Three Gentle Reads

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m not a big fan of gentle books. I know a lot of you love them, so here are three for those who enjoy quieter books:

All is Song

All Is Song by Samantha Harvey

Five words from the blurb: brother, alone, rootless, unite, questioning

I loved The Wilderness so was excited about Samantha Harvey’s new book. Unfortunately, although it could be argued that her writing quality has improved since her debut novel, she has done so at the expense of a compelling plot.

All Is Song follows two brothers who reunite after the death of their father. Very little happens. This book is a simple study of the relationship between two siblings and the way this affects the emotions of everyone around them.

If you enjoy character studies then I’m sure you’ll find a lot to intrigue you, but I’m afraid I found it all a bit dull and gave up after 90 pages.

Don’t be put off by me though – I’m sure this will end up on the Orange/Booker shortlist later this year.

Rules of Civility 2012 TV Book Club Selection

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Five words from the blurb: New York, coming-of-age, woman, society, change

The blurb of this book held no interest for me, but I was persuaded to read it by its inclusion on so may ‘best of 2011’ lists. I’m afraid that on this occasion my instincts were right – I do not enjoy charming coming-of-age stories set in New York high society.

From the very beginning I was aware of the very high writing quality in this book. New York came alive and the characters were very well developed. Unfortunately I seem to have a thing against rich characters and their relationship issues. Very little actually happens in this book and everything that does could be described as “charming”…… Arrghhh! *Runs away*

If you enjoy well written books about finding love in Jazz clubs and cocktail bars then this is for you, but I couldn’t finish it.


The Lady's Slipper

The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

Five words from the blurb: 1660, steals, orchid, exile, memories

I was drawn to this book because of its Lake District setting, but although I enjoyed reading some historical fiction set outside one of the big cities it didn’t contain enough specific local detail for me to be able to recommend it to fans of books set in Cumbria.

The Lady’s Slipper is set in the middle of the seventeenth century and focuses on a woman who discovers a rare orchid on her neighbour’s land. She steals the flower and attempts to propagate it, but the land owner is determined to get his flower back, leading to a battle of power.

The period atmosphere in this book is fantastic and it has clearly been very well researched, but I found the plot too slow and gentle for my liking. This book has over 400 pages, but the pace made it seem even longer. I know a lot of people love simply being immersed in another time period, but I prefer a bit more action.

Recommended to fans of gentle historical fiction.



33 replies on “Three Gentle Reads”

I’m all for finding love, but jazz clubs? I can do without them! 😉 I’d only heard good things about the Towles book, so it was interesting to get your perspective on it. I have to be in a particular mood if I’m going to read about upper-crust NY society, but I admit that the mood does strike on occasion. I’m not ruling that one out just yet!

Steph, I haven’t heard a word against Towles yet either. I can see why – the book is very well written so if the blurb appeals you are bound to love it. You are only going to see negative reviews when people like me give it a try and discover it is exactly as stated on the cover! Enjoy!

I often feel guilty for reading mainly crime fiction, but I do like a good round story and a bit of plot! I don’t like very niche crime fiction such as “hard boiled” etc, which can be pretty formulaic, but I do like books such as many Scandinavian ones that tell a story that happens to have a crime in it which can add some drama. Twenty years ago these books would not have been characterised as “crime fiction” of course.

Books that are too gentle and don’t have plots – well, I read a lot of those but they don’t tend to be distinctive or easily memorable without some dramatic cue!

Maxine, Occasionally I find a book without a plot that I love (normally it is written by Anne Enright!) but I normally need a plot to keep me interested. I agree about it being important for a book not to be formulaic – an original plot is good too. Sounds as though you should avoid this tri.

Caroline, Glad to hear that you enjoyed it. I agree that melancholic is a good word to describe it – I tend to avoid melancholic books too. 😉 I look forward to reading your review.

Huh. Well, I am finding, much to my dismay, that I may not be the best person for gentle books. I have tried, and sometimes I’m OK with them, but I never LOVE them. Often I am even bored. It makes me sound hyper. I have heard really good things about Rules of Civility but I’ve hesitated for this one reason.

Mystica, Tame = gentle/quiet? Yes, that is what I thought. Nothing really wrong with it on the writing front, just the subject matter didn’t excite me that much.

Judith, Yes, I’m sure we’ve read the same unanimous praise for Rules of Civility and that is what persuaded me to go against my instincts and give it a try. You have a higher tolerance for charming than I do so I wouldn’t rule it out. In fact I’d love to know what you think so I hope you decide to read it one day.

