Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Books 2013 - Final Total and Two-Star Books

Here we go! Books I read in 2013 (that I remembered to record on Goodreads - otherwise they're quite possibly lost to the ether forever). 111 seems to be the grand total, compared with -- *clicks around madly looking for last year's post* -- geez, 144 last year. I've been positively slacking. I blame baseball.

I always pause and reflect on whether it's worth posting about the one-and-two-star books - if people are reading these posts for recommendations, it seems kind of silly. But then I looked at the Goodreads reviews for a book I downloaded to my ipad on a whim on New Year's Eve Eve and then stayed up way too late reading, and it really illustrated how different people can have completely different reactions to the same book, and it doesn't denote a lack of intelligence or one person being more right than another (unless we're talking about, say, this, or maybe this - so many people, so, so wrong). So I post these inviting and welcoming disagreement.


Swimming Home by Deborah Levy: Goodreads synopsis: Swimming Home is a subversive page-turner, a merciless gaze at the insidious harm that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams. Deborah Levy's writing combines linguistic virtuosity, technical brilliance and a strong sense of what it means to be alive. Swimming Home represents a new direction for a major writer. In this book, the wildness and the danger are all the more powerful for resting just beneath the surface. With its deep psychology, biting humour and deceptively light surface, it wears its darkness lightly.

Damn. I was hoping I'd written something down on Goodreads, but other than categorizing it under both "fiction" and "hellacious waste of time", there's nothing. It was sent to me by Trish Osuch from House of Anansi, and I think it's the only book she's ever sent me that I didn't like. I just remember that it was a dismal mess - a bunch of unlikable people trying to sound profound and instead sounding self-obsessed and ridiculous. It had what seemed to me to be a kind of seventies vibe - a lot of drinking, self-destructive behaviour and adultery in full view of any children who happened to be around, under the guise of narcissistic adults needing the freedom to 'find themselves'. I gave it one star, which I rarely do.

The Quarry by Johan Theorin: My review on Goodreads: It's called 'The Quarry' in English, but that version
doesn't seem to be on here. I found this deeply disappointing compared to the first two books I read by this author, which were well-written, character-driven, satisfyingly dark and labyrinthine with a great sense of place. The characterization here seemed weak (I know people react differently to the same situations, but Per's behaviour, considering his daughter was in the hospital with a serious illness, seemed extremely odd), the twists were more like mild kinks and the whole thing just seemed kind of flat.

The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid: Goodreads synopsis: One of the finest crime writers we have, Val McDermid’s heart-stopping thrillers have won her international renown and a devoted following of readers worldwide. In The Vanishing Point, she kicks off a terrifying thriller with a nightmare scenario: a parent who loses her child in a bustling international airport.
Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all?
A powerful, grippingly-plotted thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the end, The Vanishing Point showcases McDermid at the height of her talent.


My review on Goodreads: I find her to be a wildly uneven writer. Her best work is really good, tight and controlled and with some depth and insight, and her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series contains brilliant characterization. This is one of the 'what the heck' entries in my book - it starts out interestingly enough, but becomes increasingly hollow and unlikely. Mildly diverting at best.

Criminal by Karin Slaughter: Goodreads synopsis: Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda’s motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before, when his father was imprisoned for murder, this was Will’s home. It appears that the case that launched Amanda’s career forty years ago has suddenly come back to life—and it involves the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. Now these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.

I had read a few of Karin Slaughter's Grant County series and found them passable, if forgettable. The first book in her Will Trent series seemed to me like it was written by an entirely different author - it was darker, much deeper and more complex. Then she brought a character from the old series into the new - Sara Linton, the not-quite-simpering but slightly-too-good-to-be-true doctor -  and suddenly the quality seems to have fallen off again. Maybe I just liked Will Trent better when he was tortured and messed-up instead of being soppily in love, but it seems to drag down the whole book rather than just the romantic passages. It's perplexing. 

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf: Goodreads synopsis: In her most emotionally charged novel to date, New York Timesbestselling author Heather Gudenkauf explores the unspoken events that shape a community, the ties between parents and their children and how the fragile normalcy of our everyday life is so easily shattered.
In the midst of a sudden spring snowstorm, an unknown man armed with a gun walks into an elementary school classroom. Outside the school, the town of Broken Branch watches and waits.
Officer Meg Barrett holds the responsibility for the town's children in her hands. Will Thwaite, reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren by the daughter who left home years earlier, stands by helplessly and wonders if he has failed his child again. Trapped in her classroom, Evelyn Oliver watches for an opportunity to rescue the children in her care. And thirteen-year-old Augie Baker, already struggling with the aftermath of a terrible accident that has brought her to Broken Branch, will risk her own safety to protect her little brother.
As tension mounts with each passing minute, the hidden fears and grudges of the small town are revealed as the people of Broken Branch race to uncover the identity of the stranger who holds their children hostage.

