Mini-reviews: A Separate Peace by John Knowles; Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M.C. Beaton; and The Major’s Daughter by J.P. Francis

separatepeace2Title: A Separate Peace
Author: John Knowles
Genre: Historical fiction, young adult fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
Number of pages: 204
First line: I went back to Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before.

Goodreads blurb: Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

I needed to read A Separate Peace before our school year starts, because it is one of the literature selections for Noah’s English 10 Lit & Comp course. It is on the reading list for a lot of high school literature courses, actually. And yes, it is beautifully written and deals with some heavy issues that are great discussion starters. But as I read, I couldn’t help thinking that it is no wonder so many kids leave high school hating to read. This is one depressing book. I understand that curriculum writers are looking for a book that is well-written as a jumping-off point for the students’ own analysis and writing, but are there no enjoyable books out there that would fit the same criteria? Argh. Anyway, yes, it is gorgeously written and I’m glad to have read it, but it’s not the most cheerful book or one that I would necessarily assign to students in whom I am trying to instill a lifelong love of reading. (I remember being assigned Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies when I was a sophomore – again, why?!)

agatharaisinhauntedhouseTitle: Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House
Author: M.C. Beaton
Genre: Cozy mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
Number of pages: 246
First line: Foot-and-mouth disease had closed down the countryside.

Goodreads blurb: Agatha Raisin, snug and warm in her Carsley cottage, has that same old feeling-boredom-until a report of a haunted house sends her and new neighbor, handsome Paul Chatterton, to investigate. Suddenly, middle-aged Agatha is aglow with romance and excitement.

But the glow fades fast. It turns out Paul is a cad. The victim of the haunting is a universally disliked old biddy. And the ghost is most likely someone playing a dirty trick. Then an old lady is soon found murdered. But never fear! For Agatha, solving a homicide is more fun than hunting a ghost. She quickly has a theory and a risky scheme. And she is about to make a startling discovery which can be her greatest triumph … or leave her heartbroken, in trouble with the police, and in danger of losing her reputation – or her life.

For the last two weeks of my summer break, I was looking for some entertaining, fun, and familiar reading. This installment in the Agatha Raisin series fit the bill nicely. I love Agatha. She is acerbic and hard and self-centered, but her sleuthing and romantic exploits make for some very funny books. I am glad I dove back into the series.

majorsdaughterTitle: The Major’s Daughter
Author: J.P. Francis
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Plume
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from Library Thing‘s Early Reviewer program
Number of pages: 400
First line: In April 1944 one hundred and fifty captured soldiers from the German Afrika Korps arrived by train to a detention camp in Stark, New Hampshire.

Goodreads blurb: April, 1944. The quiet rural village of Stark, New Hampshire is irrevocably changed by the arrival of 150 German prisoners of war. And one family, unexpectedly divided, must choose between love and country.

Camp Stark is under the command of Major John Brennan, whose beautiful daughter, Collie, will serve as translator. Educated at Smith and devoted to her widowed father, Collie is immediately drawn to Private August Wahrlich, a peaceful poet jaded by war. As international conflict looms on the home front, their passion blinds them to the inevitable dangers ahead.

I really wanted to love this book. In fact, it seemed like the perfect match for me: World War II historical fiction – one of my favorite genres. The premise was good – if not particularly original – and had some great promise. Unfortunately, the writing simply didn’t work for me. The author was very in love with figurative writing, but many of his similes and metaphors didn’t work at all, and were very jarring, pulling me out of the story. The love story was very shallow, and the description of life at the prisoner of war camp seemed glossy and romanticized. The side plot of Collie’s friend Estelle and her dysfunctional marriage were more entertaining than the main storyline, but not enough to impress me with this book. I gave it three stars because I did like it enough to keep reading, but it definitely did not meet me criteria for a good piece of historical fiction.

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8 Responses to Mini-reviews: A Separate Peace by John Knowles; Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M.C. Beaton; and The Major’s Daughter by J.P. Francis

  1. BermudaOnion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I read A Separate Peace in school and remember being ambivalent about it.

  2. That is too bad about The Major’s Daughter. I hadn’t heard of it before and the premise interested me. I’ll have to think more about that one before deciding whether it belongs on my wish list.

    I’ve only read on Agatha Raisin novel and thought it was okay. I should try another.

    I have fond memories of A Separate Peace. Sad, yes, but so powerful. I read it in my teens, but not as required reading.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Wendy – the Agatha Raisin books aren’t high literature, that’s for sure, but I find them fun. 🙂

  3. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads

    I think I hated a Separate Peace when I read it in high school. Agatha Raisin is always good for an entertaining read.

  4. Michelle says:

    Wait? Kids are supposed to learn to love reading in high school? Yeah, not with the books today’s standards require. There is NOTHING cheerful about any of them. You have to wonder if the standards setters have given up on high school students and just want to try to get a minimum number of classics under their belt.

    You got farther into The Major’s Daughter than I did. I don’t think I lasted even 20 pages. The writing was SO simplistic – and not in a good way. I thought the story was just so trite too. In fact, I skipped ahead to the last chapter and found absolutely nothing surprising in how it ended. Perhaps the title is a clue that it is nothing but a romanticized portrait of someone else’s pain. I was just so unimpressed with the first few chapters and the last few chapters that it pains me to admit that I spent even that much time reading it. And I don’t normally have such violent negative reactions to books!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Michelle – tell me how you really feel! LOL I did almost put the book down several times – not sure why I lowered my standards enough to finish it.