Time for another update on the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

I’m reading novels right now. Still feeling massive post-manuscript burnout (I need to post some more reflections on this but that would mean WRITING) and I’m trying to recover my story sense. And also my brain is too tired for nonfiction.

So in the last two weeks I’ve read three novels–two entirely redemption-free and the third with no apparent reason for existing.

#1: Revenge, by Stephen Fry
Grade: C


A reasonably entertaining updating of the Count of Monte Cristo, until the end anyway, when instead of hard-won peace, the hero becomes exactly like the men he seeks vengeance upon. Actually that sounds like it might be quite poignant and meaningful, but it isn’t; Fry takes too much nasty delight in the exact tortures that the one-time victim inflicts on his enemies.

#2: The Vicar of Sorrows, by A. N. Wilson
Grade: B+


I like A. N. Wilson’s prose, even if I’m perpetually glad that I don’t live in his universe. This was a beautifully written novel, even though it 1) didn’t throw any real light on why an agnostic would choose to be an Anglican priest, 2) featured a completely unlikely set of romantic alliances, and 3) ended with a toe-cringing scene where the one-time priest faced up to the complete emptiness of his calling. I won’t ruin the climax for those of you who want to read the book; I’ll just say that if that’s a secular redemption, A. N. Wilson can have it.

#3: The Gazebo, by Emily Grayson
Grade: D


I picked this up because it was on the end shelf at the library and I had to get on a plane and wanted to read something that didn’t demand a fully oxygenated brain. I finished it thinking: What editor decided to buy this, and why? There was nothing strikingly wrong with it; it just had absolutely no reason for existing. Undistinguished setup, undistinguished characters, predictable plot, resolution visible about fifteen pages in. I only finished reading it because I didn’t have anything else in my bag. And yet William Morrow published it, and Ms. Grayson seems to have gone on writing novels. Amazing.

Does anyone want to suggest their favorite novel for me to read next?

Showing 35 comments
  • Sara in Wa

    “Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger is a must read! I loaned out my second copy and now I wonder if will ever return to me (like my first copy!). I may end up buying my third copy.

  • Sebastian (a lady)

    I just finished reading Dracula and enjoyed it far more than I expected to. I had always wanted to read it and there was a series of essays comparing the nature of the vampires in Dracula vs. Twilight that caught my eye.
    The plot was far more involved than I expected. Mina was a sharp cookie rather than just a lovely helpless morsel for Dracula to feast on. The main characters were willing to risk all in order to fight horrible evil.
    If you have more long flights coming up, you might give it a try.
    BTW, I don’t recommend the annotated versions that seem to be popular. At best they state what any halfway decent reader can figure out for themself. At worst, they create a story within the story framework that just detracts from Stoker’s novel.

    I’m also a huge fan of Dorothy Sayers, having just come to read her novels a few years ago.
    M. M. Kaye’s books set in India are long but refreshingly epic. I do like Shadows of the Moon more than The Far Pavillions.

  • Sarah

    >Does anyone want to suggest their favorite novel for me to read next?

    That’s *far* too tempting. Here’s a selection of old and new books I’ve loved in different ways. Apologies if you’ve read them already:

    Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons) – my all time favorite, perhaps 🙂

    In this House of Brede (Rumer Godden)

    The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)

    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

    The Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde)

  • Jennifer King

    This is not my favorite novel, but it is very interesting and slightly disturbing. “Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale” by Donna Jo Napoli is a very quick read. It is on the teen fiction shelf at our library. Set in the 10th century, it is about a young girl who is captured by slave traders and ends up with the Vikings.

    I think you may like it given that you are looking for a relaxing novel to read and seem to enjoy historical fiction.

  • Val

    I just finished “Hannah Coulter” by Wendell Berry and found it to be wonderful. It’s my first by this author and I’ve put up a few quotes from the book on my blog.

    ( though my blog lately is mostly about my life as a lactation nurse…)

  • Juanita

    Hi Susan,

    Have you read anything by Jamie Langston Turner? She’s a Christian writer but unlike most I’ve read. Very thoughtful. I think I would recommend starting with either Some Wildflower in my Garden or A Garden to Keep.

    I recently read a wonderful novel set in modern times but about the Japanese internments from Seattle. It’s titled Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

    One of my favourite authors is Elizabeth Goudge. Her trilogy that begins with A Bird in the Tree is my favourite of her writings but the others are good too.

    For comfort, I read DE Stevenson. Probably boring for most but it’s nice to settle into a book and recognize the characters as real people.

  • Timothy

    Out-of-the-way books rather than Great Works:

    I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (101 Dalmatians): wistful coming-of-age story about a bohemian family in pre-war England.

