Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Naturally, when a Pulitzer Prize winner like Doerr releases a follow-up novel many years later, people are going to make comparisons. I will say that my first experience with Doerr was his travel memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, which I unexpectedly loved. I didn’t actually read All the Light We Cannot See until about a year ago, but I loved it as well. I was ecstatic to get an ARC of Cloud Cuckoo Land, and there is almost no comparison for me: it’s amazing.

What it’s about

Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

My thoughts

Let’s just get this out if the way: I loved this book, it’s definitely going to be on my best of list for 2021, and I think Anthony Doerr might be a literary genius.

With absolutely gorgeous writing, Doerr has woven together the stories of five distinct characters across hundreds of years, all revolving around one (fictional) ancient tale by Diogenes, Cloud Cuckoo Land. From the 15th century fall of Constantinople, to a 1940s American immigrant story, to a more modern day misguided autistic eco-warrior, to a near future where an interstellar traveler aboard a multigenerational space flight flees the ravaged Earth for a safe new home for humanity, we follow Diogenes’ shepherd, Aethon, as he tries to find a mythical land in the heavens.

All of the characters are completely formed and intriguing and the various storylines are delightfully complex. I was totally absorbed in this book from start to finish. It infuriated me, broke my heart a few times, and made me ridiculously happy. A complete, satisfying read, centered around the love of stories and learning, with deep, important messages and themes. I honestly can’t think of a thing I didn’t like about the book, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I read most on my kindle but supplemented on my walks with the (fantastic) audiobook. Personally, I like to listen to chunksters like Cloud Cuckoo Land, and the top-notch production and masterful narration by Marin Ireland and Simon Jones make for a great audio experience.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my copy of this epic book in exchange for this honest, completely gushing, review.


Review: The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke

This book is perhaps my biggest surprise pick of my reading year so far. Obviously, it interested me enough to request the ARC, but I’m just a little bit astonished at how much I loved it.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

When single mother Liv is commissioned to paint a mural in a 100-year-old lighthouse on a remote Scottish island, it’s an opportunity to start over with her three daughters–Luna, Sapphire, and Clover. When two of her daughters go missing, she’s frantic. She learns that the cave beneath the lighthouse was once a prison for women accused of witchcraft. The locals warn her about wildlings, supernatural beings who mimic human children, created by witches for revenge. Liv is told wildlings are dangerous and must be killed.

Twenty-two years later, Luna has been searching for her missing sisters and mother. When she receives a call about her youngest sister, Clover, she’s initially ecstatic. Clover is the sister she remembers–except she’s still seven years old, the age she was when she vanished. Luna is worried Clover is a wildling. Luna has few memories of her time on the island, but she’ll have to return to find the truth of what happened to her family. But she doesn’t realize just how much the truth will change her.

My thoughts

First things first—the writing. I had never read this author before, but C.J. Cooke is not new to this, and it shows. She’s obviously a smart, talented writer and The Lighthouse Witches is beautifully written, well-researched, and thoroughly engaging. The descriptions of the Black Isle in Scotland and the delve into 17th century witch persecutions by way of a found grimoire/journal were enough to hook me, but the 1990s and current day storylines kept me flipping pages.

If you know me or are familiar with my taste in books, you may have noticed that I’m a sucker for historical fiction, multiple timelines, and more than one POV, and this book checks all of those boxes. I loved the characters of Liv and Luna especially, and the family love and struggle is heartbreaking and intense. There’s a whole almost-changeling situation going on for years on this remote Scottish highland coast and an element of magic that makes for excellent reading. Very gothic and atmospheric—truly a perfect autumn read for me.

I read most of the book as a digital ARC, but did supplement with the audiobook when I didn’t want to stop reading to do life stuff, and I can highly recommend the audio version. The four fantastic narrators really bring the characters to life, and the production is top notch.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for my copy in exchange for this honest review. I’m off to find more C.J. Cooke books to read now.