Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

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Set in Australia in the 1920’s, The Light Between Oceans is a beautifully written historical fiction that centers around what happens when a good man is persuaded into a bad decision by the wife he desperately wants to save from herself…

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Author:  M.L. Stedman

Genre: Historical Fiction

Version: Paperback (352 Pages)

Publisher: Scribner

Source: Purchased

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Book Synopsis:

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

My Thoughts:

This book was part of my birthday book haul back in April.  I believe I came across this one when I had added a book into my online shopping cart, and this had popped up as a book recommendation to the book I was purchasing.  I thought the cover was stunning and the synopsis sounded intriguing, so into the cart it went.  I find lighthouses mysterious and magical, so I was excited to read a book centered around a lighthouse keeper and his wife.

What I enjoyed

The descriptions of Janus island were absolutely mesmerizing.  Stedman was really able to pull me into the setting.  While living on my own personal island for a few days would be amazing, I am not sure I would be able to do it long term.  I found the descriptions of the inner workings of  lighthouses to be very interesting.  I never really stopped to think about the amount of hard work, care, and maintenance that goes into managing a lighthouse.  Back in those days, boats did not have fancy equipment to tell them they were nearing danger, they had to rely on lighthouses to alert them.  How lonely and isolated the life of a lighthouse keeper must have been back in those days.  Such an important, but thankless job.

I adored Tom.  Tom is definitely dealt a difficult life, but is the type of man that just keeps on keeping on.  Tom is probably one of the most selfless characters that I’ve encountered in a book.  He literally does WHATEVER it takes to make his wife happy, even if that means going against his better judgement.  He is almost blinded by his love for his wife, so much so that he is easily manipulated by her.  Unfortunately, this also leads to Tom’s downfall.

M.L. Stedman’s writing is absolutely breathtaking.  I was shocked to learn this was her first novel.  I was surprised however that I was not able to find ANY information about her.  I couldn’t find a webpage or any type of social media for her.  She is very mysterious indeed!  If anyone has any intel, please do share!  Stedman is definitely a very talented writer, and I am interested in seeing what she comes up with next.

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What I struggled with

Isabel, for me, was a character I struggled with the most.  I cannot imagine going through two miscarriages and delivering a still born baby.  The toll that must take on a person’s soul.  Whereas I did sympathize with her struggles, I could not bring myself to like her.  I found her very selfish and only interested in her own agenda, not with her first transgression but with the aftermath of her decision.   Her decisions ultimately end up hurting the person she loves most in the world, Lucy.  Furthermore, I really had a hard time with her treatment of Tom, the man who would hang the moon for her if she asked.  Honestly, I think she lost her marbles from the grief of infertility and rationalizes her actions in her mind to twist reality in her favor.   Even though I struggled with Isabel’s character, this is in no way a criticism of the book.  Isabel’s character is well developed and complex.  Stedman is such a talented writer, that she was able to made me feel pity for Isabel, much to my dismay. 

I must admit, I was very conflicted after I finished this book.  On one hand, this book is beautifully written and held my attention, but on the other hand, this book was a roller coaster of emotion.  I really struggled through The Light Between Oceans, not because it isn’t a wonderful book, but rather because of the delicate content.  I have found that since I have become a mother myself, I am extremely sensitive to anything that deals with children.   I ugly cried through the last 25% of this book.  I cried for Isabel (even though I didn’t particularly want to), I cried for Hannah, but I especially cried for Lucy.  This book crushed my soul, which is why I had a hard time “liking” this book.

Overall, this is a wonderfully written book that blurs the line between right and wrong, the love of a husband for his wife, and untimely of forgiveness.  Even though I personally struggled with the emotional aspects of this book, I think this book was worth the tears.  The Light Between Oceans would make the perfect book club selection!  I think it would invoke a lively discussion about what happens when good people make bad decisions and the repercussions of those decisions.  I think I may throw this one out there at my next book club meeting.  I would love to see their impressions and if anyone struggled with it as much as I did.


