Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2012 In Books: The Ones I "Liked"

These were the three-star ones. I always say (I haven't looked at last year's review but I would bet that I said it then) that a three-star rating from me is pretty arbitrary. On a day where I was feeling more frivolous I might have given some of them four stars. I don't think I would round up to three, but I suppose anything's possible.



Horror Story and other Horror Stories by Robert Boyczuk: I wrote on Goodreads: It's better than three stars, but that would mean I really liked it, and I admired it more than I liked it. It's very subtle, off-kilter horror rather than in-your-face horror, which I appreciate, but a lot of it is just too abstruse for me. Also, the typesetting of the story titles couples with the lack of finality in the endings made it hard to tell when a new story was beginning. When it's good it's very very good. When it's bad it feels like it's trying too hard to be sophisticated.

A Finer End by Deborah Crombie: Wrote on Goodreads: Three and a half stars. Very good and convincing at adding in a slight supernatural element without tipping over into melodrama or unbelievability. Picking up the series after leaving it for a few years.

Husk by Corey Redekop: This is by a lovely fellow who sends me review copies from Goose Lane books. It's a zombie novel, but quite original - which is saying something at this point in zombie literature. It's kind of like this book, in that the characters and the melancholy thread of people straining to connect keep it from being only gross, but it's still, it must be said, really really gross.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu: I actually BOUGHT this book, so intrigued was I by the description, and I so wanted to love it. Sharon Holland wrote a magnificent review of it here when I was not quite finished reading the book, and I am slightly heartbroken that I did not get what she did out of the book, but I really just didn't. I'm not opposed to fragmented narratives, but in this case the choppy narration and episodic nature of the book prevented me from connecting with the main character or the story in any meaningful way.

Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro: I was reading this book at the same time as the Science Fictional Universe one, and I did wonder if part of the problem was reading them at the same time. Again, this was a very fragmented narrative which, in addition to the fast-and-furious surreal events which peppered the story, made me unable to process the book in any way except cerebrally. At the end I did feel a frisson of engagement, but I felt sort of like it was an unearned payoff. I think maybe at some point I should give both these books a reread, but not at the same time.

Use Once, Then Destroy by Conrad Williams: I wrote on Goodreads: Don't know. I realized as I started reading it that I had borrowed it from the library before and not loved it then. Took another crack at it. I've read one or two of his stories in other collections and admired them (seems like it would be weird to say 'liked', because he's a fairly twisted puppy). I don't know if it was reading all of these together or if these just weren't quite as strong, but they all seemed to blend together into one oppressive, not entirely coherent, intriguing and yet ultimately unsatisfying mass.

Just Kids by Patti Smith: Someone in my book club put this on the list. I don't know Patti Smith's music, which some people consider a shameful thing. The book was interesting. I freely admit that I can be a bit of a bitch about memoirs - it's hard to impress me, even though it's not like my life's story is any tremendous work of art. I can't help thinking that as a writer, Patti Smith is a pretty good singer. I enjoyed reading about her relationship with Mapplethorpe, and her interactions with many of the famous names of the time, but I can't help thinking that she's quite impressed with herself, when much of her success came from simply being in the right place at the right time. Which is fine, but she's definitely in love with the mythology of her life, and my eyes rolled more than once.

Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz: This one didn't make my eyes roll at all, but it was kind of a strange reading experience. I don't know if it's Jentz's writing style or simply that she hasn't ever allowed herself to process her near death in any kind of visceral way, but it reads almost as if she's writing about things that happened to somebody else. It also could have used a good edit. I enjoyed her connection with people she met on her travels, but it took me a long time to get through the whole book.

Inside by Alix Ohlin: Reviewed on blog.

Midsummer Night by Freda Warrington: This was weird - when I looked at the title in my list, I thought "why did I rate it? I took it out of the library but returned it before I read it." Then I realized I had read it, but clearly it didn't make a strong impression. Although, strong enough that I gave it three stars. It's a mystery. Well, no, it's a fantasy, but it's a mystery that... you get it.

Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon: I've found this series to be quite satisfying, with all the requisite elements: engaging protagonist, solid writing and really good, tight, intriguing plot.

