Showing posts with label Disappointing Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disappointing Books. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recent Book Duds

As I was reading thorough my archives, I realized that I don't write about the book disappointments very much.  Often, I have nothing more to say then, "Meh.  It was fine."  Or else, "Ugh.  An awful book."  In the case of the latter, there are only so many things you can say about a bad book.  But I was thinking, isn't this kind of like the bloggers who only write about the great things and only post pretty pictures of their lives?  Every book blogger will tell you that she has had her fair share of bad, nay, awful books.  In this post, I'm going to tip you off to a few books that I have read recently and was not a fan of.

1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel Fattah-This book was sitting on a table at the library and I idly glanced at it and thought it looked good enough to take home.  It's a YA book about a Muslim girl in Australia, dealing with cultural identity and discrimination in an immediately post-9/11 world.  I thought it sounded like a fascinating read.  I think the premise would have been fascinating as adult-level fiction, but, written for YA, it was too annoying.  Our heroine whined far too much, complained about school for probably a combined total of 50 pages, and had a mortifying crush that went on for too long without resolution.  In other words, the book was a stereotypical YA book, with the exception that there was some interesting commentary from the author on race and culture in our world today.  I will say, the book was very funny at parts. Still, not worth reading unless you love YA.

2. The Look of Love by Sarah Jio-Another idly-grabbed-off-the-bookshelf read.  I thought this one had potential.  Sarah Jio is a New York Times bestselling author with a lot of critical acclaim and I've heard good things about her books.  But this one….ooof.  This heroine was far too pathetic and I kept wanting to reach into the book and smack her.  Her sad, lonely, woe-is-me life just irritated me instead of making me feel any kind of sympathy.  That said, the premise of the story-a young woman who has the ability to see love is given the task of identifying the six types of love before the full moon after her 30th birthday; then, of course, falls in love-sounded kind of fun to read.  I'm going to keep pressing on, because, who knows, maybe I will be surprised.  If I end up liking the book, I'll let you know.

3. Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson-Now this was actually a great book.  At least, theoretically, I know that.  For whatever reason, it just didn't click with me.  I'd read a couple of pages, then wander over to a bookshelf or the library book box to see what else I had to read.  That said, I know that this is a good book and, when my mood is right, I'll pick it up again.  Still, I'm counting it as a dud because I can't review it if I haven't made myself read it.

That's not a terribly long list of duds.  But these are all books read (or started) just throughout the month of May.  I do think that I go on cycles of getting heaps of great books and then dry spells where I can't find anything to read.  Discouraging, but the good cycles where I have lots of books do make up for the times when I don't.  Tell me, readers, does this happen to anybody else?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read in 2014

I read a lot this year.  I think I read so much because I had this blog that was quietly tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to take the time to read and write on my blog.  Yes, there was my (brief) hiatus from blogging, back in the fall, but I could never completely leave this blog and, so, I'm committing to a brisker blog schedule and even more reading this year!  I thought I would compile a list of what I read this year.  I was so pleased, readers!  The list starts in March because that was when I started blogging and, honestly, I have absolutely no memory of what I read before that.

March

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (And my first blog post!)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Still one of my favorite works of fiction)
The Penderwicks Books by Jeanne Birdsall
Two Sherlock Holmes Books
Canterbury Tales
Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes
Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier (NOT a hit!)
The Beginning of Flavia de Luce
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays
The Life of Pi

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden

Well, dear readers, I'm back!  I'm afraid I've left you in a bit of a blogpostless desert, so I have a nice long book review for you today to make amends.

I started the beginning of a long Christmas vacation and, to celebrate, I grabbed the book on top of my (mountainous) book pile-The Diddakoi.  It had been highly recommended to me, so I was eager to start it.  I read the whole book in about 2 hours and then emerged, blinking, into the real world.

