Book Review: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (1991)

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Review #75

Larry Cook has decided to retire and turn his three-generation Iowa farm over to his three daughters. When the youngest daughter, Caroline, does not react with what he deems to be the appropriate enthusiasm, Larry cuts her out of the deal. This triggers a chain of events that will rock the lives of Ginny and Rose, his elder daughters, as well as their husbands and children. They find themselves struggling to cope with their aging father, their angry younger sister, their respective husbands, and the demands of running a vast acreage with little help from their community.

I was initially attracted to this novel because it’s set in the farmlands of Iowa. As a child of the American Midwest, I love to see this much-ignored region represented in popular fiction. Author Jane Smiley does a great job of setting the scene of a farming community. Iowa is where endless fields meet endless sky, and the weather is fickle on the best of days. Smiley’s descriptions of Zebulon County and its inhabitants made me nostalgic for my hometown. Except perhaps without the overbearing humidity.

A loose retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, this novel focuses on middle child Ginny as she is forced to come to terms with the failings of her family. After nearly forty years of dealing with her father’s unreasonable demands, she has her feet firmly planted on the path of least resistance.  Ginny is passive to the point of submissive, and her main reaction to any given problem seems to be to sweep it under the rug and smile. The more interesting parts of A Thousand Acres deal with Ginny when she stands up for herself and begins to assert her dreams and desires for her own future.

Unfortunately, those moments don’t arrive until the last third of the book, and the first two hundred pages failed to capture my interest. I think Smiley may have been striving for a slow and creeping sense of desperation, but A Thousand Acres continually comes across as tedious. Imagine the plot as an old farmer, content to plod along without much emotion or action as he methodically carries out his daily tasks. Said farmer is respectable and worthy of admiration, but I’m not sure I would want to spend too many hours in his company.

This novel won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize. There is an inherent anxiety present when reading a book that has won such high accolades. In a sense, one feels that if they do not enjoy said novel, it must be they who is in the wrong. There must be some hidden layer of meaning, of depth that the critics saw that they cannot. In the words of a thousand pedantic literature majors, perhaps I just didn’t get it.

Well I didn’t. I found myself falling asleep while reading this book, and ended up having to read it in daily twenty page increments to resist the urge to simply put it back on the shelf.

My rating: 2.5/5

You can find A Thousand Acres here on Amazon or here on Book Depository. Make sure to buy a strong cup of coffee along with it.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Ten Novels Everyone is Supposed to Read (That I Just Couldn’t Get Into)

If you Google “Books to Read Before You Die” or “Must-Read Classic Novels”, you will receive hundreds upon thousands of book lists compiled by various magazines and blogs. These are the novels that, supposedly, one must check off their literary bucket list at some point in their life.

There’s just one problem. Just because a book is very popular, or has been around for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean that it is well-written, or has a compelling plot. Here is my list of ten novels that so often appear on these “must-read” lists that, in my opinion anyway, failed to impress.

 

  1.  Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Image result for hamlet shakespeare  I absolutely love Shakespeare. He was my primary focus while I was completing my Bachelor’s degree, and I have had the privilege of performing Shakespeare in amateur productions. However of all his major works, I have always found Hamlet to be the least impressive. The character’s are incessantly whiny, the “play within a play” is an interesting idea that fails to materialize, and I’ve always found the female characters to be weak and useless compared to some of his other works. If you’re looking for a truly remarkable Shakespeare play, I would suggest Macbeth or Othello.

2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Image result for sound and the fury This was required reading for my AP Literature class when I was seventeen, which may explain why I didn’t enjoy it. I read the first hundred or so pages and then gave up. The early sections of the novel are narrated by a mentally challenged child from the South, and his young sister. Ultimately, I couldn’t follow the plot at all, couldn’t figure out what was going on, and had to throw in the towel.

3. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

Image result for lord of the rings books I adore Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy. I’ve seen the extended edition so many times I can damn near quote it word-for-word. However, Tolkien’s novels lack characterization to the point where Frodo and the gang feel more like chess players being arbitrarily moved around Middle Earth than real people. And the complete and utter lack of meaningful female characters doesn’t help. Trying to read the books always makes me appreciate just how spectacular a job Jackson did with his film adaptation.