Noteworthy Quotes:

 “Each night the air sang with the steady hum of the lantern as it turned, turned, turned; even-handed, not blaming the rocks, not fearing the waves: there for salvation if wanted”

“A bit of brass doesn’t make anyone a hero,” Tom said.  “Most of the blokes who really deserve the medals aren’t around anymore.”

 “You don’t think ahead in years or months: you think about this hour, and maybe the next.  Anything else is speculation.”

“She knew that if a wife lost a husband: she was now a widow.  A husband became a widower.  But if a parent lost a child, there was no special label for their grief.  They were still just a mother or a father, even if they no longer had a son or a daughter.”


My Rating:

I am actually NOT going to give this book a star rating.  I struggled with which rating to give this book for long after I was finished.  I originally had settled for a 3 out of 5 stars, but that is much to low for how beautifully written it was.  At this point, I don’t think it would be fair of me to assign a star rating to this book, because I would be  basing it off personal sensitivities.


About the Author:

M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia and now lives in London. The Light Between Oceans is her first novel.

5755257*I’ve never seen an author who is so hard to find information on.  This is all I found!  No social media, no bio, no personal info… nothing!  If anyone has a source for info on M.L. Stedman, I’d love to know!


Have you read The Light Between Oceans?

What were your thoughts?

Am I the only one who struggled with my emotions throughout this book?

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24 thoughts on “Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman”

  1. Mysterious indeed! wonderful review! I’ve seen others cover it but none with so much intrigue revolving the author. I LOVE lighthouses! and would love to visit one (possibly this summer). I’m not sure why I associate lighthouses with long lost love lol smh. I cannot imagine what it feels like to deliver a stillborn, could this have contributed to her foul manner? I’m going to have to read this book asap lol 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Delivering a stillborn 100% has to do with her actions, which is why I do sympathize with her, HOWEVER it is very complicated. From a mother’s perspective, it was a hard book to read. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about it since you are a mother as well. I hope you get a chance to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I adore your picture with all the shells. Nice shot!

    This sounds like an interesting book, definitely a good pick for book clubs. The moral ambiguity aspect is what I find most interesting. Those are my favorite kinds of books. I like my pre-conceived ideas and perceptions to be challenged by the literature I reads.
    You hesitancy to give this book a rating is precisely why I stopped ratings books on my blog as well! I don’t like rating systems (personally) because they are much too subjective and what is a 5-star book for one person is a 3 or 4 star book for me, even if we feel almost the same way about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! This book will definitely make you think for long after you finish.
      I think star ratings can be beneficial in reviews, especially since so many people rely on them when deciding if they will pick up a book or not. HOWEVER in this case, it would not have been fair of me, so I think I will take on a review by review basis. Just because I struggled through this book, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a beautiful piece of literature that should be read by others. I would hate to scare someone away from this book by giving it a lower star rating.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

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  3. I remember someone else using that quote about parents who lose a child not having a title. It’s very strange to think about! I don’t think I would like this book. As someone who isn’t a mother and feels no maternal instinct, even the fact that this woman breastfed a strange baby is creepy to me. Did it need to eat? Yes, and I get that, but sharing bodily fluids is intimate in any circumstance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it should be based on a book by book basis. I think ratings can be beneficial, especially since so many people rely on them when selecting their books. It’s not that I didn’t like The Light Between Oceans, I just had a hard time emotionally with it. It is a beautiful book that is worth the read!

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  4. I have to admit that I really didn’t enjoy this one! I loved the lighthouse and always enjoy reading books set in Australia (the setting was wonderful and beautifully described), but I really didn’t like how emotionally manipulative the narrative was. I also struggled with the dialogue. It felt wooden, and made the characters feel like stereotypes of Australians. I know it’s historical fiction and language changes, but I’ve never met an Aussie who speaks with the kind of ‘dinky-di’ slang that Stedman’s characters use.

    Liked by 1 person

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