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Reviewletts: ‘Sweetland’ and ‘Descent’

One of the things I try to do when I write mini-reviews is find a way to tie the two books together. I don’t think this is necessary, but I think it’s a good challenge. It took me awhile, but I realized yesterday what the two books I’m going to write about today have in common: I picked them up because of recommendations by the other contributors at Book Riot. As I noted on Twitter yesterday:

(No, this post is not about either of those books… but I’m excited to read them soon!). In this case, I’m going to share some thoughts on a book that I loved and a book that I’m glad I tried even though it didn’t work for me.

Sweetland by Michael Crummey

sweetland by michael crummey coverFor twelve generations, when the fish were plentiful and when they all-but disappeared, the inhabitants of this remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing resettlement, and each has been offered a generous compensation package to leave. But the money is offered with a proviso: everyone has to go; the government won’t be responsible for one crazy coot who chooses to stay alone on an island. That coot is Moses Sweetland.

While the marketing summary goes on after that brief paragraph, I wanted to cut it off there because some of the joy of this novel is in discovering where it goes and following along as the story builds. One of the blurbs I read for Sweetland describes the novel as a kaleidoscope, which is exactly right — although the plot of the resettlement drives the story forward, it’s the beautiful, small details about the history of these families and this place slowly coming together into a coherent whole that makes this book wonderful. Sweetland is a beautiful book about loss and family and the ways in which the past affects each of us. I was so moved by this book — I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Descent by Tim Johnston

descent by tim johnston coverThe Rocky Mountains have cast their spell over the Courtlands, a family from the plains taking a last summer vacation before their daughter begins college. For eighteen-year-old Caitlin, the mountains loom as the ultimate test of her runner’s heart, while her parents hope that so much beauty, so much grandeur, will somehow repair a damaged marriage. But when Caitlin and her younger brother, Sean, go out for an early morning run and only Sean returns, the mountains become as terrifying as they are majestic, as suddenly this family find themselves living the kind of nightmare they’ve only read about in headlines or seen on TV. As their world comes undone, the Courtlands are drawn into a vortex of dread and recrimination. Why weren’t they more careful? What has happened to their daughter? Is she alive? Will they ever know?

So… Descent. I did not really like this book… which is weird to me, because lots of people loved it (That’s What She Read and Beth Fish Reads, to name a couple). Descent is what I’d call a literary thriller — it’s clearly a plot-driven novel, but the writing style is definitely elevated over a mass marker thriller story. But for me, that style didn’t really add much — it felt like the author was trying too hard with the prose, which bogged down everything else. Maybe it was just that this was not a great book for me to read in December, I’m not sure, but overall I found it pretty tedious.

What books are you excited to read this month? What are your go to sources for book recommendations?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Shannon @ River City Reading January 14, 2015, 6:35 am

    I just finished Sweetland over the weekend and absolutely adored it. It was a little slow moving for me in the beginning, but the second half had me absolutely stunned. So much love for that book.

    • Kim January 14, 2015, 8:22 pm

      I was so emotionally invested in that book — the second half just blew me away. It was so good.

  • Jeff January 14, 2015, 7:47 am

    You were the first person I saw who had read and highly praised Sweetland (I think you posted it in your Goodreads feed a couple of weeks ago). Since then, the positive buzz for this book has been everywhere. It isn’t the type of book I would normally notice but you’ve convinced me to pick it up.

    • Kim January 14, 2015, 8:23 pm

      I might not have picked it up either, but Brenna (one of the other contributors at Book Riot) was so enthused about it, I took a chance. I am so, so glad I did — it was just lovely.

  • BermudaOnion(Kathy) January 14, 2015, 8:30 am

    You’ve made Sweetland sound terrific and tempered my excitement about Descent.

    • Kim January 14, 2015, 8:24 pm

      It seems like it’s been a really hit or miss book… some people love it, for others it didn’t work at all.

  • Beth F January 14, 2015, 8:34 am

    Shoot. Bummer that it didn’t work for you. Swapna abandoned it too. So you are not alone.