Beowulf by Anonymous

Image result for beowulf book I dislike Beowulf for the same reason I could never get into Canterbury Tales; the language is so frustrating that it’s just not diverting. I read in order to immerse myself in another time and place, and while I can enjoy the history and legacy behind an epic poem like Beowulf, it’s just so much effort. Does this mean I’m lazy? Possibly, but I prefer reading as a form of entertainment, rather than a cerebral exercise.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Image result for frankenstein by mary shelley As an avid horror fan, I remember being really excited to read Frankenstein, which has contributed so much to both the horror and science fiction genres. However,  this novel is incredibly boring. The parts of the book that deal with Frankenstein’s monster are interesting and beautifully sad, but too much of the plot focuses on the Doctor as he lists his many regrets in life, leaving me underwhelmed and underscared.

Les Miserables

Image result for les miserables To the best of my knowledge, Victor Hugo was one of many nineteenth century novelists who was paid by the word, and my God does it show. I got three hundred pages into Les Miserables, realized that literally nothing had happened yet, and had to set it aside. At one point, Hugo dedicates an entire chapter to describing an alleyway, at which point I just couldn’t take it anymore. I also can’t stand the musical, which is terribly written except for one really good song. Also Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe should never, ever sing.

Moby Dick

Image result for moby dick book Has anyone actually enjoyed Moby Dick? Or is it just one of those novels that people buy to keep on their bookshelf in order to feel cultured? Cause I guarantee that’s why I read it. It’s the “Great American Novel” after all. Except it’s not. It has amazing plot with wonderful characters that gets completely buried under extraneous detail and useless segues.

Eat Pray Love

Image result for eat pray love The only “nonfiction” book on this list is also the only one that made me actively angry. I had to put nonfiction in quotes because I doubt nearly every word of Elizabeth Gilbert’s supposedly transformative experience through Italy, India, and Bali. Gilbert is a monster of selfishness who abandons her life and her family in order to “find herself”. Travel does not solve all your problems, and Gilbert consistently comes across as shallow, trite, and privileged.

The Golden Compass (His Dark Material series) by Philip Pullman

Image result for dark materials I actually rather enjoyed the first installment in this series. The Golden Compass is an entertaining children’s story that does a great job of introducing an alternative world to ours and populating it with interesting and compelling characters. In the following books, Philip Pullman goes completely off the rails and foresakes character and plot development in favor of soapboxing on the evils of organized religion. The final novel, The Amber Spyglass, barely made sense at all.

Anything by Charles Dickens

Image result for dickens books Image result for dickens books Image result for dickens oliver twist I’ve tried, I really have, to enjoy the works of Charles Dickens. I made it all the way through A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol, and about halfway through Oliver Twist. Like Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens was paid by the word, which encouraged him to never use just one word when thirteen would do. This leads to overly long descriptions which don’t contribute anything to the novel. I think that Dickens does a wonderful job of developing plot and characters since I’ve enjoyed the film adaptations of his works. However, his novels just get bogged down with unnecessary detail which ultimately took away from my enjoyment.

Which of these books did you enjoy? What are some other “classic” novels that don’t live up to their reputations?

Happy reading everyone!

Ashley

 

 

Book Review: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay (2016)

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Review #63

Late one night Elizabeth Sanderson receives devastating news. Her fourteen year old son Tommy has gone missing while out with friends in the woods of a local park. As the days go by with no news and no clues as to where Tommy may have gone, Elizabeth begins experiencing odd occurrences around her home. She comes to believe that the ghost of her son may be trying to communicate with her, to help solve the mystery of his disappearance.

This was yet another book that I had been waiting to read until I was on my annual camping trip. I had heard good things about author Paul Tremblay and had hopes of a creepy suspenseful ghost story to read in the woods. However, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock turned out to be more of a look at how different family members deal with grief, with a few strange happenings once in awhile. It isn’t really a “ghost” story in the classic sense of the word.