While I Was Gone by Sue Miller: borrowed this from my sister at Christmas. She said it was disturbing. It totally was.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede: If you click on that link, I think you can read Sharon's review, which kicks the shit out of anything I could come up with.

Faerie Winter by Janni Lee Simner: Good, but kind of slight. I read The Bones of Faerie and it didn't really require a sequel.

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce: Nicely creepy, strange and original.

Water Wings by Kristen den Hartog: I wrote on Goodreads: I found it intriguing and wanted to keep reading, but I can't really think of what to say about it. The device of the mother's wedding bringing the two girls back to town is weak and barely-there as a pretext for the memories, which are the real story. The characterization is very strong. It reads more as a series of vignettes than a story, which works under the circumstances.

McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, Michael Chabon ed.: I should have made notes on the stories, because now I can't really remember individual ones, except Ayelet Waldman's Minnow is heartwrenching and carved into my brain.


Impossible by Nancy Werlin: The plot is really quite different and enough of a hook that this stands out in my mind from all the other YA books I read last year. The romance is also done really well, which can be really hard - it's not sappy or contrived, it flows naturally from the personalities of the characters and is totally believable.

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin: I got this one out of the library on the strength of the last one. The bending of events to fit the oddity of the premise is a little more obvious in this one, but it still has something that sets it apart. (I wrote on Goodreads: Some of the story seemed a little forced, but the plot device was original and she pulled off the ending much more gracefully than I expected she'd be able to.)

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer: Been meaning to check this series out for a while. It's good fun.

The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein: Wrote on Goodreads: A good book that was nearly a great one. It almost feels like it was rushed by either the writer or the editor - the plot is great, the narrator's voice and the characters and the set-up are well-done, and then there are a few crucial brushstrokes that are left out so the whole thing feels a little incomplete. Some of the dialogue is unforgivably stilted (a woman is returned to her family after years in the 'other realm', and when told that her mother mourned her for years her reply is 'oh'). Physical descriptions are lacking - it drove me crazy that Rose is only ever described as long-haired and 'plumper than her sisters' (and I don't mean just once, I mean every singple time he describes her). And the Feierabend family's whole unexamined attitude toward their dearly-paid-for good fortune bothered me.

Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindquist: Wrote on Goodreads: Really good as a thoughtful zombie novel. Not nearly as good as Let the Right One In. Started strongly, some good moments but then kind of went nowhere.

Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield: Fairly mediocre zombie novel.

Niceville by Carsten Stroud: Started out so promisingly, but got bogged down in too many subplots and ended up not concluding anything satisfactorily.

The Best of All Flesh Zombie Anthology, James Lowder ed.: Zombie story anthology. Nuff said?

The Retribution by Val McDermid: I really like this series. I'm not sure why I didn't give it four stars. The two main characters are quite compellingly fucked up.

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen: Don't know why I didn't give this four stars either. Seems like the promising start of a series. Beat the living fuck out of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which I know came from Sweden, not Denmark, but still...)

Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, Nancy Kilpatrick ed.: What? I took a short break from zombie stories. It's allowed!

The Burning Soul by John Connolly: The best books in this series are stellar. It's really hard to do dark mystery where supernatural elements don't seem cheesy or just make the whole thing too unbelievable, but Connolly pulls it off. Without the hints of darker forces, Charlie Parker's life would just be too sad and fucked up to swallow. But it's okay - he's cursed. His gay, lethal friends Angel and Louis are worth a series all their own.

The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud: family, loss, history, war, stories, water, boats. Most of it I really liked, but there was a part where the story about what happened with her father in the war really annoyed me - it was like the language, in trying to be poetic and beautiful and come at the events sideways, made it impossible to understand what actually happened. Maybe that was the point? I don't know, but it pissed me off.

The Death of Grass by John Christopher: I wrote on Goodreads: A little dated, maybe a little overly simplistic, but thought-provoking. Also, chilling in that it took a look at what human nature might really be pared down to when civilization is peeled away and the odds of survival become slighter. 

Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest: Reviewed on blog.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson: World War Z with robots, and not quite as good (they didn't get Brad Pitt for THEIR movie, did they?)

Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood: There are some meandering observations about it in here.

