Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

Feb 26, 2016

You know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you really like a book and then everyone else hates it? Or, conversely, when everyone else raves about a book and then you read it to see what all the fuss is about and it falls totally flat? It sort of makes you question everything about your reading taste, especially if you're disagreeing with someone whose tastes generally match your own.

That happened to me with Keturah and Lord Death, but I'll hold off telling you if it was a love/hate or hate/love scenario until after I've briefed you on the plot.

Despite living in the poorest village in the kingdom, Keturah and her grandmother are happy. Keturah hopes to one day find her "one true love," but she isn't in a hurry. One day, she follows the great white hart into the forest and becomes lost for three days. Her life is slipping away when Lord Death appears to escort her the rest of the way. Keturah is desperate to hold onto her life and so bargains with Lord Death with the only thing she can think of: a story. She weaves a tale of loss and love and then cuts it off abruptly, promising to tell the rest at the end of the next day. Lord Death agrees and even promises to spare her life completely if she can find her "one true love" before her time is up.

Keturah returns to the village with a determination to do two things: find someone to fall in love with and warn Lord Temsland about the impending plague that will surely ravage their village if they don't do something. But both tasks prove more difficult than anticipated, so Keturah keeps holding off Lord Death, but with a price.

I have so many friends who adore this book. In fact, I think I first heard about it from Julianne Donaldson (author of Edenbrooke) who listed it as one of her very favorite books. I value and respect the opinions of these friends. I've loved some of their other recommendations in the past. I share many of the same favorite books as them.

And so I can't figure out how my experience with this book could be so vastly opposite of theirs.

Because, if you must know, I didn't really like this book. In fact, even though it's only 200 pages long, it felt like it dragged on and on forever. However, instead of just saying, "Hmmm, I guess that one wasn't really for me" and moving on, I feel compelled to somehow hash out my experience and figure out what went wrong. Here are a few guesses:
  •  Listening to this book was a huge mistake. In fact, I might even go so far as to blame my whole negative reaction on the fact that I listened to it instead of read it. I checked it out from the library through their One-Click Digital program, which doesn't let you speed up the tracks. I've become pretty accustomed to listening to things at double speed, but since it was such a short book, I didn't think it would really matter. Oh, but it did. Every sentence felt stretched out to the point of distortion until I thought I was going to scream at the narrator.
  • The phrase "one true love" (which I normally only associate with Disney movies anyway) was so overused, I thought I was going to gag. (Again though, the way the narrator elongated "onnnne truuuue lovvve" certainly couldn't have helped.)
  • Keturah was about as dimwitted a heroine as they come. She spends all of her bargained time perfecting her pie-making skills in hopes that she will win Ben Marshall's hand in marriage, but she freely admits that she doesn't even like Ben. Her friends, Beatrice and Gretta, are not much better. It's one thing for a reader to be privy to some important information and watch in great suspense for the characters to figure something out. It's another to want to reach through the pages and throttle them because they are so imperceptive.
  • The ending was so unsatisfying . . . and not for the reason all of you who have read it are probably thinking. It didn't surprise or disappoint me. I expected it and saw it coming from the beginning. But I wanted to want it. And I thought that I would want it by the end. But I didn't. And a love story that doesn't make your heart flutter even once feels like a failure. 
One of the reasons everyone seems to love this book is because of the beautiful and unique perspective it gives to death, and for this, and this alone, I will whole-heartedly agree. Here are four favorite quotes:

"If untimely death came only to those who deserved that fate, Keturah, where would choice be? No one would do good for its own sake but only to avoid an early demise."
"She knew it was Death who sweetened the apples."
"His voice is cold at first . . . It seems unfeeling. But if you listen without fear, you find that when he speaks, the most ordinary words become poetry. When he stands close to you, your life becomes a song, a praise. When he touches you, your smallest talents become gold. The most ordinary loves break your heart with their beauty."
"Tell me what it is like to die."
"You experience something similar every day," he said softly. "It is as familiar to you as bread and butter."
"Yes," I said. "It is like every night when I fall asleep."
"No, it is like every morning when you wake up."
I have a feeling that if I read it again (and actually read it this time), I might have a different overall opinion, but I'm not willing to risk such torture again in order to find out.

Come on, friends who love this book: Tell me why you liked it! Defend Keturah and her "one true love." Show me what I was missing. And, in contrast, is there anyone who can commiserate with me? I know the majority of readers love this book, but surely there must be someone out there who was as disenchanted with this book as I was.

10 comments:

  1. I haven't read that one (nor have my friends) but I agree that sometimes audio vs print makes a huge difference. I enjoy the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books, but I tried listening to one on audio and I almost drove off the road to escape because suddenly the narrator was this idiotic, smug, conceited know-it-all who never noticed how often she got everything wrong because she was so busy talking about how smart she was. It's taken me two more books that I read in paper to start liking Mary Russell again.

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    1. Ha! I can totally relate (and not just because of my experience with this book!)...have you read the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull? After listening to both 1 and 2 of that one, I realized I couldn't handle anymore (and I have yet to return to it in print).

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  2. So, I knew that I read this but it was so long ago, I couldn't remember what I thought about it. I looked up my Goodreads review and found that I gave it only two stars, and that there were times I wondered why I kept reading it. So no, you are not alone at wondering why people think this is a good book.

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    1. Okay, good. It's nice to know another intelligent reader shares my opinion! ;-)

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  3. Hmmm... I haven't read this and at the beginning of your review I thought I might like to give it a try and see if I have the same reaction. Finding out that you thought it might be the audio's fault was even more of a prod. However, reading your description of the heroine makes me want to run as fast as I can from this one. My enjoyment of fluff reads usually hinges on the personalities of the protagonists (because in a romance there are, or should be, two). If I do decide to ever read this I'll let you know.

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    1. I kind of hope you do read it. I wouldn't want to inflict torture on you, but it would be so interesting to hear if you felt the same way I did!

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  4. Haha, I HATE One Click Digital for that very reason. I don't know how people enjoy any audio book at normal speed. I've not heard of this one before, and while the premise does sound interesting, I don't think I'll seek it out.

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    1. Seriously! It was agony and taught me that, no matter how convenient, it's never worth it! I will wait as long as I have to just so I don't have to listen to it at normal speed!

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  5. I adore this book! I'm so sad that the audio ruined it for you. I mean, maybe you wouldn't have liked it, I don't know. But yeah, I'm going to blame it on the audio. One True Love definitely became basically all one word in my own mind. I didn't even really remember that it was a repeated phrase in the book.

    About the ending: You said, "I expected it and saw it coming from the beginning. But I wanted to want it. And I thought that I would want it by the end." I remember saying basically the following to my husband right after I finished the book: "I can't believe it! I knew that was going to be the end! I knew it from the beginning. But the author made me *want* this other ending and think that it was actually possible and then dashed all my hopes. Well played, well played." Basically I just have huge respect for the author for being able to do that. Also I often think of this book while sweeping my floors.

    Hopefully you can come back to it in 5-7 years and enjoy it. If not, we can still be friends.

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    1. I know you do! You're one of the friends I was referring to! ;-)

      That's interesting to hear that you didn't necessarily want the ending and yet you still loved this book. I guess I have books like that, too, but this one just didn't work for me.

      I'm a firm believer that differing opinions between readers strengthen, rather than weaken, friendships, so no worries there!!

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