The main narrative focuses on Elizabeth and her eleven-year old daughter Kate as they navigate the increasingly fruitless attempts to find Tommy. The different ways that they deal with the frustrations, fear, and desperation come out in wildly varying ways. Elizabeth believes that she may or may not have received a vision from Tommy’s spirit, and becomes increasingly sure of that her son will not be found alive. Grace begins searching through Tommy’s things in an effort to understand the events leading up to his disappearance, and finds some disturbing sketches and diary entries made by her brother in his final days.

The second, lesser part of the plot is from the perspective of Tommy and his friends in the week before he goes missing. The boys roam the woods freely on their bicycles, eventually meeting a stranger who tells them a folktale involving a devil trapped in the rocky hills of the park. Their lives begin to spin out of control, and they attempt to form a plan that will rid them of the menace that has begun to stalk them.

This novel has an intriguing premise but ultimately fails to deliver. Too much of  the narrative is given over to Elizabeth staring at the phone, or off into space. The character of Grace is more compelling, but she is given little to do except go to places her mother tells her not to and listen to angsty music from the ’90s. I kept waiting for Devil’s Rock to pick up the pace and ramp up the tension but it never quite managed. The final act is also delivered in a very odd way that actually served to distance me further from Tommy and Elizabeth’s story.

My rating: 2.5/5

You can find The Disappearance at Devil’s Rock here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

I seem to experiencing a pattern of disappointing horror novels lately. Any suggestions?

 

 

Book Review: The Devil’s Banker by Christopher Reich (2003)

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Review #14

 

If post-9/11 hysteria ever attained sentience and wrote a novel, it would bear a striking resemblance to Christopher Reich’s The Devil’s Banker. Here can be found all of the elements that would make any upstanding rifle-toting American break into a sweat. A secret Muslim terrorist group. A bomb detonation on the streets of a major city. A radicalized youth with plans for murder. And only a few dashing patriotic government agents racing against the clock to foil their plots and save the day.

This was the January pick for my monthly book club, and it marks my very first foray into the world of spy-thriller novels. I’ve avoided them like the plague in the past, and at least now I can say that my reluctance was wholly justified.

Holy anti-Muslim sentiment, Batman! Within just the first few pages we’re introduced to one radicalized man who is plotting to “kill the infidels”. He is quickly joined by a threateningly shadowy group of other Muslims who also hate our beloved Western values. They all have names like Mohammed Al-Saleeb Al-Mohammed and exist only to be thwarted at the proper moment by our democracy-loving group of agents.

In this novel, all Muslims are hell-bent on the destruction of the Western world. The French are surrender monkeys. The British are only as useful as their alliance with the United States. Torture is totally acceptable as long as they get the answers they need. The Patriot Act is touted as the most sacred doctrine since the Declaration of Independence. At one point a character unironically states:

If you’re not stepping on someone’s rights, you’re not doing your job”

Seriously everyone, this book pissed me off. I get that this was written in 2003, when the U.S. was still recovering from the September 11 attacks. I get that the spy-thriller genre needs a villain. And I get that this genre is primarily targeting men who perhaps will enjoy the “chase” and not focus so much on the glaring xenophobia.

But I couldn’t. And I have to ask, are all the books in the spy-thriller genre this repulsive?

My rating: 0/5

You can find The Devil’s Banker here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber (2017)

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Review #9

 

Having spent her entire life on the island of Trisda and under the thumb of her bullying father, Scarlett Dragna has dreamed for years of Caraval. A yearly game run by an enigmatic man known only as Legend, Caraval entices participants with the prize of a single magical wish. With the help of a renegade sailor, Scarlett and her sister Tella escape their island and arrive at Legend’s magical island. But Scarlett quickly learns that nothing in Caraval is what is seems, and the consequences could be deadly.