The Diddakoi is about a 7 year old gypsy girl, Kizzy, who lives with her great-great grandmother and her beloved horse in a caravan on the edge of an old English admiral's property.  There are some of the loveliest description scenes I have ever read, such as this one:

"And they (her clothes) did smell, but not of dirt.  Gran washed them often, hanging them along the hedge, while Kizzy wrapped herself in a blanket; they smelled of the open air, of woodsmoke, and a little of the old horse, Joe, because she hugged him often."

And with that little quote, I am instantly transported to this scene.  However, Kizzy's romantic life outdoors is not to be.  She is sent to the local school with the (spoiler alert: nasty!) children.  They tease and torment her, calling her all kinds of awful derogatory terms that were, apparently, in common vernacular at that time and place, from "Diddakoi to "Clothes-Washer" to many, many more.  They pull her hair and push her and smack her and make fun of her endlessly, to the point where it isn't just little kids insulting, but real, concentrated hatefulness.  And, to make matters worse, the teacher is a well-meaning lady who has no idea how to handle the children.

One day, Kizzy comes home from school to the news that her grandmother has died.  The gypsy relatives show up, burn the caravan, as is customary, and then prove themselves to be quite unsavory people.  Kizzy runs away with dear Joe, her horse, who has just been threatened with being sent to the butcher.  She goes to the first place she knows: the admiral's large mansion.  He takes her in, despite being an old curmudgeonly bachelor and he and his two trusty assistants from the navy nurse her back to health (oh, yeah, she got pneumonia somewhere along in there).

But Kizzy's happiness is not to be and she is taken before a local magistrate and told that she must leave the kindly gentlemen and go somewhere with a woman's influence.  After all sorts of awful adults discuss children's homes and foster parents, she is taken in by the kind, yet serious magistrate herself.  And Kizzy proceeds to learn to be a Nice English Middle-Class Person.

After I finished the book, I was in too much of a daze to analyze properly.  But now I'm ready.  Let me just say that the book gets worse, actually.  Stop reading here if you don't want more spoilers.  Kizzy is really abused by the little girls in her class.  There's one scene where they think her neck might be broken from being beat up.  It's awful, really.  But the thing that most offended me is that Rumer Goden refers several times to the girls picking on Kizzy as, "kittens fighting with their fur all on end".  By using the word "kittens", Goden has instantly made this situation "not that bad" and nothing more than children's nonsense.

Now, I understand that bullying as we have to come use the term was not a commonly addresses issue at the time Godden wrote this (60s, I think, but don't quote me).  And I have read (and heard personal stories) of pretty awful things happening at the time because adults were just not paying attention.  But here's the thing that made me truly disgusted at the end of the book.

SPOILER!  SPOILER!

After these girls beat up Kizzy over and over, they are finally caught by the Magistrate who scolds them and takes Kizzy home with her.  Some of the adults are properly upset and agree that these girls must be punished.  But the magistrate prevails and says that they must none of them do anything, because, after all, "this is a children's war".  Gah.  This excuse absolutely makes me froth at the mouth. And so they do nothing.  Kizzy is hauled back to school where, magically, she is made a popular British schoolgirl who is fascinating to all and everybody starts using the derogatory terms in a fascinated, loving kind of way.

This argument of, "This is a children's war.  We can't get involved," might be appropriate if the kids are bickering over something minor and nobody is getting singled out and pummeled.  But this?  This is truly disgusting.  And that's the thing that drove me wild about this book.  This is not normal children's behavior and Godden was treating it as such.  And it may have been a different time, but children have not changed that much in the last 50 years.  It does make me wonder what kind of tortured childhood Godden might have had.  And the ending message that Kizzy should have faced actual bodily harm so that she could end up popular and beloved by the little demons who hurt her?   Sheesh.

This book I was loaned was an old library copy and was marked, "Youth", which surprised me.  Evidently, Godden wrote this as a children's story.  I know I wouldn't hand that book to any early-chapter-book-reader.  And, really, it is an adult's story.  There are all of the heinous bullying scenes, but the book isn't even written from Kizzy's perspective.  The story is being told about Kizzy, but there's almost no internal dialogue from Kizzy's point of view.  It's the perspective of an adult outsider, looking in.  All to say, this is very much an adult's book.