    Suite Francaise, if you haven’t already, great social observation.

    If you’ve never picked up Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, starting with Master and Commander, highly recommended.

    Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki is a great psychological novel about modernization in Japan, though I read it a long time ago. It’s available in a good translation.

    Harold Keith, the author of Rifles for Watie, wrote a book called The Obstinate Land that I think is just great, it’s meant for younger readers but I still enjoy it.

    Not a novel, but Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire is an odd and engrossing work. Recently UC Press released A Norman Maclean Reader which gives some context for that book and his A River Runs Through It.

  • dawn

    Have you read Susan Howatch? She has some standalones and two (related) series. The series are excellently, thought out, thought provoking fiction. They are based around a group of Anglican bishops/priests as they work through their own sinfulness and how to represent Christ appropriately. (Fair warning, some graphic sexual content, worth skipping through to read the rest of the story).

  • Sligo

    Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver
    Umberto Eco’s Baudolino

    Two great reads. Exciting adventure with terrific depth and breadth.

  • Chelsea

    I’m sure there are already enough responses but I can’t help it. So here goes-
    Some of my all time top no deep thinking just plain good books.

    Celia Garth by Bristow (an older piece of revolutionary histoical fiction set in SC, good)
    Rilla of Ingleside by Montgomery (the 8th, and my fav of the Anne of Green Gables books)
    Seven Daughter and Seven Sons by Cohen (middle eastern love story/fairy tale)
    Julia’s Hope by Kelly (first in a Christian fiction series, normally I don’t like that stuff but this one is pretty decent. Depression era)
    Mara, Daughter of the Nile by McGraw
    Beauty by McKinley
    Witch of Blackbird Pond
    Christy or anything else by Catherine Marshall

    and highly recommend but non-fiction-
    Better Off by Eric Brende

  • Cleo

    I’d suggest two older books by British authors, “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome and “The Diary of a Noboby” by George & Weedon Grossmith. Jerome K. Jerome’s humor will keep you laughing and yet his beautiful descriptions of the English countryside and waterways add a nice balance. In “The Diary of a Nobody”, Mr. Charles Pooter’s smug self-importance provides many laughs as well.

    I also second Timothy’s vote for “I Capture the Castle”. Dodie Smith combines emotion, humour, human failings, and hope to knit together a beautiful story.

  • Anne in Saskatchewan

    Every spring, the CBC does the annual Canada Reads competition http://www.cbc.ca/canadareads/ so here are some great Canadian books you might not have heard of. I loved most of them but couldn’t finish “The Fat Lady….”

    Have fun!

  • rachelle

    Have you read any of Vinita Hampton Wright’s novels? My favorite by a mile is “Velma Still Cooks in Leeway.”

  • Ulla Lauridsen

    Well, If you haven’t read Cormac McCarthy’s All the pretty Horses, that should be it.
    Among newer books: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. A lot of religious themes.

  • Staci in FL

    I recently finished Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It is outstanding.


  • Angie (WI)

    My favorite novel is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

  • Audrey

    I started reading the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear at the recommendation of Laura Bush. It has been well worth it.

  • Kim

    I second the recommendation for The Elegance of the Hedgehog–beautifully written.

    I also recommend the novella The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennent.

    Though not novels, the essay collections of Anne Fadiman are also wonderfully enjoyable.

  • Juanita

    I thought of another two but I see one of them has already been mentioned – Three Men in a Boat. Its secondary title is To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis jumped off from this with To Say Nothing of the Dog, a fun time travel novel. But it’s more about people and a mystery than it is about time travel – don’t let that scare anyone off.

    She has other good books as well, if you like science fiction types. The Doomsday Book is another time travel. The Bellwether is my next favourite, as well as collection of Christmas short stories called Miracle. After that, her books tend to be a little (a lot!) random.

  • Sherry

    Gilead and Home by Marilynne Robinson.

    Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

  • moshome7

    I’m toward the end of The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb and I can hardly put it down. I’ll be relieved when it’s over so I can get back to my real life and not feel like I’m double tracking-you know, hurrying to wash dishes (or a million other things) so I can go READ.

  • Katie

    I love Wallace Stegner’s writing…Angle of Repose is great. My favorite is probably Crossing to Safety though. I read it every couple of years, and am amazed at how my perceptions of the characters morphs. Stegner’s characters are living, breathing creatures.

    Also, this is out of print, I believe, but well worth the search on eBay: The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Ellis Peters. Contains one of the most intriguing and dare I say appealing villians I have ever met.