The last two books I read for this blog were both about horribly dysfunctional families and the lasting scars they leave on their children. Having been through the emotional wringer, I wanted my next book to be something a little lighter. I chose Caraval because its cover is gorgeous and I knew it was YA fantasy. Turns out I might have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

Caraval is a fantasy that exists in a vacuum. The novel opens on the “Conquered Isles” in “Year 50 of the Elantine Dynasty”. Yet we are never told why these Isles were conquered, or by whom. What is the Elantine Dynasty, and what happened fifty years ago to set it in place? A lot of the place names are derived from Spanish such as the hotel La Serpentiene and the Castillo Maldito. Even the name of Scarlett’s home island, Trisda, comes from triste, the Spanish word for sadness. So we’re on Earth? In the past or the future? None of these questions are addressed which made it increasingly difficult to envision this world as a place that has weight and meaning.

Caraval is also a fantasy that exists without any meaningful character description. The only thing we know to be true of Scarlett is that she loves her sister. This is repeated twice a page, lest we should forget. When the generic love interest is introduced, we are subjected to the familiar “I hate him but he’s so intriguing”. Which of course changes without warning to “I cannot live without him”.

Then there are descriptions such as this:

“He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.”

What does that even mean? What the hell does midnight taste like? But that’s not the only example:

“The world tasted like lies and ashes when Scarlett woke.”

“Every touch created colors she had never seen. Colors as soft as velvet and as sharp as sparks that turned into stars.”

“She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black.” 

None of that makes a bit of sense, and it kept pulling me out of the novel because I had to roll my eyes. I can get on board with a bit of purple prose, but when you use it at the expense of actual character development it becomes tedious.

The biggest problem was that, at the end of the day, this book was not written for me. It was written for thirteen year old me. Thirteen year old me would have bathed in all of those overly romantic descriptions. She would have reveled in the countless descriptions of gorgeous ball gowns. She would have relished the oh-so passionate and yet determinedly chaste romance between Scarlett and Julian. This book was written for thirteen year old me. Thirty year old me is just too savvy (cynical?) to fall for it.

In the immortal words of Agent Murtaugh, I’m getting too old for this shit.

My rating: 2/5

You can find Caraval here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Brent Monahan (2000)

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I found this novel on a Buzzfeed list of scary novels to read around Halloween. I had high hopes that it might be a historical account of the Bell family and the facts surrounding the numerous accounts of the Bell Witch. I was very, very wrong.

Written in the voice of Richard Powell as a letter to his children, The Bell Witch is a fictionalized account of the famous Tennessee haunting that took place in the early 1820s.

The Bell Witch is a short little novel, under two hundred pages. All I can say is thank goodness. By page one hundred, I was frustrated. Fifty pages later, I was getting ready to tear my hair out. I finally finished the book yesterday evening and actually gave a sigh of relief.

I can sum up my problem with The Bell Witch in one short sentence. It is boring. Presented in its book jacket as nonfiction, this is instead a fictionalized account masquerading as a recovered letter. This letter, which drags on with no chapter breaks, chronicles in agonizing detail the account of the least frightening spirit ever recorded. An unnecessarily racist spirit too, as the author insists on dropping the n-word around like bigoted breadcrumbs. If this was supposed to add historical accuracy it was a horrid misstep, as it simply upped my lack of sympathy for any of the idiots that were supposedly involved in the haunting.

My rating: 1/5

You can find this novel here on Amazon or here on Book Depository. However, if you’re looking for a ghost story with actual ghosts, I would recommend Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Or The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson if you enjoy a true life account of a haunting.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: The Burning by Jane Casey (2011)

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After the fifth girl is found brutally murdered and burned in a London park, Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan must hurry to find the killer before he strikes again. The only problem is that there are subtle differences between the most recent murder and the previous deaths. Has the Burning Man struck again, or is there a copycat killer on the loose?

This novel was recommended to me after I finished reading one of Tana French’s novels; and on the surface, Jane Casey’s The Burning does share some similarities with French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. DC Kerrigan is Irish, though the novel is set in London not Dublin. We focus on Kerrigan’s relationships and struggles with her fellow police officers. The police are treated as fallable, unlike some books in the detective genre where the lead officer is basically an omniscient God.

