Nothing I’ve read recently has inspired me to do a full review, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read some good things. Here are some brief thoughts on the recent fiction I’ve read.
5 star reads
The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans: This was a really, really good book. I had avoided it for a long time because I thought it was over-hyped (due to the movie) and I knew parts of it were sad. But although both of those things may be true, it is still a really good book. I was strongly drawn in to the characters and story and found it hard to put down; among other things, Evans is excellent at conveying emotions of situation and place.
The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman: I’m not always that interested in books that address the trials and tribulations of contemporary life, especially a high-tech, Silicon Valley life. But this was one of those books that grabs hold of me and won’t let go – I read most of it over one weekend. The characters are interesting and unique and feel like real people, and the story is engaging.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving: Another great read by John Irving. I never feel like his plots sound all that interesting, but his writing, descriptions, and characterizations are superb. While often he addresses the unusual and even absurd in life, he portrays people who, more than anything, feel real and human, and through that touches on the big questions in life.
4 star reads
Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast, by Bill Richardson: These interconnected short stories about a B&B run by two brothers in rural Canada are very light reading, but well-written and entertaining.
An Artist of the Floating World, by Kazuo Ishiguro: I enjoyed this short early novel by Ishiguro. It is a quiet book, not that much action, but beautiful in its way. I’m not sure how I feel about unreliable narrators in general, but Ishiguro does them very well and this book is no exception.
A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell: This is an intense and complex novel about the Italian resistance during WWII. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the first book I read by Russell, The Sparrow. The plot followed a large cast of characters with complex relationships between them, and there were frequent changes in perspective. At first I found it particularly difficult to follow who was who, but as some of the initially distinct storylines started to overlap I enjoyed it more. Although the story was quite painful at times and many of the main characters die, one thing that Russell did very well is make her characters human; they made realistic and difficult choices in desperate times. Overall it is a strong, well-written book that portrays with compassion a dark and difficult time in human history.
A Mind to Murder, by P. D. James: Another delightful, tightly woven, and well-written murder mystery by P. D. James.
3 star reads
Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh: I didn’t really get into this book as much as I expected. For one thing, much of it is written in the vernacular, which I found difficult to read and therefore harder to engage with. After finished it, it did not feel especially memorable. However, it did end with the sense that there is more story to come – I believe a sequel is on the way and I may well read it.
The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett: These sparse, vignette style stories about early 20th century coastal Maine were mildly interesting to me, but not strongly captivating.
Fire on the Mountain, by Anita Desai: A short novel about a old woman living our her remaining years in the mountainous region of India, very atmospheric and reflective on themes such as motherhood and solitude. It is very well-written but I did not get that engaged by it – it was more about atmosphere and themes than storyline.
Gifts, by Ursula K. Le Guin: It was not the greatest book I’ve read by Le Guin; it is definitely geared towards a teen audience. I will probably read the remaining books in the series eventually but I don’t feel an urgent desire to.
2 star reads
Death of a Snob, by M. C. Beaton: I usually enjoy the light, small-village style of mystery, but this one was a bit too light even for me. Additionally, the writing was not particularly good and the protagonist was not especially compelling.