Chasing the Dead by Joe Schreiber: On Goodreads I used that line about blending the supernatural into mystery again. I'm so derivative. This was cool - kind of different.

Spell Bound (Hex Hall #3) by Rachel Hawkins: I loved the first book in this trilogy. Once again, I could have done without the second and third, although of course I still read them.

Due Preparations for the Plague by Janette Turner Hospital: Wrote on Goodreads: Huh. Dunno. I used to be in love with anything by this author, but I was a word-enamoured university student. Now I think she's sometimes a tiny bit too in love with her own craftiness. Starts out interesting, gets a little marshy in the middle, ends nicely.

Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card: Wrote on Goodreads: Orson Scott Card is great at writing a thumping good yarn, and he's good at getting at the real crux of how people think and act, and he's good at pages and pages of mechanical detail and philosophizing. There may have been a TAD too much of the latter here. I liked knowing the end of Bean's story, this just didn't measure up to some of the other books in the series for me.

Everlost by Neal Shusterman: Wrote on Goodreads: I was a tiny bit disappointed, simply because I read Unwind before this and it was SO GOOD. I think this is probably targeted more towards readers aged 9-12, whereas Unwind was for older readers, so it's my fault for not paying attention. Still a pretty good read and a fairly fresh spin on the afterlife (between-life?).

Coincidence Detection by Selaine Henriksen: Reviewed on blog.

Dexter by Design by Jeff Lindsay: Wrote on Goodreads: Entertaining and fun. Also, allows me to say something I never thought I would, which is "the television show is a little deeper".

The Radleys by Matt Haig: Wrote on Goodreads: Meh. f Interesting premise, but couldn't quite seem to decide on a tone. Some of the vampire in-joke trying-to-be-funny stuff is just desperately awkward and sad. The rest is just...awkward, I guess. There's talk about emotions, but very little emotion is displayed. Unsatisfying, ultimately.

Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by Linda Gray Sexton: Wrote on Goodreads: I think parts of this book should probably be required reading for anyone who has ever thought of suicide as a selfish act. Linda Sexton makes a pretty good case for the fact that she could no more avoid inheriting suicidal depression from her mother than she could avoid having the gene for breast cancer.

The Optimists by Andrew Miller: Wrote on Goodreads: I almost gave up after the first couple of chapters, probably chiefly because I was comparing it to Ingenious Pain, which is in my top ten of all time. It was a case of 'yes, yes, he's a photographer, he's witnessed atrocities, he's come home all scarred and disenchanted, wanders around, has an unsatisfying visit with a prostitute (duh) - anything else?' And yet, in telling the story of a man who thinks that to go on living is impossible and then proves himself wrong by, in fact, going on living ('I can't go on, I'll go on'), it ends up working. Also, there's the enjoyable touch of his friend Silverman who finds redemption by feeding the homeless in the 'bleakness' of Canada (the wild colonial wastelands of Toronto). It's still not nearly as good as Ingenious Pain - but what's going to be, right?

Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux: Wrote on Goodreads: ** spoiler alert ** Probably more like 2 1/2 stars. Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed. The concept sounded so fascinating, and...zombies! and...her name is Allison, with the right number of Ls! It might have been better to read as a blog. In a book, the style and character attributes were uneven and inconsistent, although I suspect in a blog it would have read too much like a story made into a blog - especially the chapters where Allison and Ned are kidnapped by the Black Earth Wives. Then there's the episode where Allison is The Avenging Heroine trapping down the guy who steals food from people. Okay, first of all, he's stolen enough food from the encampment at the university to be noticed, even with armed guards? And then he steals ALL the food from the apartment, and escapes on foot, his arms 'full of 20-pound boxes'? How many 20-pound boxes can one man run away with? And then when she catches him she chops his feet off - to teach him a lesson! Said lesson presumably being "there's a zombie apocalypse on and you have no feet - you're dead". 

It was all just a little shallow and contrived. I am eminently able to suspend disbelief for all kinds of nonsense if the writing creates a vivid enough world. That just wasn't the case here.


Under the Net by Iris Murdoch: Since watching the movie about her life, I had been wanting to read some earlier Iris Murdoch (I read Jackson's Dilemma back when I worked at the bookstore in Toronto). It's a very vivid window into the workings of the main character's mind, with some enjoyable slapstick thrown in. It was an enjoyable, sort of serene and grounding reading experience.