My review on Goodreads: Can't think how to frame exactly what I think. I was bothered by the lack of convincing explanation for Holly's estrangement from her parents - it kind of seemed like they were pretty good people and she was just kind of a bitch, but we're supposed to consider her a sympathetic character. Also, the demeanour of the gunman before we know who he is doesn't at all match up with his behaviour afterwards. I liked the schoolteacher but overall everything was just a little too pat. It seemed a little "movie of the week". Or maybe I'm just a bitch.

Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill: Goodreads synopsis: A brilliantly crafted modern tale from
acclaimed film critic and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill—part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Toro, part William S. Burroughs—that charts the lives of two boys from their star-crossed childhood in the realm of magic and mystery to their anguished adulthoods.
There is another world than our own—one no closer than a kiss and one no further than our nightmares—where all the stuff of which dreams are made is real and magic is just a step away. But once you see that world, you will never be the same.
Dreams and Shadows takes us beyond this veil. Once bold explorers and youthful denizens of this magical realm, Ewan is now an Austin musician who just met his dream girl, and Colby, meanwhile, cannot escape the consequences of an innocent wish. But while Ewan and Colby left the Limestone Kingdom as children, it has never forgotten them. And in a world where angels relax on rooftops, whiskey-swilling genies argue metaphysics with foul-mouthed wizards, and monsters in the shadows feed on fear, you can never outrun your fate.
Dreams and Shadows is a stunning and evocative debut about the magic and monsters in our world and in our self.

My review on Goodreads: First of all, what is with people who feel the need to use a first initial and middle name? If you don't like your first name, just use your damned middle name and jettison the first one altogether. Do you expect people to call you "C Robert" in conversation? No, because THAT WOULD BE DOUCHEY! Okay, the book:  "Failure to launch" is the phrase that keeps coming to mind. I started this a while ago, put it down, and finished most of it yesterday - I should admit that I have a pinched nerve in my neck so I was in severe pain for most of the time I was reading, in case that had an effect on my mood. It seems like the requisite elements are all in place, but instead of achieving any kind of smooth dynamic they just grind together uncomfortably. The beginning is interesting, if horribly sad, but then everything is broken into chunks by the 'scholarly' descriptions of fey folk and it all feels disjointed. It's hard to care about the characters because the depth just isn't there.

The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill: Goodreads synopsis: Freak weather and flash floods all over southern England. Half of Lafferton is afloat. A landslip on the Moor has closed the bypass and, as the rain slowly drains away, a shallow grave - and a skeleton - are exposed. The remains are identified as those of missing teenager, Harriet Lowther, last seen 16 years ago.

My review on Goodreads: Profoundly disappointing entry in a series I usually really admire. It all seemed incredibly contrived, and wholly lacking in the usually deft characterization and complex plotting. The euthanasia/dementia subplot was heavyhanded. The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying.

I was surprised to see that I had given a Susan Hill novel a two-star rating when I was composing this post. Now I remember why I did. 

The Bone Bed by Patricia Cornwell: Goodreads synopsis: In Alberta, Canada, an eminent paleontologist disappears from a dinosaur dig site, and at the Cambridge Forensic Center, Kay Scarpetta receives a grisly communication that gives her a dreadful reason to suspect this may become her next case. Then, with shocking speed, events begin to unfold.
A body recovered from Boston Harbor reveals bizarre trace evidence hinting of a link to other unsolved cases that seem to have nothing in common. Who is behind all this? And whom can Scarpetta trust? Her lead investigator, Pete Marino, and FBI agent husband, Benton Wesley, are both unhappy with her because of personnel changes at the CFC, and her niece Lucy has become even more secretive than usual. Scarpetta fears she just may be on her own this time against an enormously powerful and cunning enemy who seems impossible to defeat.

Why do I ever go back to Patricia Cornwell? Her first few books were really good. Now I just wish some editor would stop her. There is no personal growth in any of the characters, there is an increasing and desperate-seeming need to make Scarpetta sexually attractive to any nearby male, Marino is just a hopeless mess, and worst of all, the mysteries are tepid and the writing is indifferent. 
Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosenblum: Goodreads synopsis: Twenty years ago, the robots designed to fight our wars abandoned the battlefields. Then they turned their weapons on us.
Only a few escaped the robot revolution of 2071. Kevin, Nick, and Cass are lucky —they live with their parents in a secret human community in the woods. Then their village is detected and wiped out. Hopeful that other survivors have been captured by bots, the teens risk everything to save the only people they have left in the world—by infiltrating a city controlled by their greatest enemies.
Revolution 19 is a cinematic thriller unlike anything else. With a dynamic cast of characters, this surefire blockbuster has everything teen readers want—action, drama, mystery, and romance. Written by debut novelist Gregg Rosenblum, this gripping story shouldn’t be missed.

