Monday, 15 June 2015

Reading into spring - a catch-up Quick Lit

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been playing Quick Lit truant. But as the flowers have been blooming, the bookworm has been going strong. Perhaps a little too strong - the number of books I "couldn't put down" over April, May, and June resulted in a whole lot of neglected laundry. Maybe I should pick up something daunting yet edifying for July and refuse to read anything fun until I finish it. In the meantime, I'm linking up with Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy to report on my literary progress.

Here's what I've been reading:

The Lost Husband, by Katherine Center
I picked up this little novel expecting literary fiction; if I'd known it was chick-lit, I don't think I would have found it so disappointing. The themes of broken relationships and learning to live again after loss were fairly well explored, yet resolved too quickly to be believable, and many of the supporting characters lacked depth. I would have been interested to see what Center could have done in another hundred pages.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman
Another work of non-fiction that I simply could not put down. Fadiman's case study of culture clash and polarized medical paradigms reads like an extended article in National Geographic: informative yet lyrical, broad and deep in background, insightful without telling you what to think. An excellent introduction into the history and culture of the Hmong people, the U.S.'s secret war in Laos, what the North American reverence for Western medicine looks like from the outside, and the great humility it takes to communicate beyond your own cultural norms. Just brilliant.

Anne's House of Dreams, by L. M. Montgomery
I haven't read of Anne's bridal epoch since I was a newlywed myself, so this re-read pulled out some interesting perspectives for me. The stillbirth had me teary, and Miss Cornelia had me in stitches. I had already mused about the about the high romance of Anne & Gilbert's first fight (they disagree on a complex question of medical ethics; Little Women's Meg, by comparison, first quarrels with her husband over a small point of household finances), but I hadn't noticed Gilbert's medical miracle included trephination(!). I also hadn't realized how completely Montgomery abandons any description of Anne's body around her pregnancies. I've grown so used to reading about expanding bust-lines and blooming bellies that the subtle hints of "no longer leaving home" and "a special hope for spring" were almost lost on me, even when I knew what was coming. It appears even euphemisms like "confinement" and "expecting a baby" are too indelicate for Anne. I remembered being surprised by the sudden appearance of a newborn, but never felt so justified in not catching on. My daughter and I are now well into Anne of Ingleside, so I can assure you that Montgomery's discomfort with her pregnant protagonist didn't lessen over the decades between the two publications. I'll have to pick up more of her other works with this in mind and see if it's just a thing with Anne.

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling
I've put off reading Rowling's foray into adult fiction for years - small town British politics and middle-aged characters just didn't sound like they could stand up to Hogwarts. Was I ever wrong! One untimely death pulls a veritable web of tensions into full-out conflict, unearthing desperately held secrets and toppling unsteady relationships in its wake. Unlike her famous fantasy, The Casual Vacancy is an exploration of vivid realism: from the uncomfortable details of middle-age spread and teenage experimentation in sex, drugs, and cruelty to the complicated realities of domestic abuse, heroin addiction, and foster care, nothing is simple or boring in the picturesque village of Pagford. My one complaint was how ofter the vivid detail leaned over to explicit. HSPs beware.

The Brothers K, by David James Duncan
I must confess that my predominant reason for not writing a Quick Lit post last month was that it would have meant putting down The Brothers K. The pages turned oh so slowly, yet Duncan had completely hooked, cackling at quips and clutching my heart as each of the Chance family members painfully weave their way through their own chosen shade of fanaticism towards some semblance of understanding and compassion for each other. An equal nod to Dostoevsky's Karamazovs and Forrest Gump (the movie, not the book), The Brothers K follows the family of a washed-up baseball player through the social upheavals of mid-twentieth-century America. It wasn't anything like I expected, but worth every page.