  • Jeff King

    Sad to hear the Fry novel’s weak — his popular book on poetics, “The Ode Less Traveled” is marvelous. Regarding A.N. Wilson, I’m always tempted to dislike him (in part for his Lewis biography, but also due to the unfair, yet hilarious circumstances of the Betjeman biography affair: ); however, as you may have seen linked on A&L Daily, he’s been feeling less atheistic these days: http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2009/04/conversion-experience-atheism.

    Also, I would second the vote for Jasper Fforde’s “The Eyre Affair” as a fun, quick read (it’s a little like a less irritating Piers Anthony meets a less interesting David Lodge … on the whole, quite good, though).

  • Lynne Siroin

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – 19th century China, foot-binding, a secret language just for women, relationships & life – one of my favorite current reads.
    The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein – a street in an English mill town on the eve of WWI – one side Jewish, one side Christian and a love story that crosses the street. A great book club read for lively discussion!

  • Evelyn

    I know you’ve already got a million suggestions, but I have to mention the best book I’ve ever read:
    The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas.
    It’s a fictional story about the Roman Tribune in charge of Christ’s crucifixion. Very well-written, and the main character is the deepest and most real character I have ever come across.
    There’s a cheesy 1953 movie based on it, but the book is quite a bit different and vastly better.

  • Mike Brian

    The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella (http://www.anthonycapella.com/) Set in ’44 war torn Italy and based on the “Naples ’44” diary of Norman Lewis – an actual British Officer. The story is sad due to the suffering of the Italians during that period of history, but also mouth watering with all the mention of native Italian cooking.

  • Lorna

    Don’t give up on Mr Fry yet. His autobiography of his childhood and teenage years ‘Moab is my Washpot’ is a masterpiece. It is an excellent portrait of an English priviledged upbringing gone wrong. Whether it is done to excellent writing or simply a remarkable childhood, it is the only autobiography I know with a plot.
    I second The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. It is an indulgent book of contemplation: at once deep and light. You’ll know what I mean when you read it.

  • Hugo

    Stanislaw Lem can be a bit cerebral, but “The Futurological Congress” is absolutely hilarious. One of the funniest books I’ve ever read, if a tad dark. It’s also a short, quick read, and the translation from the Polish is superb, preserving Lem’s wonderful neologisms and wordplay.

  • Katrina S.

    The Red Tent. I LOVE historical fiction about women. This book drew me in and never let me go. In fact, though I finished it two years ago, I still think about it frequently, lovingly mulling over the characters in my memory. I love those women! They became part of me.

  • Christine Guest

    “The Thief” by Megan Whalen Turner kept me up in delicious suspense at the hair pin plot turns, and wondering at all the little spaces an invader could hide in my house. Hope the intentional anachronisms aren’t annoying to you.

    I also enjoyed “the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” books by Alexander McCall Smith, although the Witch Doctor case made me turn on all the lights in the hallway just to walk to the bathroom one night. It was not as scary as the real stories in “Beyond the Mist: The Story of Donald and Dorothy Fairley” a biography of a missionary in Gabon in the ’30’s, but you are looking for fiction.

  • Andrea Cavanaugh

    I would suggest a collection of short stories by my favorite modern-day author, Jhumpa Lahiri. Her first collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer a few years ago. She has since written a novel (The Namesake) and another short story collection (Unaccustomed Earth). I have enjoyed everything she’s written — it is her writing that comes to mind when I consider that the writing that is easiest to read is the kind over which the author has labored much.

  • Cheryl Klink

    I highly recommend “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield.

    This is the best book I’ve read since Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible.” I thought about this book for weeks after finishing it.

  • Carol Neilson

    Well mine is a series, The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, historical fiction, with some romance, and time travel as well. I know, I know, sounds totally goofy, but it totally works. Claire and her husband are in the Scottish countryside recovering from their service in WWII as nurse and doctor, when she walks through a stone formation at Beltaine—or one of the other pagan seasonal markers, and ends up in 1700s Scotland. How she makes her way back to modern day Scotland, then back again in time and living her life in the present and the past, plays out in seven great books…or was it six? Lots of fun.

  • Angela Reed

    How Green Was My Valley by Richard LLewellyn.

  • Meladara

    I read this post ages ago and I can’t get it out of my head that I need to make a suggestion, so here it is:

    The House of a Thousand Candles
    By Meredith Nicholson

    It is out of print (for sure) but worth searching out. My husband and I both adore this book, we keep two copies in the house at all times. I can’t say enough about it and am often puzzled as to how this book has stayed under the radar! Why wasn’t it an instant classic? It is a mystery with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. It is a fun read that never insults ones intelligence and often surprises the reader with a poetic imagery that is very touching.

    I highly recommend it!

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