Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Book Round-Up Part 1

If I've kept accurate records on Goodreads, my book total is way down this year. This bothered me for about half a second. I don't know exactly what led to this, although I suspect it's partly to do with the fact that I decided to stop finishing books I don't like, and I didn't always log those ones, partly to do with the fact that I've started more rereading, which makes logging books a bit confusing, and either I've read more books that are longer or, well, I've just spent a bit less time reading, which is not the end of the world. I could root around seeing if there's a way to up the total a bit, but the number Goodreads spits out at the moment - 111 - is actually quite pleasing to me in some bizarre numerically aesthetic way, so I'm letting it ride, even though it's drastically lower than 2014's 182. Although, now that I look at the past few years, 2014 was a blip itself, blowing away the 121, 146, 113 from the three years before. What the hell was I on last year?

Happily, my unfinished and low-rated books are few.

All synopses are from Goodreads.

Unfinished:

Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid #3) by Seanan McGuire: When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn't expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.
Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone... 
The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.
Of course, so do the talking mice.


I've liked all of McGuire's October Daye books, and I adored her Feed trilogy written as Mira Grant. Her Parasitology trilogy as Grant has left me lukewarm, however, and after I grabbed this off the shelf at the library on a whim I realized it was midway through a series I hadn't read, and what I did read didn't hold my attention enough to finish it. It wasn't awful, and I might go back to the beginning of the series at some point - the premise was interesting.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch: Yesterday cannot last forever...
A decade has passed since the city of Pittsburgh was reduced to ash.
While the rest of the world has moved on, losing itself in the noise of a media-glutted future, survivor John Dominic Blaxton remains obsessed with the past. Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive—a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh, accessible to anyone who wants to visit the places they remember and the people they loved.
Dominic investigates deaths recorded in the Archive to help close cases long since grown cold, but when he discovers glitches in the code surrounding a crime scene—the body of a beautiful woman abandoned in a muddy park that he’s convinced someone tried to delete from the Archive—his cycle of grief is shattered.
With nothing left to lose, Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the ruins of the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

Oh lord, I tried with this one. The synopsis sounded right up my alley, but the stuff described in the synopsis is attenuated by long passages of nothing much. The actual book was... dreary. Not just sad, or mournful, or elegiac, but tediously, unutterably dreary. It read like a pretentious noir movie with a muffled voiceover by a droning male voice and long, slow shots of dim hallways.

Kate Hiscock


One Star:

The Never List by Koethi Zan: The most relentless, deeply disturbing thriller writer since Jeffery Deaver and Gillian Flynn.
For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.
Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.
Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.
A shocking, blazingly fast read, Koethi Zan’s debut is a must for fans of Karin Slaughter, Laura Lippman, and S.J. Watson.

This was not "shocking" by any measure, and comparing it to anything by Laura Lippman is just insulting. Every now and then I succumb to a prurient desire to read something dark, something that confronts an unlovely side of human nature, something that explores how people react to the very worst thing happening and whether or not they come out the other side. Books by Carol O'Connell, Lippman and Fred Vargas fulfill this desire admirably, because they leaven the horror with humour, compassion for human frailty, nuanced characters and well-crafted prose. Books like this one try to be dark and affecting, but they don't put the work in. If I started this book today, I wouldn't finish it. It was shallow, dull, and wholly without distinction.

Just Like Fate by Kat Patrick: Caroline is at a crossroads. Her grandmother is sick, maybe dying. Like the rest of her family, Caroline's been at Gram's bedside since her stroke. With the pressure building, all Caroline wants to do is escape--both her family and the reality of Gram's failing health. So when Caroline's best friend offers to take her to a party one fateful Friday night, she must choose: stay by Gram's side, or go to the party and live her life.
The consequence of this one decision will split Caroline's fate into two separate paths--and she's about to live them both.
Friendships are tested and family drama hits an all-new high as Caroline attempts to rebuild old relationships, and even make a few new ones. If she stays, her longtime crush, Joel, might finally notice her, but if she goes, Chris, the charming college boy, might prove to be everything she's ever wanted.
Though there are two distinct ways for her fate to unfold, there is only one happy ending.

