Quick Lit // February 2015

I’ve been reading more than usual this month (winter doldrums) but unfortunately it was a month of mostly mixed or disappointing reads . . . so please leave your suggestions for high calibre & engaging fiction in the comments because, really, this needs to end!

bronze oscar first

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare – fascinating YA novel set in antiquity that tells the tale of a Jewish teenager who desires the overthrow of Rome because of the crucifixion of his father . . . and yet is drawn to the countercultural teachings of rabbi Jesus. A poignant and satisfying story.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey – part tragedy, part we’re-all-misunderstanding-each-other comedy, this novel is a depressing love story of sorts between a pair of gambling social misfits (one a priest, the other an heiress) set in Australia in the 1800s. The story is unique and the writing skilled and vivid; I’ve never read metaphors quite like the ones conjured by Carey: “She stood and moved towards the other stair, like a customer in a bank who feels there are bank robbers in the queue in front of her but is not quite confident of her intuition.” But the bleak and meaningless core of this book left this reader wondering if there are any excellent writers left in the world who actually believe in truth and goodness and beauty . . .

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett – a twofold story that explores Jane Austen’s fictional friendship with an elderly parson and a present-day bookstore clerk attempting to solve a Jane Austen-themed literary mystery. The pretentious writing, inane dialogue and the dull rendering of Jane Austen are problems enough, but the novel’s superficial understanding of Pride and Prejudice really made it tank. Elizabeth Bennett judged the character of two men based on her first impressions – and those assessments had sober consequences. Charlie Lovett’s characters, on the other hand, leap to conclusions based on appearances – and these conclusions cost nothing. This results in a deeply unsatisfying story with absolutely no character development.

Dorothy Sayers

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers – mystery novel featuring Lord Peter Wimsey meeting the woman of his dreams: fiction writer Harriet Vane, who, unfortunately, is on trial for murdering her lover. The mystery was all right, but the characters are certainly the most compelling part of the book.

Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers – mystery novel also featuring Lord Peter and Harriet, who somehow remain very intriguing characters despite the poke-your-eyes-out-it’s-so-tedious plot.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers – another Lord Peter & Harriet mystery novel, this one with a glacially paced plot, piquant dialogue and a beautiful setting (the unforgettable city of Oxford, England). Harriet’s slowly growing vulnerability towards the singular Lord Peter kept me reading and plagued my thoughts for weeks afterward.

storied light rites

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – my favourite part of this book was the thirteen short story reviews that served as chapter introductions. They were brief but evocative, giving a wonderful taste of the short story and glimpses into the heart of AJ Fikry, protagonist. The narrative itself began well, but grew boring and a little cheesy once Mr. Fikry’s rough edges softened.  Note: there’s a fair amount of swearing and blasphemy and an oddly worshipful tone when describing books, bookstores and reading.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – an interesting, detailed and well-written story with some memorable phrases (“the cords of his soul not yet severed”) set in the midst of World War II. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book, but found the last half with its Scarlett O’Hara-type disintegration of the young man’s character bleak and ghastly; it left me longing for a much fuller redemption than the small act of grace it offered.

Burial Rites by Hannah KentBurial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnusdottir as she awaits execution for participating in the murder of her lover. The author aptly describes her book as a “dark love letter to Iceland,” and, indeed, her portrait of the beautiful but desolate wintry landscape of rural Iceland is so skillfully rendered it adds a mournful pitch to Agnes’s story. But the characters themselves lack depth, nuance and believability.

charlotte sea

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – I read this charming story of the friendship between a pig and a spider to my three-year old son and we both adored it. James loved the silly antics of Fern’s brother, Avery, and I loved Wilbur & Charlotte’s sweet and selfless friendship and the quiet grace of day-to-day rural life.

The Sea of Tranquility by Katya Millay – an overwrought story of two ‘broken’ teenagers forging a friendship/relationship over disdain, silences and woodworking. Too pointlessly vulgar and promiscuous for my sensibilities.

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today; check out her blog for more brief book reviews!

What recently read book has stood out to you? Any recommendations for novels to beat this slump of just okay and/or disappointing reads?

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16 thoughts on “Quick Lit // February 2015

  1. whitneyconard says:

    I remember reading The Bronze Bow in middle school – it was such a great book! I’m on the waiting list for All the Light We Cannot See, and just realized it is very, very long…I’ll really have to work at getting through my library copy when it does get to me!

    • arendadehaan says:

      I had the same thing with All the Light We Cannot See; I was number 200 on our library’s list! But then it was available as an Express Bestseller (where you can borrow it for two weeks instead of the usual three) one day, so I snapped it up. 🙂

  2. dawnomite says:

    I adored All the Light… it was the last 5-star book I’ve read (and it was last fall). I’ve been plowing full speed ahead looking for another GREAT book, and they’ve been hard to come by. Although right now I’m in the middle of The Invention of Wings (Kidd) and it might fit the bill.

  3. Krysta says:

    I’ve seen The Bronze Bow recommended before, but have never read it. One day I might just have to change that.

    Have you read any of Chaim Potok’s works? My favorite is My Name Is Asher Lev. It’s about a boy with artistic talent growing up in an orthodox Jewish community and how he reconciles his need to paint with his religion, which thinks his gift is evil or, at best, a waste of time.

    • arendadehaan says:

      The Bronze Bow is really quite a lovely, stirring read; I’d definitely recommend it.

      I have read one of Chaim Potok’s novels (The Chosen), but it was at least ten years ago during my Jodi Piccoult days, so I don’t think I appreciated it much. Thanks for sharing your recommendation!

  4. ht35 says:

    Hmmm. I would say the characters in Burial Rites are understated, in keeping with the narrative, rather than shallow. I think a book club discussion would prove thought-provoking for this one!

    • arendadehaan says:

      Hmm, I’ve thought about your comment a lot over the past few days, and I’d still describe the characters as “lacking depth, nuance and believability.” I found the introduction to the characters quite interesting, but I didn’t find the second half of the book fleshed out the characters. I wanted to understand what motivated them, and that didn’t come across much. For example, Lauga and her sister both reacted strongly to Agnes, but there was little explanation as to why that was the case; Natan was completely inscrutable; and Agnes was described many times as intelligent and well versed in Bible/catechism instruction, and yet was so dim-witted when it came to Natan and didn’t seem to struggle morally with her actions.

      But yes, I’d agree that a book club discussion on this novel would be thought-provoking! 🙂

      • ht35 says:

        I had a lengthy and reasonably intelligent comment developed, and then my computer did something funny and it’s gone. 😦
        I’ll just add here that I agree that the first half of the book is much stronger than the second half. (But I still liked the whole book.) 🙂

  5. Anne says:

    The ending of The Sea of Tranquility made me smile. I liked it for that. I haven’t read your others, and I am not sure what to recommend…..my reads were light this month. Hope you find that next good book. 🙂

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