However, that’s where the similarities end. One of the reasons why I am such a fan of Tana French’s novels is that it never feels like I am reading the script for an episode of Law and Order. With Casey’s novel, there was a strong “police procedural” vibe that got a little tedious in later chapters. Casey also made the strange decision to split her points-of-view between two female characters using first person narrative. It might be a personal pet peeve of mine, but I find it’s much easier to do split-POV from a third person perspective. I can only occupy headspace with one character at a time.

Overall, The Burning was a very “by the book” murder-mystery. It kept my attention throughout, but didn’t provide anything particularly exciting. If you like whodunnits, you’ll probably like this novel.

I have other things to say but there are spoilers so scroll down if you dare!

My rating: 2.5/5

You can find The Burning here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

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The ending of this book was bullshit. The Burning took its time building to a climax. We solved the mystery. We caught the killer. And then it all got thrown in the toilet with a nonsensical “suicide letter” wherein the murderer explains their dastardly plot in exquisite detail like a second-rate James Bond villain. It was such a cop-out. Either the police needed to gain a confession through interrogation, or actually I was kind of hoping that in the end they weren’t going to have enough evidence and the killer was going to walk free. That would have been at least passingly original. It was almost like Jane Casey couldn’t figure out what to do, had to meet a deadline, so she just tacked on this “Morgan Freeman showing up to explain the plot” ending. It completely ruined the novel for me.

 

Ten Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2017

I recently wrote a list of my favorite books of 2017. Continuing on with that theme, I now present to you a list of the ten most disappointing books that I read this year. This does not necessarily mean that they were bad or poorly written. Just that they left me feeling frustrated or unsatisfied in some way. I did manage to finish all of these, partially because my particular brand of perfectionism rarely allows me to walk away from a book before reaching the end.

 

Enjoy!

 

10. The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst (2017)

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The Floating World follows the Boisdorė family as they reunite in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Cora, who was left behind after refusing to evacuate, is struggling to come to grips with the horrors she witnessed during the flooding. Her sister Adelaide deals with survivor’s guilt after waiting out the storm in the comfort of New York City. Their parents, Joe and Tess are piecing through the rubble of their marriage. And Joe’s father battles the looming fog of Alzheimer’s as the New Orleans of his youth becomes confused with the present day destruction.

I put this novel on my most disappointing list because I waited for it to become available at my local library for nearly three months. I was so excited when I finally got to go pick it up. It was lovely and shiny and still had that gorgeous new book smell. I took it home, poured a glass of wine, opened it up and…was completely underwhelmed.

The Floating World is beautifully written with hauntingly elegant descriptions of the ruins of a once beautiful city and the struggles of a once happy family. However, Babst has a very jarring tendency to switch points of view from paragraph to paragraph with little warning, so it was difficult at times to know which character you were following. My main criticism is that none of Babst’s characters are terribly likable. Everyone is so wrapped up in their own struggles that they come across as unbearably selfish. There was no one I could root for and by the end I closed the book with a shrug.

 

9. Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill (2013)

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Apartment 16 is the story of Apryl, an American girl who discovers that she has been named the heir to a mysterious apartment in England left to her by a mysterious great-aunt who has died mysteriously. Upon her arrival at the apartment, mysterious occurrences begin happening, seemingly connected to the mysteriously abandoned apartment downstairs from hers. It’s super mysterious you guys!

It came as a surprise that this book found itself on my most disappointing list, especially since Nevills’ The Ritual landed a place on my favorite books of the year. But all the suspense, claustrophobia, and creeping horror that seeped into The Ritual was sorely lacking here.

In the 1995 film Scream, Neve Campbell’s character describes her disdain for horror films by saying:

“What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.”

That’s how I felt the entire time I was reading this book. Apryl is dumb. The character’s around her are equally dumb. The dialogue is stilted and painful. Not a single person behaves in a rational manner. There were some redeeming features, particularly in the vivid descriptions of the artwork decorating the titular aparment. I loved the idea of paintings that change when you’re not looking. I would be in line for that exhibit. But I was very happy to close the door on Apartment 16 and move on to something different.