The way that gypsies were addressed in the book was also interesting.  They were written about in a very romantic way, alternating between shock at their "wild ways" musing over their gorgeous outdoors, rugged life.  It was a little weird and probably not something you'd read in a book today.

So what did I like?  Well, the first 1/4 of the book, with the cozy caravan scenes and the heavily romanticized loveliness of it all.  Oh, and the section where the kindly admiral goes to the department store and buys Kizzy piles of lovingly described clothing.  And Rumer Goden is a truly gifted author.  She wrote An Episode of Sparrows, which I loved and she is a very good storyteller.

In closing, I wouldn't really bother with this book.  TBR piles are too high anyway.  However, I'm not going to scream, "Don't read this!" from the rooftops.  If you're really in the mood to have a good British Schoolchildren in the 60s analysis, then go ahead and have a good time.  Believe me, there's plenty to analyze.  It also appears that people who were exposed to this book as children/teenagers and have fond memories associated with this book seem to speak far more favorably of it than the people who picked it up for the first time recently, like me.  So if you've read it before, then go ahead and give it a reread!  You might have a completely different reaction.  I'll be back tomorrow with a picture post.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

A couple months back, Girl with her Head in a Book reviewed the two books that have been written so far in the Jane Austen Project series.  She wrote quite favorably of Northanger Abbey (which I have on hold at the library), but was quite tepid about Sense and Sensibility.  Well, I ignored her wise advice and grabbed Sense and Sensibility on a whim, thinking, "What the heck.  How much can you mess up Sense and Sensibility?"
People, note the earbuds coming out of the sides of their heads.   

I must preface this review by saying that I don't really approve of Jane Austen re-writes.   I mean, come on people, just read the real thing!  Are we really so pathetic that we can't pick up and understand the originals?  That said, I like what the Jane Austen project is doing and I think that, in the right hands, these books have the potential to be an interesting offshoot of the Austenite movement.  But Joanna Trollope was not the right person to handle this book.

I started the book yesterday and at first quite enjoyed it.  It is definitely not deep writing.  It's rather chick-litish, but I stuck with it and read until about halfway through.  And then I stopped.  Here was the main problem- the story just wasn't believable and it wasn't just an unbelievable scenario, it was a poorly written unbelievable scenario.  And so I quit.

Trollope set this story in modern England. Elinor, Marianne, Margaret, their mother (named Belle in this version) are left penniless and homeless after their father/husband (but not really), Henry Dashwood, dies of asthma.  Their father's son-from-a-previous-marriage comes with his unbearably awful wife (I hate her in every version I have ever watched/read of this book) and claims their old house, since he is the rightful heir to his father's possessions.  See, Belle and Henry Dashwood never really got around to getting married, which, according to Trollope, means that Belle and her daughters couldn't inherit anything from Henry.  I have my doubts about this, but I'm not a lawyer, so we'll let that drop.  But really, Joanna?  It is 2014.

Marianne is the sensibility half and Elinor is the sense half.  Margaret is the rebellious little sister who, it appears, spends the whole book listening to her iPod.  Belle is drifty and incapable of getting anything done and Marianne has inherited her father's asthma and her mother's personality, so the two of them completely lean on Elinor, much as they did in the actual book by Jane Austen.  Of course, there are the love interests- Edward, the attractive, but obviously bad-choice John Willoughby, and whoever Marianne ends up with (I didn't finish the book, so I have no idea who it is).  I actually liked Edward in this book.  He was an attractively-written man and he was the only character that Trollope semi-successfully pulled into the 21st century.