I really enjoyed the Lady’s Slipper because it was an historical fiction book about set in the UK that wasn’t about WWII or a Royal Court! I can see your POV though!

Amused, Yes – that was definitely a big plus for The Lady’s Slipper. I enjoyed it for that very reason. Almost all the historical fiction I’ve read has been about the Royals. Just a shame this one was a bit slow for me.

Sorry to hear you did not enjoy Rules of Civility, and if my adoration of it contributed to you straying from your instinct. 😉

I can understand the ‘gentle’ tag. I’d be interested to know at what point you decided not to continue, e.g. 25%, 70%? I only ask because most of the grittier elements rise to the surface near the end. Although classy and not to everyone’s tastes, I found the denouement very thought-provoking.

Booklover, You were definitely one of the bloggers who persuaded me to read Rules, but I’ll forgive you!

I’m afraid my moment of abondonmet is a bit complicated. I got bored at about the 90 page mark and decided to set it aside. Then I skim read the next 150 pages in about 10 minutes and then read a few pages near the end a bit more fully. Enough to know that it wasn’t for me, but have a vague idea of what happened.

I agree that this is a classy book – I prefer ones that are a bit more muddy and down to Earth 🙂

That’s too bad you didn’t enjoy them a bit more. I have to admit I am not a big fan of ‘gentle’ reads either, but I did like Rules of Civility. I think it is because I enjoy jazz clubs and that time period, though.

Claire, I think you’ll love All is Song and I’m sure a lot more people will enjoy it because it is less confusing than The Wilderness. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

I absolutely loved The Wilderness, but it wasn’t plot that pulled me through that one either; I think of it, too, as a character-study above all. So I’m not sure that I’d be put off by her latest on that score. It’s too bad you didn’t enjoy it more; it’s always disappointing to have loved one tale by an author only to find the next isn’t as beloved.

Buried In Print, I guess you’re right about The Wilderness being a character study too, but there was something about the complexity of it all – the way the reader has to work to piece together his history – that engaged me and kept my brain ticking away. I’ll be interested to see if you have more luck with it than I did.

I’ve just finished reading ‘All is Song’, Jackie. I didn’t read ‘The Wilderness’ so I can’t compare the two, but I found this one quietly powerful in its questions about responsibility, culpability, duty, faith and the nature of sin. To begin I thought the pacing was glacially slow (though I was revelling in the beauty of the language) but the character of William gradually sucked me in in the way I imagine he sucked in his students and followers. Perhaps it was too philosophical, too academic – I never quite felt any emotional attachment or involvement except when Leonard watched the tape of his father’s empty church – I don’t know. It’s certainly one that will have me mulling over its themes for a few days yet, and I’m now keen to read ‘The Wilderness’ at some point.

I’ve just been thinking about what you said about it being a character study – you’re right. There was a review in the Telegraph at the weekend that spoke of William as a modern-day Socrates – I’m afraid I know little of him, but to me William was a Christ-like figure. He hears the voice of the Lord; he has his disciples; he is tempted by Aleph, the flame haired anarchist beauty with the privileged background (whom all other men are in thrall to) whilst he endures his 40 days in the wilderness (or five weeks in a psychiatric ward!); there is a last supper of sorts that is described as being like a communion; he questions the existence of sin and says there is only ignorance and fear (or to put it another way: forgive them for they know not what they do). I’m not entirely sure what Harvey’s point with all this is unless it is to ask whether Jesus was also ignorant and unable to control the way his message would be interpreted years hence, and to question if he too is therefore culpable for the acts committed in his name… like I said, one to mull over.

David, I’m pleased that you enjoyed this one – I can see why you (and lots of other people) will love it but I think you’ve highlighted my major problem with it – there is just no emotional attachment to the characters. It is something I often struggle with and something that didn’t happen with The Wilderness, where you can’t help feeling great sympathy for the central characters.

You also mention the extreme slowness of the plot – another problem that takes a lot for me to overcome.

Thanks for alerting me to the Telegraph review. I hadn’t seen that, or heard any mention of Socrates. I also know little about that and having not finished the book I wasn’t aware of the connection, but that is interesting to know. I wonder what Harvey intended? Hopefully I’ll get to hear her talk about the book at some point and find out. Enjoy mulling over the many themes of this book 🙂

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