The Burning by Jane Casey: Mildly diverting.

The White Devil by Justin Evans: Wrote on Goodreads: The character studies and the romance were well done. The horrifying mystery was... somewhat less so.

Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon: see other book by same author

Blood and Ashes by Matt Hilton: Not sure what possessed me to pick this one up. Pretty good for what it was, but what it was is not something I need much of.

The Unwritten Vol 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey: Wrote on Goodreads: I don't have a lot of experience with graphic novels. I reserved this at the library not knowing it was a graphic novel. It was interesting, although it does the same thing that always bugged me a little in comic books, which is putting words IN BOLD, theoretically for EMPHASIS, but not ALWAYS appropriately, IN my opinion. I like the eerie atmosphere, the hint of the darker side of fantastic literature and its storytellers. I will probably continue the series if the library has it. Some of the sketches are really beautiful.

Forever (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #3) by Maggie Stiefvater: Good conclusion to a good series (okay, I have to say it though - the first book would have been JUST FINE without being turned into a trilogy).

The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy: Wrote on Goodreads: I didn't realize this was categorized as 'Christian' suspense before I bought it. I most likely would not have bought it if I had - I strongly dislike preachiness and didacticism. Happily, there was very little of that in this story. It was an interesting take on how people of strong faith deal with adversity, and the mystery works quite well (although one 'forgotten' detail was pretty unrealistic). I did feel that Jack was a bit lacking as a character - his dialogue especially was so un-nuanced he was almost more of a caricature than a fully developed character. The two teen-aged characters were written very well. I also liked Diane as a character, although the wrap-up of her story was a little clunky. The description of Audrey and Geoffrey's relationship, particularly the bread-baking, was lovely.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Wrote on Goodreads: This was well-written and thought-provoking, but didn't entirely work for me. It read more like a wish-fulfillment fantasy of what people wish would happen after a teenager commits suicide, where everyone who was thoughtlessly or intentionally cruel gets schooled on exactly what they did to contribute to the person's despair. I find it somewhat hard to believe that Hannah could see her situation with such a clear eye and a level head and still be in the state to kill herself (I'm not saying I'm right - just how I feel). It's a sensitive and admirable attempt to address an important topic - just doesn't quite hit the mark for me.

Dark Delicacies III: Haunted, Del Howison ed.: Picked it up on clearance and was pleasantly surprised.

1222 by Anne Holt: Wrote on Goodreads: The main character was almost refreshing in her determined unlikability. This was interesting, although I much prefer Holt's other series

Leviathan (Leviathan #1) by Scott Westerfeld: Angus got this for Christmas last year, read it, then demanded that I read it also. Wrote on Goodreads: One of my favourites of the YA steampunk novels I've read. Both the male and female protagonist are sympathetic but not without flaws, the story moves along nicely, the history is engaging and I LOVE the Darwinian hybrids.











5 comments:

Nicole said...

Bookmarking this, again so I can have a good wish list for next Christmas. I LOVED Moral Disorder. LOVED IT.

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

The only 3 star book that you read that I also read is Thirteen Reasons Why. I had to go back and look at my rating - 4 stars. In fact it's the only book that you and I had quite a chat about both on your review and mine on GoodReads. Months later, I don't know that I love it as much as I did originally, but I still think this would be a good book to encourage teenagers to read. I have a feeling it speaks more to teenagers than to adults.

The Wolves of Mercy Falls and Robocalypse have been on my To Read list for ever. I'll get there one day. The Robacalypse movie is delayed I think so maybe Brad Pitt can hop over there after all.

BTW, I am still plugging away on IQ84. No love yet, but maintaining a mild interest. I do wish it wasn't so long.

StephLove said...

I read the whole Artemis Fowl series to N this summer/fall. I was a bit bored with all the weaponry, etc, but got drawn in a few books into the series when Artemis got more sympathetic. I don't need protagonists to be likable in books for adults for in books for kids, I do. Not sure why.

Selaine said...

Hey, I saw mine in there. Thanks again!

Magpie said...

I am exhausted just reading that!