I go back and forth on whether YA literature should be held to the same standard as adult lit. A lot of YA from the past few years has absolutely spoiled me for anything lesser. It's quite possible that this book would have held my attention and checked a few boxes for a satisfying read when I was fifteen. But it's not good. I love the Sliding Doors plot premise, but it requires such character violation that I just couldn't buy it. There are two instances of unforgivable insta-love which rob the romance plot of any tension at all. The dialogue is clunky and unbelievable. So... no, I can't give it a pass just because it's YA. 




Two Stars:

Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson: Who is the child of the night? That's what small-town reported Will Barbee must find out. Inexorably drawn into investigating a rash of grisly deaths, he soon finds himself embroiled in something far beyond mortal understanding.
Doggedly pursuing his investigations, he meets the mysterious and seductive April Bell and starts having disturbing, tantalizing dreams in which he does terrible things--things that are stranger and wilder than his worst nightmares. then his friends begin dying one by one and he slowly realizes that an unspeakable evil has been unleashed.
As Barbee's world crumbles around him in a dizzying blizzard of madness, the intoxicating, dangerous April pushes Barbee ever closer to the answer to the question "Who is the Child of Night?"
When Barbee finds out, he'll wish he'd never been born.

I understand that it might not be fair to judge this book by modern standards, and a lot of the theorizing behind the trope in use here is quite original and interesting. However, it's introduced in an info-dump manner that robs it of a lot of narrative tension. As for the modern standards thing, well, I was unable NOT to judge it that way, so I found much of it very dated and slightly grating. I understand the femme fatale draw, but the protagonist seemed too much like a weak-willed sap to generate much sympathy. I also really question the author's decision to name the protagonist Will Barbee, because April's interminable seductive droning of the name Barbeeeee in his dreams became incredibly annoying. 

What Lies Beneath by Sarah Rayne: When the village of Priors Bramley was shut off in the 1950s so that the area could be used for chemical weapons-testing during the Cold War, a long history of dark secrets was also closed off to the outside world. Now, sixty years later, the village has been declared safe again, but there are those living in nearby Bramley who would much rather that the past remain hidden.
When the village is reopened, Ella Haywood, who used to play there as a child, is haunted by the discovery of two bodies. Shortly before the isolation of the village, she and her two oldest friends had a violent and terrifying encounter with a stranger - with terrible consequences. They made a pact of silence at the time, but the past has a habit of forcing the truth to the surface.
With the mystery surrounding the now derelict Cadence Manor drawing increasing local interest, Ella finds that she will have to resort to ever more drastic measures if she is to make sure that no one discovers what really happened all those years ago.
 

I didn't make any notes on this, so I'm a little unsure why I didn't give it three stars. Sarah Rayne generally writes a nice, serviceable ghost(ish) story, and I remember this having an agreeably creepy vibe with all the right ingredients - abandoned village, mysterious deaths, traumatic past events. Maybe the contrivances necessary to make her plots work are starting to pall. I suspect it was a two-and-half-star rating. 

Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier: Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devourTeam Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan.Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre. 
Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie. 
And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel.

I don't usually love satire (or vampire romances, for that matter, with a couple of exceptions), but I do generally love Sarah Rees Brennan, so I feel like there's something wrong with me for not loving this book. I'm not sure if it's just my mood, but the whole first half just seemed sort of silly and pointless and the protagonist wasn't unlikable, but wasn't exactly crazy likable either - the balance between 'passionate advocate for her friend' and 'annoying and shrewish' kept tipping over into the latter. Once Kit showed up things got a little more engaging, but on the whole this just lacked snap.
Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst: Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she's in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.
At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

Ugh, so disappointing. The set-up was so deliciously promising, and then... *sound of balloon deflating*. You can understand why Eve starts out confused, afraid and unwilling to challenge anyone, but as the story goes on and she keeps being maddeningly passive, having visions and passing out, it all gets kind of old. The love interest and the other magical youths aren't fleshed out enough, the good cop/bad cop thing lacks subtlety and reason. And the big reveal about the big evil serial killer guy is just... not much of anything. The seeds of something great were here, but it needed tightening. Or loosening. Or something. 

Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski: SECRETS.SCANDALS.ESP.
We weren't always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn't expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.
Since we've kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends reallythink of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what's coming.
Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same. So stop obsessing about your ex. We're always listening.