 

8. The Hand That Feeds You by A. J. Rich (2015)

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In this novel we are introduced to Morgan, a university student who is finishing her thesis on victim psychology. Her life is turned upside down when she enters her apartment to find her fiancé brutally murdered in her bedroom, apparently mauled to death by her beloved rescue pit bulls. Morgan must now race to try to prove her pets’ innocence, while also coming to terms with the fact that the man she loved may have been a stranger the entire time.

This novel had me at “rescue pit bulls”. I will never understand why this particular breed of smart, caring, and endlessly loving dogs has been so unfairly maligned. However, The Hand That Feeds You only dealt with this issue in the background, focusing instead on the dead fiancé who becomes increasingly enigmatic with every page. The problem is that the story of the fiancé is not compelling, nor is it suspenseful, nor does it make a lick of sense. The ending could be spotted a mile away and any sense of justice for the poor pitties was left behind long-ago in a tangle of needlessly convoluted nonsense.

 

7. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995)

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Practical Magic follows the lives of the Owens sisters Gillian and Sally, as well as Sally’s children and their eccentric aunts as they deal with the everyday challenges of life and love with a little bit of magic.

It was probably my own fault that I didn’t like this book, because the 1998 film was one of my favorites when I was a teenager. Granted, it doesn’t hold up all that well after twenty years, but there was a strong nostalgia factor going in which perhaps set me up for disappointment.

The only thing that Practical Magic the book has in common with Practical Magic the film are the names of the characters and the broadest of plot points. The aunts are shadowy far-away figures instead of the zany fun-loving women I remembered. The entire plot with Gillian’s abusive boyfriend is relegated to the background. Sally and Gillian seem to hate one another and the spirit of female camaraderie that I identified with as a teenager watching the movie was completely lost here. Again, this is my fault for bringing my preconceptions with me when I read the novel but it was still a real let-down.

 

6. A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena (2017)

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Tom and Karen Krupp are the seemingly perfect married couple, until Tom comes home one evening to find his wife gone, with her purse, phone, and ID all left behind. Then the police come to knock on the door. That’s really all I can say without giving away the first quarter of the book.

I saw this novel on a list of best suspense novels of 2017 and had to check it out. And it wasn’t necessarily bad. It just wasn’t…suspenseful. The “shocks” and “twists” I had been expecting were more like gentle winding curves that could be spotted from the International Space Station. And while Tom is presented as this perfect husband who loves his wife so much, he sure manages to behave like an utter tool the majority of the time.

Sometimes there is a very fine line between suspense and frustration. With suspense you can’t wait to figure out what’s going to happen next, and you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time. Other books just leave you rolling your eyes and inwardly thinking “get to the point already”. A Stranger in the House definitely fell into the latter category for me.

 

5. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (2017)

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Meddling Kids catches up with the Blyton Summer Detective club and the descendant of their faithful dog twenty years after their adolescent sleuthing led to the capture of a man in a mask who was conning the locals of a small lake town. Now they must return to the sight of their previous victory in order to finally put to rest the nightmares that have haunted them since that fateful summer. Basically, picture Scooby-Doo gang if they’d all grown up and developed alcoholism, PTSD, or nymphomania.

This book made me legitimately angry because the premise is utterly, fantastically brilliant. I was so excited to explore how the teenage detectives dealt with the long-term repercussions of their summertime exploits. It sounded hysterically funny. The major problem was that Cantero’s writing style was essentially unreadable.

Cantero plays so fast and loose with the rules of the English language that I could never just sink my teeth into the story and enjoy. Writers can feel free to create new words and adapt dialogue to fit a real-life conversation. But when they just make shit up for the sake of making shit up, it is incredibly jarring. For example at one point a character “tragichuckled”. Another one “triviaed”. Later, a house is “howlretched”. There are ways to be hip and relevant without juxtaposing random ass portmanteau into your writing. What a waste of an amazing idea.

