Mondays on the Margins: Books 2011 part one

Yes, it's 2012, and by the way I don't like my World's Fair poster calendar nearly as much as my weird-ass Alice in Wonderland one from 2011 that periodically freaked the kids out.  Yes, I just made the sweet potato soup with red curry paste and coconut milk from the latest Food & Drink magazine and I'd much rather just talk about how transported I am by this soup which I think might be some kind of superior being in food form - wait, that's kind of gross, isn't it?  Who cares, this soup is like CRACK, people, it's like CRACK, you must ALL come over and have some, it has a BANANA in it!

Still, the book review post Must Be Done, must it not?  Well, no, nobody really gives a crap, but I have a Free Book book review coming up tomorrow so today seems like a good day for a Books I Read Just Because post.  (Aaaaaand that's when I realized it was already ten p.m. and the post would be up for all of two hours before the next post clicked in at midnight.  So here we are, on a yet-to-be-numbered even later day in February).

There are 111 books that I either remembered to record or was willing to admit to on Goodreads in 2011.  I gave four or five stars ("I really liked it" or "it was amazing") to 57 of them.  That's pretty good - it either means I read a pretty good proportion of worthwhile books, or I was too lenient with my ratings.  What exactly is the difference between "I really liked it" and "it was amazing" anyway?  Oh, now all I can think of is dirty stuff.

There were only 12 that I gave two stars or less to.  Two stars means 'it was okay', one star is 'I didn't like it', and one book I actually didn't finish - I think that brings my lifetime total of books I didn't finish to..... two.

That means I gave three stars ("I liked it"), to.... the rest (you're all smart enough to do the math - Pam, you can use your iPad).

Let's start with the turkeys.

The Hypnotist, by Lars Kepler.  Written by a Swedish couple (remember how this type of pseudonym crap makes me cranky?)  There are a lot of really good mystery writers out of the Netherlands.  This is not one of them.  Two of them?  Whatever - it wasn't horrible, it was just kind of -- clunk.  There was a present-day mystery that was connected very clumsily to a past mystery, a lot of people doing things with no obvious motivation, and a couple of people get their noses cut off.  Which has nothing to do with why the book isn't good, just, ew.

Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt.  I usually love A.S. Byatt.  This, I did not love.  The framing device of the 'thin child', evacuated to the British countryside during the war and taking refuge in an old book of Norse legends was, well, thin.  The legends themselves seemed to be an excuse for extravagant lists of adjectives -- yes, I get that Jormundgandr the worm god thingy is immense, colossal, behemothic, elephantine, immeasurable, massive, mighty and monumental. Are we on the same page? Yeah - the thing is REALLY EFFING BIG.  Also, Loki is a pain in the ass douchebag, and whenever some unassuming little dude sidles up to you and says something like "wanna do something really fun?" or "have I got a deal for you!" it's PROBABLY HIM, so steer clear.

The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner.  So close and  I saw the first one in the book store and thought it was even odds whether it was interesting or just a rip-off of the Hunger Games.  The first two books aren't horrible; the premise is interesting and there's some hope of an exciting conclusion.  The last one is a mess - the characters are so wooden that even having to kill one of his close friends doesn't elicit any kind of believable reaction on the part of the main character.  All the supposed 'witty banter' is really unfunny too, which is one of the hardest things for me to forgive.

Skin River by Steven Sidor - I actually picked this up and flipped through it again before I took it back to the library because all I could remember was that it was profoundly disappointing.  It was stupidly obvious who the killer was, and the sections from his point of view were superfluous and icky.

Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel - I still can't figure out where I come down on this one.  I freely admit that I have trouble not being influenced by the fact that, having heard a few interviews with Yann Martel, I can't stop thinking of him as a pompous git.  This was not the case when I read and loved Self and The Life of Pi, before ever reading or hearing anything about Martel himself.  Again, the framing device of the author being screwed over by the publishers - hey, you know what? I think I just don't like framing devices of any kind.  Also, there are lists again.  Paragraphs-long lists of things.  That's not fiction, people -- that a handbook or manual (I'm studying subject classification right now - I know these things).  Still, some of the actual play (Beatrice & Virgil) was affecting.

Killer Heat by Linda Fairstein - Meh. This is one of those 'fool me twice, shame on me' things.  I've read this series before, and I always tell myself I'm not going to read any more, then I see a description and think it looks interesting.  I hereby vow to all of you that I will NOT read any more books about plucky red-haired district attorneys who wear four-inch heels and fight inexhaustibly for the downtrodden unless Publisher's Weekly gives one a starred review or it has zombies in it.

The Dead of Winter by Christ Priestey - On rare occasions, I get a book in the mail that I ordered from, an online used bookstore, and once I start reading it I have no earthly idea why I thought I would like it.  This was over-the-top gothic and old-fashioned - fine for what it was, but not my thing at all.  Filed under 'WTF was I thinking?'

