"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Updates on My Summer Reading List

When I posted my 2015 Summer TBR list, one of the commenters said she was interested to see how I'd enjoyed those reads. I rarely do reviews, but I'll post some thoughts on the books that I've already read. I have finished 6 out of the 10 on the list, mostly because I've gotten derailed with some long-time holds coming in at the library, and a few recommendations that I put ahead of my list. So far, I am somewhat on track to finish my summer list by the "official" first day of autumn (September 22), as long as my hold on American Gods comes in on time! Here are my thoughts on the books I've read thus far:

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay: I don't even remember how I found out about this book, but I loved it. Russian Winter tells the story of former Soviet prima ballerina Nina Revskaya, now living in Boston and auctioning off her jewellery. The book goes back and forth between the present, and Nina's life up to the point when she defected from the Soviet Union, including the complicated relationship with her best friend. I love ballet and I love Russian history, so this book was a win because it was well-researched in both subjects. I liked that the situations were not black-and-white, and that the book kept you guessing about what the full back story was. Definitely a win, and I'd read more of Kalotay's books.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley: I gave this book 3.5/5. It was a compelling, feminist-infused narrative of the Arthurian sagas. It held my attention for all of its 800+ pages, and I read through it in less time than anticipated. However, I had a few issues with it. The first is the length; I really thought the book could have been shorter without sacrificing anything, and perhaps we could have seen less of certain characters. My second issue was the religious aspect. The entire book seemed to be beating readers over the head with paganism = good; Christianity = bad. This was somewhat lightened up towards the end, but it was too late, in my opinion. Now, I am an evangelical Christian, but I can handle criticism of my religion; however, there was no subtlety in Zimmer Bradley's agenda here, and I got really tired of Christians that were all hypocrites and ramblings about how Christianity was so bad. It felt overly forced, and that was too bad. I enjoyed the novel, and I'm glad I read it, but I won't be reading any of the author's other books.

The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge: This book is supposed to be one of the definitive books on the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. It was a good read, though it's hard to say I 'enjoyed' it because of the subject matter. I'd only recommend the book for people who have a good knowledge of Russian history and culture, because the plot jumps from person to person and it would be difficult to follow if you don't know the context. I left it unrated in Goodreads because I thought it was theoretically very good, even if I had trouble getting into it.

Petersburg by Andrei Bely: Another book that I left without a rating in Goodreads because I really didn't know how to rate it. The book takes place in 1905 and is broadly about a young radical and his relationship with his father, a government official. There is a lot of symbolic and poetic language, a lot of dream-sequence like sections, and I sometimes had trouble following the plot, which I believe was intended. I'm fairly certain it is a brilliant book, but probably warrants a couple of readings before I think I have a handle on it! I would only recommend this book for people who are really into various kinds of literature and not reading for plot alone, but I'm glad I read it.

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas: I'd been meaning to read this book for a while, and I'm glad I finally did. This is a Christian marriage book encouraging readers to see marriage not as a vehicle to make one happy, but as a means to change us and make us grow in character. As we serve each other, we grow as people, becoming more holy. I liked it, though not as much as my personal favourite Christian marriage book, The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller. I will definitely be re-reading Sacred Marriage at some point and possibly journaling through it.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: I gave this book a 3/5. It was a compelling enough read, but I didn't like it all that much for a number of reasons. Firstly, it felt like three stories stuck together: Stephen Wraysford's experience before the First World War; Stephen's experiences in the war; and the life of his granddaughter Elizabeth in the 1970s. The 1970s plotline felt out of place. Although it involved Elizabeth tracking down information about her grandfather, there was so much about her personal life and frankly, the ending was a bit bizarre. Stephen's wartime experiences were fascinating, though a bit long and extremely detailed. The section before the war was too cliché for me: Young English student falls into an adulterous affair with a repressed woman who is starving for love. They are head over heels in love after barely speaking to each other. Meh. We've all read that one before. It seemed all sex and no so much love, and while I'm not a total prude, the sex part included a lot of purple prose. All in all, I enjoyed the book, but it's not one I'd ever read again or really recommend, despite the fact that it's apparently included on a lot of must-read lists.

Have you read any of the above books? What did you think? Do you totally disagree with me? (It's okay if you do! :D )


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these books! I'm glad you enjoyed Russian Winter and my thoughts on Birdsong are similar to yours; I read it in grad school and regretted never typing a review on it but I remember thinking how disjointed it was. And I totally hear you about MZB; I liked The Mists of Avalon enough but the whole paganism/Christianity divide was a bit much after a while. I can't remember if the same happened when I read The Priestess of Avalon (though I should be thankful for the latter; left me with a deep interest in Constantine and the period when the Roman Empire switched to Christianity during high school xD).

    I will definitely keep an eye out for the Victor Serge and Andrei Bely books! :)

    1. Oooh, interesting. I would like to more about Constantine. Maybe I will eventually check out The Priestess of Avalon after all. I'm glad to see you agree on Birdsong. I kept reading reviews of how it's such an amazing book, and I expected a lot more.