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton
I'm starting to suspect my favourite Kate Morton novel will always be the one I just finished. Another gripping tale with a fascinating setting and a gloriously gothic feel. The only problem is that I've got to wait 'til October for the next one. If anyone has a lead on how to get it ahead of time, do let me know ;)

The Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion
Simsion's sequel lacked the surprise-humour factor that sparkled through The Rosie Project, but was still worth reading. I appreciated the exploration of opposites attract beyond the initial romance, and the conundrum of preparing for parenthood when you're somewhat left of normal.

1-2-3 peas, by Keith Baker
I know it seems silly to add a board book to my already burgeoning reading log, but this little number just might be the best counting book ever. This chunky primer covers digits from one to ten, and then decades from twenty to one hundred, with the appropriate amount of anthropomorphized green peas on every page engaged in various sorts of Where's Waldo quirkiness. So much fun.

Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk, by Boris Akunin
I finally got around to reading the next instalment of my favourite sleuthing Russian nun. This novel was much darker than Sister Pelagia's debut, mixing madness with mysticism and crime with cutting-edge nineteenth-century science. Very well done.

And now I'm all caught up - again. Do pop over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for more short and sweet reviews. Happy Monday :)

10 comments:

  1. I've checked The Brothers K out from the library before, but didn't read it, so I kind of filed it away for "maybe someday," but your review has me interested... again! Also, I had heard that The Distant Hours wasn't all that great, but gothic novels are my favorite (everything from Rebecca du Maurier to Flannery O'Connor). I guess I'll have to read that, too! I'm glad I read your reviews!
    I was also wondering about if I should read The Casual Vacancy. I enjoyed her first mystery novel under the pen name, but not the second one. It sounds like The Casual Vacancy might line up more with her second mystery novel!

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    1. I picked The Brothers K off the librarian recommends shelf thinking I probably wouldn't get to it, also after having heard loads about how good/hard it was. Best of luck with it! I hadn't heard any press on the Distant Hours, but it had me at "crumbling castle" ;)
      Good to know about the second Rowling mystery. The first is on my to-read stack, but I haven't hunted up the other one yet. Maybe I'll give it a pass. Glad you liked the reviews!

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  2. I found The Brothers K to be very complicated. I read it earlier this year. I still need to read The Distant Hours, the only Morton I haven't read yet (besides the new one coming out this fall!)

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    1. Definitely complicated. I think it actually helped that I ploughed through it quickly; picking up all the pieces from where I left off would have been overly challenging otherwise! Hope you enjoy the Distant Hours too!

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  3. I just finished reading a couple Father Brown stories - and now I'm hearing about a nun detective, too! Sounds delightful! :)

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    1. The New York Times called her "Father Brown, Russian style." Sounds like a good fit ;) Happy reading!

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  4. Oh man, now I MUST find a Sister Pelagia story!! I too recently read Anne's House of Dreams and also cried through the stillbirth. I felt greater connection with Anne after her loss and sensed a depth to her relationships with others that hadn't existed before that happened.

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    1. I know! I can't believe Akunin only wrote three. I'll have to try one the adventures of his first detective and see how it compares. Anne's stillbirth used to make me feel abandoned on the sunny side, and Leslie's aversion to opening up to a friend who hadn't suffered just confused me. Several years of living and one miscarriage later, I understand the empathy angle a little better. And I love how Anne continues to find joy in life's little things, rather than becoming bitter.

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  5. I liked The Lost Husband but only because I knew it was chick lit going into it. ;-) And it served its purpose as a light read. I abandoned The Casual Vacancy, it was just too much for me at the time but I do want to read Rowling as an author other then HP so may give it another go.
    And huge Kate Morton fan over here!!

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    1. Good to know my hunch was right on The Lost Husband. I'll have to give Center another chance - when I want something on the lighter side, that is ;) Have you tried Rowling's detective novels? She wrote two (that I know of anyways) under the pen name Robert Galbraith. I haven't read either yet, but I've got the first one at the top of my to-read-next stack. If it isn't less raw than The Casual Vacancy, however, I might abandon it as well. I do hope she keeps writing though!

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