All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson and The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith - I had read a couple of the Inspector Banks series years ago and liked them (and also met Peter Robinson when I worked at Chapters, when I was caught offguard and said something both inane and pretentious and possibly sexually suggestive, like "Hi - I really like your stuff" AGH CRINGE CRINGE CRINGE) and I have heard great things about McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe series; I should have been more mindful of the fact that I had heard NOT A THING about this series.  These were meh at best.  And why is it that, while in theory it seems kind of cool to me that Robinson always talks about the kind of music his Inspector is listening to at home or in the car and what kind of mood it evokes, on paper it leaves me cold as a dead fish?  It's a mystery.

Ring of Fire (Century Quartet) by Pierdomenico Baccalario - read my review on Goodreads if you so desire.  This sounded so great and was so....not great.

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann - my friend's husband used to say he didn't like theatre, until she took him to a play that he loved, and he realized that it was just that he had only ever seen bad plays.  So with this book: is it that I don't actually like Steampunk as a genre that much, or is it just that this is not very good Steampunk?

The Awakening by Kate Chopin - I had been meaning to read this for years, and I admit that I was disappointed - not entirely certain whether it was more in the book or in myself.  I may have been expecting a more modern tone (and a less whiny, bitchslappable heroine) than was realistic for the time in which it was written.

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson - "do nothing, loll about, arty-farty rich people" (I ripped that off from another Goodreads reviewer, for obvious reasons) musing on what it means to be Jewish.  Some of them hate themselves.  Some of them provoke hatred in others - readers, for example.  Not because they're Jewish, but because they're hugely pompous self-involved gits.

(Dis)Honourable Mentions go to two non-fiction books, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley, and My Imaginary Illness: A Journey into Uncertainty and Prejudice in Medical Diagnosis by Chloe G.K. Atkins.  I actually gave both of these three stars, and I had the utmost sympathy for the plights of both of these women.  However, I found myself thinking in the midst of reading both books, "Couldn't she have made her protagonist a little more likable? Oh, wait.... it's not fiction."  Certainly it was difficult, if not downright miserable, for Sandra Beasley growing up allergic to almost everything (dairy, egg, soy, beef, shellfish, nuts and mango just to name a few) before the world was as food-allergy-friendly as it is today (and I am aware that even today it's not ideal).  But surely at some point she would have learned that it was best to ask her boyfriend if he'd been scarfing down Hershey's kisses before sticking her tongue down his throat and then spending the rest of the evening wheezing resentfully?  It's not like she was new at this!  And Atkins's mistreatment by high-handed and closed-minded doctors is truly horrifying.  But I wanted to hear a little more about how she "somehow" had ended up estranged from most of her family, and yet whenever she needed expensive tests or treatments or a wheelchair-friendly apartment, some well-heeled friend would step forward, wallet extended.  But we all know I tend to be extra-bitchy and unforgiving when reading autobiographical books - it's like a tic, I can't turn it off.

Okay.  So much for the dreck.  Stay tuned for the mediocre!


StephLove said…
I like The Awakening, though I haven't read it since I taught it to a college English class as part of a job interview over ten years ago. It was a huge lecture class and I actually got the students talking about it. The interviewers were impressed (not enough to offer me a job or anything). So anyway, I have a soft spot for it.
Magpie said…
you're going to send me that recipe, right? right?
Julie said…
hmm crack ey? maybe i will dig out that copy and check it out.

now when will the 4 and 5 stars list come out? i need some new reads on the kobo.
Mary Lynn said…
The soup sounds AWESOME.

Your "Pam, you can use your iPad" comment made me laugh out loud AND snort, so you should feel very proud of yourself there.

The only book you marked as a dud that I like was The Awakening, which I read years ago in university, and I suspect that it just happened to hit me at the right time in my life. In my early 20's it struck me as very moving and thought-provoking. Not sure what the 41-year-old jaded and cynical version of me would think. The rest of the books, I confess, I haven't read.
Denise Nielsen said…
hallejuia...I'm not the only one who thinks Yan Martel comes across as a bit of a git sometimes. And totally agree about both Beatrice and Virgil, and Ragnarok. Whew. (And I LOVE AS Byatt usually.)

I did like Awakening though...but again it's probably been 25 years since I read it. So now that I've reminded myself that I am getting old, I'm going to quietly go off into the corner and weep. Or drink wine.Or search for that recipe. Something like that.
Ms. G said…
For Me:
Really Liked it: Actually spent money buying it because I may read it more than once.

It was awesome: Same as above and if someone borrows it and doesn't return it I will search them out holding an axe.
Pam said…
As I use my iPad to comment, I also snort. I am SO glad that you Helped me weed out potential grave disappointment in the plethora of books I am reading (insert sarcastic snort here.) I do love your comments like "Loki is a pain in the ass douchebag..." . Awesome!

Soup sounds yummy except for the banana thing. That's just wrong. Although any soup with crack-like qualities is priceless.
Kelly Miller said…
I can't bring myself to read anything outside of the YA genre right now. I did read Room, but then I lost myself in Wither.

I'll want for the AMAZING to poke my brain back into adult literature.

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