, and otherwise convincing you that you don’t want to miss out on Simply Tuesday.

Just for fun, here’s a roundup of places where you can find Emily and content about Simply Tuesday around the web today!


  • The Simply Tuesday website, where you can sign up to receive a delightful free video series that Emily created, introducing the concepts of the book and providing soul encouragement that you don’t want to miss.
  • The beautiful #itssimplytuesday hashtag – “the loveliest hashtag around” in Emily’s words. Every Tuesday, join hundreds of other “Tuesday people” on Instagram, capturing the small moments that celebrate the grace of God on the most ordinary day of the week.


  • The most recent episode of the Hope*ologie podcast, where Emily talks with her dad and her sister about Simply Tuesday and how she came to write the book. Hope*ologie is a favorite on my podcast list, even apart from this special episode!


Have you read Simply Tuesday? What did you think? Join me in the comments!

July 2015 Favorites

As usual, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for “What I’m Into” this month.

Things I Love:

Oyster App

Oyster! For several months, I’ve been using the fabulous Oyster app to read electronically, and I cannot say enough good things about it. I looked into the Amazon Unlimited service when it first came out, but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by their available selection – when I did a 30-day trial of Oyster just for the heck of it, however, I was able to find a good 60-70% of the titles on my wish list. I have over 100 books on my Oyster reading list now, basically a never-ending supply of reading material. As an added bonus, the interface is, in my opinion, much “prettier” and a more pleasant reading experience than even the Kindle app. Love it.

My new desk setup. We rearranged our home office again last week, and I finally have my workspace set up with a keyboard drawer, external keyboard, external monitor, and everything at the proper level / height for good ergonomics. No more aching back and sore wrists, score!


Books I finished this month:

– Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman (more thoughts coming soon, I promise!)
– All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (which I blogged about earlier this week)
– Blackout by Connie Willis
– If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland


We just finished season 3 of Chuck, and it was completely FABULOUS. I love all the character development that happened in season 3, and the final episodes were just fantastic – we really had that “ahhhhh one more episode!!!” reaction as we finished up the season.

I’m still slowly making my way through Parenthood when I have time for an episode here and there, just about to the end of season 2, and loving it. Such great writing.

Inside Out

We also went to the theater and saw Inside Out, Pixar’s new masterpiece, and I completely adored it. Pixar never ceases to amaze me with their “kids” movies–films that kids, no doubt, love to watch, but that also contain deep and rich themes that leave adults thinking and wondering, too. Inside Out stuck in my mind and heart for days after I saw it, and although I know not everyone would agree, I think it was one of the best Pixar films yet. I loved this Pop Culture Happy Hour discussion, which pretty much sums up all the reasons why I thought it was a brilliant little movie.


As far as actual music goes, I have primarily stuck with my favorite movie soundtracks in the last month; the Theory of Everything soundtrack has become my official writing companion for pretty much all the writing I’ve done recently, and I shuffle my way through my Spotify “Epic Soundtracks” playlist, which is now almost 54 hours long. Ohhhhh yeah.

Despite my lack of variety in music, though, I have been on a major podcast kick recently! I’ve really enjoyed Tsh Oxenreider’s reboot of her podcast, The Simple Show, and particularly loved her vault interview with Megan Tietz talking about Harry Potter.

After listening to Tsh interview Sarah Mackenzie on The Simple Show, I fell in love with Sarah and have been binge-listening (is that a thing?!) to her Read-Aloud Revival podcast, where she encourages her listeners to build their family culture around books and reading aloud. Her very first episode was an interview with Andrew Pudewa from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, so… duh, it’s gonna be awesome! I’m on episode 12, and I absolutely adore Sarah and her enthusiasm for books. She feels like such a kindred spirit! Her podcast gets me oh so very excited to think about reading aloud to my own kids someday.

I’m also thoroughly enjoying Hope*ologie, That Sounds Fun with Annie Downs, and Sorta Awesome with Megan Tietz.

What have you been into in the past month?! Share with me in the comments!

Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See

Last month, after seeing rave reviews in so many places, I finally read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and I cannot stop talking about it! Doerr is the kind of writer who makes me, in my worst moments, consider never picking up a pen again – why in the world would I even bother, when such a master exists?!


[From “Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, 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 at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.”]

I get it now. All the awards Anthony Doerr won for this book, all the rave reviews I’ve been reading, everything that made me want to read it – none of it disappointed.

I cannot remember the last time I fell so thoroughly & completely under a book’s spell. I had a slow start getting into it, with many interruptions, but after 100 pages, I was enthralled, and once I hit 200 pages, I read it straight through in a single evening. Doerr’s prose is remarkably tight and sparse, and yet lyrical beyond anything I have ever read; I still can’t wrap my mind around how he can use so few words and yet evoke such vivid and colorful scenes. It reminds me an artist who can capture, with just a few deft pencil strokes, the heart and soul of his subject. I don’t even understand how it’s possible! I could literally study, in depth, the nuances of Doerr’s writing–and I fully intend to do so.

Through the struggles his characters face, he engages with some of the most strong and resonant themes a writer can address–loss and love, fear and innocence, naive trust–and through his setting, he raises powerful questions without attempting to answer them and tie the story up in a neat bow. For example, how does war affect children? Can life ever go “back to normal” after a truly stunning loss? How do the evils of propaganda work on an innocent mind? I am still pondering, over a week later, and I know this haunting story will remain with me for the rest of my life. I cared profoundly about Werner and Marie-Laure, and they have lodged deeply in my heart.

When I turned the final page, I initially felt so sad that I wanted to change the ending (okay, I’ll admit it a bit more strongly and say that I don’t think I have ever cried so much while reading a book as I did over the last 50 or so pages of All the Light). But since then, as I have pondered the implications of everything the characters went through, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Doerr got it exactly right. Life doesn’t always guarantee a happy ending, and to be perfectly honest, when I read, I don’t always want a stereotypical happy ending. Sometimes I prefer a sad conclusion (provided it’s still redemptive) that leaves me thinking long after I read the last word. This is exactly that kind of book.

Reading All the Light has only fanned the flame of my obsession with the WWI and WWII period, and has inspired me to learn more about the German invasion of France in WWII, and specifically about the tragic destruction of Saint-Malo. I also feel utterly compelled to read more of Anthony Doerr’s writing, and so I am quite happily immersing myself in the four other books that he has written to date.

Have you read All the Light We Cannot See, or any of Anthony Doerr’s other books? What did you think?! Join me in the comments!