    • Kim January 14, 2015, 8:24 pm

      Yeah, I saw that on Twitter. It’s interesting that it’s gotten such different takes — many people love it, others have just let it go.

  • C.J. January 14, 2015, 9:03 am

    Sweetland is on my list of books I didn’t get to last year and I’m waiting for the library hold to come in. The reviews I’ve read are very positive and hearing that you liked it too just reinforces my impatience to read the book. The cover you posted is interesting to see too because I’m so used to seeing the Canadian version.

    • Kim January 14, 2015, 8:25 pm

      I saw the Canadian cover while I was searching for this one — it’s cool, but I think I like this one better. I love how it looks like an old map, and how that ties into a moment late in the book. It’s a great book, hope you get to it!

  • Andi (@estellasrevenge) January 14, 2015, 12:48 pm

    50% ain’t bad! I’ve been seeing Sweetland pop up, and besides the fact that I love the cover, I’d really like to give it a go. Sounds great!

    • Kim January 14, 2015, 8:25 pm

      You win some, you lose some. I’m sure there will be many great reads to come.

  • Sandy January 14, 2015, 1:19 pm

    I clicked on this post to hear your opinion about Descent (I had my eyeball on it) but ended up really being more interested in Sweetland. Now I’m a little concerned that I would have the same opinion on Descent. I hate it when they try too hard…

    • Kim January 14, 2015, 8:26 pm

      I wonder, a bit, if my reaction was harsh — my reading mood in December was sort of weird and I’m not sure I was in a mindset to appreciate the style of writing he used… it just felt over done.

  • Jess - A Book Hoarder January 15, 2015, 8:54 am

    I have been on the fence about Descent. There are so many good reviews but something has been holding me back. It’s almost a relief to read this to take some of the pressure off. Sweetland is moving up on my list though.

    • Kim January 18, 2015, 2:50 pm

      I feel like you’ll know within the first 25 – 30 pages if it’s a book that’s going to work for you. The action definitely picks up in the last third, about, but the style stays pretty consistent.

  • Sarah's Book Shelves January 15, 2015, 2:35 pm

    I tried Descent and put it down after 15%. And – my major problem with it was the writing. I didn’t like how he kept using “the boy” and “the girl” to refer to Caitlyn and Sean…it made them feel impersonal and kept me feeling disconnected from the story.

    A couple people have since mentioned that Parts 2 and 3 are completely different and that Part 1 was just not that good, but it sounds like you finished the whole book and still didn’t love it.

    • Kim January 18, 2015, 2:52 pm

      That’s a good point about the writing — I knew something about the style wasn’t working, and maybe that was part of it. I don’t think the second and third parts are drastically different, maybe in pace but not in style.

  • Christy January 16, 2015, 7:52 pm

    I hadn’t heard of Sweetland yet and it sounds really good. It makes me think of visiting Nova Scotia – Cape Breton – specifically, and how the museums there discussed how radically life changed there when the cod were overfished and they weren’t allowed to fish for them anymore. I believe one of the Canadian museums I visited this past summer went into detail about the similar, but more pronounced plight of Newfoundland. Obviously Sweetland is fiction but description was ringing bells for me.

    • Kim January 18, 2015, 2:53 pm

      That absolutely sounds like part of what’s going on in Sweetland. I don’t recall what some of the specifics of the island losing people were, but I’m sure it’s part of that larger cultural change.

  • Michelle January 17, 2015, 1:47 pm

    Boo! I’m sad you didn’t love Descent as much as I did, but you have absolutely piqued my interest in Sweetland.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey January 17, 2015, 11:04 pm

    I like to tie together my minireviews too 🙂 I actually think my experience with The Fever might have been similar to your experience with Descent. The writing seemed better than the average YA novel to me, but I didn’t feel like it added much and I did feel like the author was trying too hard.

    • Kim January 18, 2015, 2:54 pm

      I read The Fever too, and I think I agree. Style is great, but I think it has to be used with purpose or the book just doesn’t settle.

  • susan January 20, 2015, 9:17 pm

    Great to hear that’s Sweetland is good! I have a copy and plan to read it soon. thanks