I’ve had a bit of a dilemma in deciding how to review books. Generally I pick the best of the lot to review, but this does make me seem like I love everything. And to make sure I keep up I tend to quit reading books that just aren’t doing it for me.
So to be more balanced I thought I’d let you know some of what I’ve quit or left unreviewed in the last few months.
Niceville by Carson Stroud. This first novel is coming out June 12th and I read it all the way through because I just couldn’t figure out what was up with it. Stroud is obviously talented when it comes to writing, but I think the major flaws here were about storytelling. It tried to be everything all at once. First there’s the supernatural tale of a boy who disappears into thin air and then reappears in a sealed coffin. Then there’s the criminal heist story of a group of ex-military and law enforcement who use their experience to commit a brutal bank robbery and turn on each other during the getaway. There’s also a vengeful ex-husband intent on exposing the secrets of the townspeople. And a shadowy corporation intent on getting back its valuable technology stolen in the bank robbery. And the lawyer married to the cop who investigated the disappearance and the bank robbery along with a variety of other crimes, represented the ex-wife of the vengeful ex-husband in court, are the legal guardians of the now-reappeared comatose boy, etc. etc. etc. Yeah, there’s a lot going on. I thought perhaps Stroud would pull off a big finish and bring it all together. Sadly, it stayed just as uneven. It was also very hard to keep track of all the characters, since all the plotlines intertwined. I’d give it a miss, but I’m still anxious to see what Stroud does next.
The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones. A lot of people seem to really enjoy this book, which was just released. It’s got a real Downton Abbey-ish vibe. I loved about 60% of this book and was flummoxed by the other 40% so in the end I couldn’t give it a solid review. Let’s just say it takes a very strange turn 2/3 of the way through and never really recovers though it makes a valiant effort. I can still recommend it, especially if you enjoy the “country house” style novel, but was still perplexed enough to not feel confident in a full review. Especially not without spoilers.
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes is another book getting a lot of summer buzz. This suspense novel follows Catherine, who is still recovering from a terrible abusive relationship and copes through obsessive compulsive routines. Through flashbacks, we see what led Catherine down that terrible path as we watch her current efforts to try and break away from her fears. Perhaps this book suffered because I read it not long after Before I Go to Sleep and Garnethill, which were both very strong thrillers. The mental illness element of the book felt a bit extreme to me, never quite gelling. And this is the kind of book where we must be able to reconcile our character before and after, which I never really could.
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. I thought Lupton’s debut, Sisters, was promising. And perhaps out of loyalty I stuck with Afterwards to the end. But I pretty much hated it from the beginning. It was simply a matter of me not buying its premise. If you buy it, you’ll probably like it. I just couldn’t. The premise: Grace rushes into a burning building at her son’s school to save her daughter, Jenny. They’re both stuck in an inbetween state, with their bodies comatose in hospital beds, while their spirits walk the halls together. This Grace watches her loved ones cope and tries to figure out what caused the fire that is being blamed on Jenny. Warning: if you dislike schmaltz, walk away. This book is probably a good fit for the Jodi Picoult set.
I simply don’t have time to read books I’m not enjoying these days. If it doesn’t seem good enough for me to review, I duck out. I try to give each book a real shot and stick with it for a while. But here are some recent books I’ve ditched.
Wild Thing by Josh Bazell. I was sad to dislike this novel, a sequel to the awesomely offbeat medical/mafia thriller Beat the Reaper. But our hero’s move into investigating a Lochness-style monster with funding from a mysterious billionaire just wasn’t cutting it.
The 500 by Matthew Quirk had me about halfway. Ultimately I left it behind because its Washington power broker machinations just weren’t really up my alley. Can’t say it’s a bad book or not worth reading, but following a talented lawyer’s descent into fixer-dom just wasn’t my style. (It’s rare I enjoy books on political intrigue or behind the scenes corruption. The Expats is an obvious exception to that rule, but it had a great sense of fun.) This is an early June release.
Pure by Julianna Baggott had a great buzz-building campaign. Capitalizing on the Hunger Games obsessed zeitgeist, Pure presented itself as a similar dystopic YA adventure with an inventive twist. In this post-apocalyptic world, a small number of people live in a protective dome where they know nothing of the outside world and are built to be superhuman. Those outside the dome who survived the nuclear destruction have strange mutations, where they are fused to whatever was touching them during the blast. They may be two people fused together, or they may just be like our heroine, Pressia, whose hand is fused with a doll. At 16, everyone is recruited into the oppressive militia or are used as training targets. Pressia, of course, goes on the run, as does Partridge, who escapes from the dome to track down his mother. This is a very high-concept novel and it’s the first of a series. I just couldn’t get into it. The worldbuilding never came together for me, and in this type of book that’s the #1 most important thing. (To me, this is one of the reasons why the first Hunger Games book is so much better than the other two: more complete and effective worldbuilding.) If you want to see good worldbuilding in action, check out the master: China Mieville. I know Pure has a lot of fans, but it also has a decent number of dissenters like myself.