Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fiction of 2014: Grown-Up Novels

Besides all the read-alouds, I did make it through some grown-up novels last year. My favorites were The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and Room by Emma Donoghue.

Here's the detailed rundown. My rating system:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't really like it
* Hated it

The Light Between Oceans - M.L. Stedman***/****
The story hooked me from page 1 and I was captivated throughout, not wanting to put it down and staying up late to finish, in tears at the end. Carefully crafted, provocative, suspenseful; I really did not know how it was all going to turn out, and wasn't even sure how I *wanted* it to turn out, honestly. That said, when I closed the book, I didn't quite have that satisfied, "I'm so sad to be done reading that book; what a great story" feeling. In the end, I wasn't convinced that some of the main characters' choices were believable. Not that they *couldn't* have been--but that the author didn't get me there adequately. I also found the style a bit annoying at times. She kept switching back and forth between past and present tense--not shifting between different time periods (I don't mind that if it's well done, a la Kate Morton) but switching abruptly from present to past in the same section, on the same page. It was just odd and distracting.

Still, lots of food for thought about sticky, complex issues: adoption, parenting, marriage, truth, loss, etc. Money quote that sums up the whole book: "He struggles to make sense of it--all this love, so bent out of shape, refracted, like light through the lens."

The Girl Who Chased the Moon - Sarah Addison Allen (audiobook)**
A mildly entertaining way to pass the time while in the car or exercising, but pure fluff. It had a sex scene and some glorification of immorality which disappointed me. Also, apparently the book falls into a genre called "magical realism" which I now know I don't particularly care for. Give me magic (Harry Potter) or give me realism, not some strange blend of both. 

The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom****
A gripping historical novel about race, class and slavery in the late 1700s. It was heart-wrenching and horrifying, and the ending didn't quite satisfy me, but a very worthwhile book nonetheless. 

Sycamore Row - John Grisham**
Meh. I still think Grisham has lost his touch. Either my taste was wildly different 15-20 years ago and the books I thought were so great actually weren't...or he has never since matched what he did in his first four novels (A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Client and The Pelican Brief). I gave him another chance when I found out this was about some of the beloved characters from A Time to Kill, but Jake Brigance and the other familiar characters, as well as some interesting new ones, weren't enough to carry a mediocre plot. I thought this one was anticlimactic.

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay (audiobook)**
This started off so promising, so compelling. But the longer it went on the more impatient I was for it to be over (and that's coming from someone who listened to it at 2x speed!). It dragged out much further than necessary and the ending was anticlimactic and fairly predictable (and I'm not one to usually say that). A couple of the characters seemed to me unbelievable and/or utterly unsympathetic to the point of being barely human.

Hannah Coulter - Wendell Berry (audiobook)****/*****
This is the first of Wendell Berry I've read (OK, listened to)--and I'm stunned that a man could write an elderly woman's voice so authentically (an elderly woman who has experienced WWII grief and loss, no less!). Really lovely, poignant writing, and the story was rich, full of timeless truth (if somewhat depressing). I enjoyed the audio version, but suspect I could have better savored the writing if I'd been reading it instead. 4.5 stars. 

The Invention of Wings - Sue Monk Kidd****/*****
A gripping, powerful story based on the life of a real woman who fought against slavery in the early nineteenth century. Loved it. 

Room - Emma Donoghue*****
Intensely captivating. The five-year-old narrator voice is powerful. And I don't know when a book has actually made my heart RACE like this one did. Whew.

Cry, the Beloved Country - Alan Paton (audiobook)
I should not have blown through this at 2x speed over the course of several weeks--it is more rich, nuanced literature and needed to be read more carefully, thoughtfully. Still, powerful and wrenching.

Abandoned novels:
Little Dorrit - Charles Dickens
I made it a quarter of the way through this one and struggled with the decision to abandon. I remember how awesome the last third of A Tale of Two Cities was, and I loved David Copperfield and Bleak House. But I kept putting this aside for other more captivating books and then totally losing track of who everyone was (and still hadn't even figured out why they all matter). Dickens, why must you be so difficult to love and yet so lovable? I might give this one another try this year, but I'll definitely have to check out the Cliffs Notes on the first 25% of the book.

Coming Home - Rosamunde Pilcher
The first hundred pages of this were enjoyable enough. But at 752 pages, it felt like such a massive commitment. Ultimately I just wasn't convinced it was worth it to devote my time to this one book rather than three other books I could read in the same time. 

Your turn--what was the best novel you read in 2014?

1 comment:

Danielle said...

Glad you enjoyed The Invention of Wings. I actually found that book very convicting.

You're the second person to rave about Hannah Coulter. It's on my list for this year. I've wanted to read a Wendell Berry for a while.

The Kitchen House was caused a lot of conflict when I read it for book club. Some people were scarred by it and felt it was a bad choice due to the content. I felt it was a bit over the top in places, but was glad I stuck with it to the end, even though I read it feeling a bit nauseous most of the time. Seriously, I don't think any book made me feel quite so physically ill from the introduction on. The author did a great job of creating a heavy atmosphere of foreboding.