Got this from NetGalley, and started rethinking whether NetGalley was adding anything positive to my reading life other than The Girl With All the Gifts. Really very slight. There's not enough science to make it science fiction, and the remaining teen drama is very thin. The thoughts read tend to be head-wreckingly banal: "She's pretty", "Her eyes are so expressive", "her hair is so shiny". I know teen-agers aren't always walking around musing about Nietzsche, but come on. I guess I'm probably biased by the fact that I've always thought being able to read people's minds or have my own mind read would be among the worst things imaginable.

Disclaimer by Renée Knight: Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew--and that person is dead.
Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.

I can admire a good twisty plot, if it's backed up by good characters and solid writing (Liane Moriarty springs to mind). In this case, it really isn't, and the fairly clever plot conceit is not enough. 

The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne: A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.
But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity—that she, in fact, is Lydia—their world comes crashing down once again.
As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past—what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?
 

Mystified by the hype surrounding this. A third of the way through I thought it was a decently-plotted thriller with a marked lack of flair or subtlety or nuanced characterization. It devolved into a silly mess of pointless revelations and flat dialogue, and the twist wasn't so much a twist as a sudden revealing of something completely out of left field, unveiled with no finesse at all. Left me completely flat.

6 comments:

Marilyn Belsham said...

I haven't read any of those and don't really plan to based on your wise reviews, but I wanted to say I wonder the same thing about YA literature - should I give it an easy pass just because it's YA I mean. And I think, no. I've been reading an absolute shit ton of YA these past few weeks because of a requirement for a YA Library Services course I am taking so I feel a little like I'm drowning in teenage strife but I think great YA fiction is just great fiction. And crap YA fiction is just crap. Sadly there seems to be a massive amount of simply ok YA fiction...and is that because it's YA or the characters are acting like annoying teenagers or...? I don't know. But I do kind of feel like I need to read something for grown ups soon.

Shan said...

I read far less than I was anticipating/planning too as well and it was eating at me, but 2015 is going down as a pretty crummy year for us, so I'm trying to be thankful that I managed to read anything at all.

Steph Lovelady said...

I agree about mind reading. I think if people could read minds the divorce rate would skyrocket.

Nicole said...

I used to always try to slog through books, but now I think that if I don't LOVE it, I'm not going to waste my time. I give it a few chapters, but if it doesn't pick up...although I did finish the Goldfinch, which I hated, because I kept thinking it would get better!

Alison said...

I have been waiting to read this post until I had time to respond because I knew I would have Thoughts. I'll try to keep them brief. ;-)

1. According to Goodreads, I read 65 books last year. So, more than I did when teaching full-time. Of course I wish I had read more, but there were weeks and months when I was too anxious and/or depressed to read at all, so I'm just glad I climbed out of that pit and started reading again. I think we shouldn't guilt ourselves about reading--hey, we read some books. Whatever the number, at least it wasn't zero!

2. So the writer of The Never List is compared to Jeffrey Deaver, Gillian Flynn, Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter, and S.J. Watson. That...seems to set the reader's level of expectation too high. Better to be pleasantly surprised.

3. Re: standards for YA: I think lit is lit, whether YA or not, so I agree with Marilyn Belsen's comment. There has always been great fiction, crappy fiction, and a gray area in between. I think we're just noticing YA fiction more because (IMO) the last few years have given us so many good and even great YA books that adult readers are reading more YA than in the past. Anyway, I try to use the same standards. When I was a teen, I read the crappy YA books, but I liked the great ones (whether written for adults or teens) better. They stayed with me.

4. This made me giggle out loud: "I know teen-agers aren't always walking around musing about Nietzsche, but come on. I guess I'm probably biased by the fact that I've always thought being able to read people's minds or have my own mind read would be among the worst things imaginable." Completely agree. WHY would you want to know what people think about you?

Okay, I think that's all (it was plenty.) Thanks for such interesting reviews!

temperedwithkindness said...

I am going to make more time to read this year. I simply cannot read all the books that become popular. I can't do it. I find the older I get the happier I wish to be and I won't subject myself to downers anymore.

Of course the joy of reading lies within each reader. To each his own, right?

That being said, if I start a book and hate it I stop and find something new. :D

YA has always been popular in a way, but I think the fact that parents are reading "kid" stuff and paying for the movies is helping the popularity along. ;) There are some excellent books!