 

4. The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin (2011)

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On a seemingly normal day in the near future, the world descends into chaos in the blink of an eye. Every single person, all across the globe, suddenly becomes haunted by their own personal ghosts. Ghosts that are not capable of speaking or inflicting harm, but just stand silently, staring. Governments fall, the economy collapses, and crime skyrockets. Enter Detective Oscar Mariani who is working to solve the murder of a woman who was ritualistically murdered by a sadistic serial killer.

When I was scrolling through the books I read in 2017 in preparation for this list, I had to go back into Goodreads to remember even the smallest detail of the plot. I had completely and utterly forgotten reading it. And once I refreshed my memory, I still felt nothing for this novel. I didn’t connect to any of the characters. I didn’t get pulled into the plot. It was, apparently, completely forgettable.

I would recommend picking up Irwin’s The Dead Path instead. That one will stick with you.

3. The Girl Who Would Speak For the Dead by Paul Elwork

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England, 1925. Emily and her twin brother Michael are caught up in a lie spinning out of control after Emily claims she can perform spirit-knocking. What begins as a game to frighten the local children becomes much more serious as the adults in the area ask her to begin communicating with the spirits of their lost loved ones.

I found this novel in a used book store and bought it primarily for the cover and the short excerpt in the back. I was expecting a novel about the dangers of pretending to communicate with ghosts. Instead, The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead slogged through three hundred pages without ever quite getting to the point. The characters never move with any real purpose. What is the motivation behind Michael’s insistence that they continue? What is their mother’s motivation for anything that she does? Everyone seems to move from one rather dull situation to the next without any driving force.

Also, the plot device of Emily being able to crack her ankle to make a knocking sound was just silly. I can crack my ankle too, but it seemed utterly implausible that anyone could do it without perceptibly moving their ankle.

2. Cera’s Place by Elizabeth McKenna (2011)

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Cera’s Place takes place in San Francisco, 1869. Our main character, Cera, owns a saloon that welcomes in women who are fleeing from any number of bad situations. She serves liquor and food, but anyone seeking out a more “personal” touch they must look elsewhere. One night a distraught Chinese girl appears at her doorstep with tales of kidnapping, prostitution, and murder. Together with battle-scarred Civil War veteran, Jack Tanner, Cera must work to unravel the mystery and end the prosecution of women in her town.

This is another novel that it’s probably my fault that I didn’t like it. I didn’t look carefully enough, or I would have noticed that it was a romance novel. Well written, as far as romance novels go, but still a romance novel with all of the inherited clichés of the genre. The tough-talking heroine with a heart of gold. The brooding male who conceals a wealth of love and feeling beneath a gruff exterior. The bare bones of a setting and the straw man of a plot. The very well described sex scene complete with creative euphemisms for the male genitalia.

None of this is necessarily bad. There are plenty of people who have rated this book very highly. It’s just definitely not my favorite genre and I had to grit my teeth to finish it.

1.The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics (2016)

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After her Aunt Penelope wanders into the woods one day and doesn’t return, Lucy Acosta finds herself increasingly isolated and frightened in her Victorian manor home. Her cousin Margaret begins behaving strangely, claiming that she can hear her mother’s voice calling from within the walls. Lucy must now face up to the haunting legacy of the Acosta family before she too, is claimed.

I read this book because I really enjoyed Lukavic’s other novel, Daughters Unto Devils. However, The Women in the Walls fell short on almost every level. If you are going to write a “trapped in the house” narrative, it makes sense to explain at some point why any of these people are trapped. Why can’t Lucy just leave? This is only one of numerous plot holes that peppers this novel and makes it ultimately unbearable. There is zero suspense leading up to the big finish. And the conclusion was so confusing that I gave up trying to figure out what the hell was going on and just considered myself lucky to be finished with this book.

 

 

I had a hard time writing this list because I have so much respect for writers. It takes an incredible amount of courage for someone to bear their soul and put it out into the world in a book. It takes very little courage for me to criticize them from the safety of a blog. However, the truth is what it is. Not every novel is going to be a home-run for everyone.

Do you have a different opinion? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Up next, we gear up to begin the OneYear/OneHundredBooks Challenge! Happy reading everyone!