Tuesday, September 15, 2015

September 2015 "Quick Lit"

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit post to share what I've been reading. In the past two months I've read three novels and three nonfiction books, all of which were very good.




The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I just love Morton's writing. She's published four novels, and I've now read all of them. She has a new one coming out next month, though. (Next month!!?? How can we be expected to wait that long?)

At the beginning of The Secret Keeper, 16-year-old Laurel witnesses a crime involving her mother Dorothy and a strange man, but it gets hushed up and isn't mentioned again until fifty years later, when Dorothy is dying and her children come home to care for her.  Laurel's desire to find out what really happened between her mother and the stranger leads her even deeper into the past; Laurel discovers shocking truths about Dorothy's wartime relationship with her photographer boyfriend Jimmy and with her beautiful, aloof neighbour Vivien. Morton is brilliant at weaving a suspenseful plot that keeps you guessing right up until the final pages -- this book has a huge surprise that I don't think any reader could possibly see coming! --  while at the same time recreating the historical period in vivid detail and bringing to life characters that the reader can really care about.





Longbourn by Jo Baker. This novel is told from the viewpoints of Sarah, James, and Mrs. Hill, who all work as servants for the Bennet family from Pride & Prejudice. It's not a sequel, nor is it an attempt to reproduce Jane Austen's style; it's just an excellent stand-alone novel that imagines a possible back-story for P&P and that shows what life in domestic service in the 19th century would really have been like.







A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay is about Norma Joyce, an odd little girl growing up in Saskatchewan in the 1930's, and how her life and that of her sister and father are changed by the appearance of Maurice, a young botanist who comes to town.  At times Hay can be a bit "Hello, here I am being an accomplished writer!" but I was completely drawn into this story, mainly because Norma Joyce is such an interesting and unique character. Hay is great at plumbing the significance of small conversations and moments, and there's lots of beautiful writing, especially toward the end. Well worth reading.



A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson describes his attempt to hike the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail with his eccentric friend Katz.  It's very funny (for instance, after describing different opinions about whether one should run or play dead when confronted with a bear, he settles on run because "It will give you something to do with the last seven seconds of your life"); but it also gives fascinating information about parks and trail development, environmentalism, mining, and other issues in the United States. If you've read Cheryl Strayed's Wild, this book is very different:  Strayed's hike of the Pacific Crest Trail was a deliberate attempt to deal with her personal demons, whereas it's hard to imagine Bryson having any demons to deal with.

(I didn't know until after I'd finished the book that a movie version was coming out this month.  I'm not sure a movie could fully do justice to this book's delightful mix of humour, personal journey, and social commentary. Also, considering that Bryson and Katz were in their 40's when they did this hike, it seems weird to have their roles played by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, who are in their 70's.)


Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism and Asperger Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing by Julie Brown. Brown, a professor of literature, discusses several famous authors including Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats, and Lewis Carroll: in each instance she gives convincing evidence for the possibility that the writer was on the autism spectrum, and then explores how that fact affected the writer's genre choices, subject matter, themes, and style. Then in a final chapter she looks at several autobiographies by people with autism or Asperger's, including Temple Grandin.



Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet.  Tammet is one of the people Brown (above) includes in her chapter on autism autobiographies. He is an English man in his 30's who has Asperger Syndrome and is also a savant with incredible memory and mathematical abilities. He experiences numbers as having colour and texture, and he can do complex calculations and recite Pi to over 22,000 digits. He also has an incredible facility with languages and was able to learn Icelandic (an extremely difficult language) in a week. Tammet tells of his struggles and triumphs in a clear, engaging style.

What have you been reading lately?

16 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed Longbourn, too. I thought it was a nice, original addition to the P&P story.

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    1. Thanks for coming by, Des - I appreciate it. Hope you're enjoying some other good books yourself.

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  2. Longbourn is on my list, too! Thank you for your good little review. I like your blog. :)

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    1. Thank you, Amy - nice of you to drop by!

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  3. I love Kate Morton! I have one more of her novels, plus the new one to read! I wasn't a fan of Longbourn, probably because it made Mr. Bennett look bad. But, it was an interesting concept. Those biographies sound great. I'm glad that someone is researching and writing about that. People are all unique and offer special things. I am currently reading The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley.

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    1. Thanks for coming by today, Sarah. I'm glad you like Kate Morton. I hope her new one is as good as the others; I'm sure it will be.

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  4. I hadn't heard of A Student of Weather--sounds like a good book! I have several Kate Morton titles on my Christmas list, and you've further increased my anticipation....

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    1. Thanks for coming by, Becca. Elizabeth Hay is Canadian; she has some other good novels too, including Late Nights on Air which won numerous awards. But I actually think I liked this one better.

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  5. I probably ought to read Longbourn - and try to treat it as a separate novel and not a commentary on one of my all-time favourite books :)

    Writers on the Spectrum also sounds fascinating. Too bad it's not in our library and the Kindle edition costs over 55 US dollars (yes, fifty-five!?! certainly not within my book budget...) Maybe I ought to make a purchase suggestion to the library....

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  6. That's what I did, Tuija, and it only took a couple of months for the book to come.

    Thanks again for dropping by.

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  7. Wow, I haven't read as much as you have, Jeannie! Interesting that you've done some autism-related reading. I thought The Secret Keeper sounded really good. Alas, my reading history has not been very good the last month, I keep starting non-fiction books, but nothing I really enjoy or feel like I need. I did read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg though, really fascinating. And now I've picked up a YA book by Joan Bauer called "Tell Me." (Fun, but not near as good as "Hope Was Here." Oh and I DID read Paper Towns by John Green last month, which made me laugh but also kind of made me sad about the reality of teen life today. (Finished more than I thought...) Have a great day,Jeannie!

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    1. Hey, I think you did well, Betsy! This post was actually 2 months' worth of reading for me (I didn't do Quick Lit in Aug. since I was on holidays.) The only John Green I've read is The Fault in Our Stars, but my daughter got a John Green collection for Christmas and I think Paper Towns was in it; I should check out more of his work.

      I would definitely recommend The Secret Keeper or anything by Kate Morton. Interesting characters, suspenseful plots, great writing.

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  8. I added A Student of Weather to my list. It sounds good!

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    1. Thanks for coming by, Jillian. Hope you enjoy the book.

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  9. I have hesitated to read Longbourn - I hate to mess with my favourite characters! Writers on the Spectrum sounds really interesting - I'm trying to add more non-fiction to my reading!

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    1. I'd encourage you to try Longbourn, Heather; actually the P&P characters are fairly minor figures. Thanks for coming by today.

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