I thought this was only an e-book, which might have excused some of the terrible writing, cheesy dialogue and the plot lacking in anything resembling credibility. But it wasn't. You know what that means? That means THERE IS NO EXCUSE.
13 1/2 by Nevada Barr: Goodreads synopsis: In 1971, the state of Minnesota was rocked by the "Butcher Boy" incident, as coverage of a family brutally murdered by one of their own swept across newspapers and television screens nationwide.
Now, in present-day New Orleans, Polly Deschamps finds herself at yet another lonely crossroads in her life. No stranger to tragedy, Polly was a runaway at the age of fifteen, escaping a nightmarish Mississippi childhood.
Lonely, that is, until she encounters architect Marshall Marchand. Polly is immediately smitten. She finds him attractive, charming, and intelligent. Marshall, a lifelong bachelor, spends most of his time with his brother Danny. When Polly’s two young daughters from her previous marriage are likewise taken with Marshall, she marries him. However, as Polly begins to settle into her new life, she becomes uneasy about her husband’s increasing dark moods, fearing that Danny may be influencing Marshall in ways she cannot understand.
But what of the ominous prediction by a New Orleans tarot card reader, who proclaims that Polly will murder her husband? What, if any, is the Marchands' connection to the infamous "Butcher Boy" multiple homicide? And could Marshall and his eccentric brother be keeping a dark secret from Polly, one that will shatter the happiness she has forever prayed for?

My review on Goodreads: Starts out fairly interestingly, then quickly devolves into a lazy, silly, shallow, embarrassing mess. What are clearly meant to be deep, dark secrets are glaringly obvious to anyone with half a brain. Far inferior to the Anna Pigeon series.

InterWorld by Neil Gaiman: Goodreads synopsis: Joey Harker isn't a hero.
In fact, he's the kind of guy who gets lost in his own house.But then one day, Joey gets really lost. He walks straight out of his world and into another dimension.Joey's walk between the worlds makes him prey to two terrible forces, armies of magic and science who will do anything to harness his power to travel between dimensions.When he sees the evil those forces are capable of, Joey makes the only possible choice: to join an army of his own, an army of versions of himself from different dimensions who all share his amazing power and who are all determined to fight to save the worlds.
Master storyteller Neil Gaiman and Emmy Award-winning science-fiction writer Michael Reaves team up to create a dazzling tale of magic, science, honor, and the destiny of one very special boy and all the others like him.
My review on Goodreads: It was meant to be a tv script, and reads that way. The Gaiman imagination is here, but it's very simplistic and seems aimed at a very young audience.
Promised by Caragh O'Brien: Goodreads synopsis: After defying the ruthless Enclave, surviving the wasteland, and upending the rigid matriarchy of Sylum, Gaia Stone now faces her biggest challenge ever.  She must lead the people of Sylum back to the Enclave and persuade the Protectorat to grant them refuge from the wasteland.  In Gaia's absence, the Enclave has grown more cruel, more desperate to experiment on mothers from outside the wall, and now the stakes of cooperating or rebelling have never been higher.  Is Gaia ready, as a leader, to sacrifice what--or whom--she loves most?

This Just seemed really rushed and neither the plot nor the dialogue really stood up under close scrutiny. Gaia constantly put herself in danger, which of course necessitated other people having to put themselves in danger to rescue her, without due thought or reasoning. Her jealousy about one of her cast-off suitors becoming involved with someone else seemed silly also - not that she would feel it, but that she wouldn't recognize it as unfair and also somewhat unimportant, given that she had a few other things to think about as the leader of a people who were in danger of being completely wiped out. This didn't at all bear out the promise of the first book in the trilogy, and even the second held more interest. I understand that it can be difficult to craft an appropriate ending, but in my opinion the author should have kept on trying. 


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Now. I was going to have a couple of blog friends look this over and ask their opinion about a couple of technical details, but then I thought, why not ask everyone who reads and cares to weigh in? I've put the Goodreads synopses and any reviews that I posted on Goodreads in the body of the post so you don't have to click over to read them; do you find this agreeable, or does it clutter up the post too much? 

Three-star reviews and then four-and-five stars forthcoming. 

Happy new year!






6 comments:

Steph Lovelady said...

I am always amazed at the speed with which you read. I haven't read any of these (in fact I've only read one by one of these authors, a single Patricia Cromwell mystery) and probably won't, but I enjoyed reading the post for the contrast between the official blurb and your take.

Nicole said...

111 books! That's amazing. Even "slacking off", that's amazing!

Sarah said...

I agree completely about Patricia Cornwell.

Sarah said...

I agree completely about Patricia Cornwell.

Marilyn Belsham said...

I'm sure you likely read more than that because GoodReads says I read 103 last year and you usually read so many more than I do. I didn't read any of those though I had considered reading Interworld because I really love Gaiman, but I hadn't heard great things. The only toe other books I read that you've mentioned are The Shack, which I couldn't finish because I hated it, and 50 Shades, which I did finish because I apparently hated it less than The Shack....also maybe the sex. But it wasn't a good book that's for sure. Looking forward to the reviews of the books you loved!

clara said...

I haven't read any of those books. But I like the embedding of the goodreads review. That was the question, right? Goodreads and I are like old pals who only check in with each other once a year..I wanted to use it all the time and be best buds with it but it doesn't seem to be working out that way.