The story was very poorly written.  Of course, there were the problems of settings and such, but some of the sentences were just laughably bad.   Take this quote, for example,
"Marianne was in her favorite playing chair by the window in her bedroom, her right foot on a small pile of books-a French dictionary and two volumes of Shakespeare's history plays came to just the right height-and the guitar resting comfortably across her thigh.  She was playing a song of Taylor Swift's that she had played a good deal since Dad died, even though-or maybe even because-everyone had told her that a player of her level could surely express themselves better with something more serious."  Isn't that just the oddest, most full of unnecessary detail paragraph that you ever read?

Now here was my main complaint about the book.  I felt like Trollope was completely incapable of pulling this into the 21st century successfully.  She basically re-wrote Sense and Sensibility by Austen with a little side-addition of some shocking drug-trading going on in the background and plenty of social media stirred in.   Seriously, the fact that everybody had an iPod and a Twitter account was the only way that you could tell that this was set nowadays.  Trollope very awkwardly kept drawing attention to the fact that, "See?  See?  Isn't this new and hip and relevant?  Everybody has an iPhone!  Didn't you just notice the fact that Marianne just played a song on her guitar by Taylor Swift??!!!!!"
It just didn't fit.

I think that, for this book to work, it needed to be completely rewritten in such a way that it only held very slight ties to the original.  If these books are supposed to be new and original re-imaginings of Austen's writing, then I'd like to see it.  Trollope just did not manage to do this.  And maybe part of the problem is this story line.  Maybe there are just too many archaic references and settings and plot lines to make this a successful modern story.

After I smacked this book shut, I pulled the Real Sense and Sensibility off the shelf.  Ahhh...what a breath of fresh air!  Nobody writes like Jane Austen and I kind of doubt that anybody ever will.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Baker Street Letters

I barely read at all on vacation (I know, go ahead and be shocked), but I did finish one book on the trip down there.  I read The Baker Street Letters, a book I'd been looking forward to for quite a while.  I am a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes books and so I thought that this story of two brothers who own offices where Sherlock Holmes "lived" would be right up my alley.

Here's the basic plot: Reggie and Nigel Heath are two brothers who are radically different.  Nigel, the younger brother, is a lawyer who is slightly mentally unstable.  After a month in a mental hospital, Nigel is back, working in an underling position for his big brother, Reggie, a very successful lawyer.  Nigel discovers letters from an 8 year old girl in Los Angeles, written to Sherlock Holmes, asking for help finding her missing father.  Nigel sets off on a wild goose chase, with Reggie close behind.

Doesn't that sound good?  Well, it was kind of a flop.  Michael Robertson, the author, is one of those people who don't sound entirely comfortable with writing.  The sentences were often a bit cumbersome and the experiences of the main characters felt rather contrived at times.  He also took far too long getting to the actual mystery, with lengthy chapters that delved into Reggie's supposedly complex emotional life.  I found myself alternating between yawning and the occasional eye roll.  In short, the book wasn't very well written.

It also had the fault of being not very Sherlockian.  There were no references to past stories, no links to things about Sherlock, except for the obvious connection of having the same address.  That's not enough, in my opinion, to warrant calling this a Sherlock spinoff or even a book inspired by Sherlock Holmes.  That clever way of solving mysteries through observation that Sherlock had was completely lost in this book.

But it isn't like this book doesn't have redeeming qualities.  Robertson does have the ability to write wryly and with a sly humor that could be very enjoyable.  I liked that Reggie and Nigel were both fully human people with understandable faults.  But that's about all the good I can find to say about this book.

So maybe I wasn't in the right mood for this book, but it's definitely not the kind of book where I want to immediately find the other books and read the rest of the series.  I'm wondering if this book will settle in my mind so that I remember it with fonder thoughts.  If so, I'll let you all know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Enemy

Well!  I just read (noticed I didn't say, "finished") the book that wins the Weirdest Book-Read-by-Me of the Year award.  I mentioned it in the library loot post two weeks ago and I had high hopes for it.  It languished for a while at the bottom of the library book crate and other, shinier books were read first.  Yesterday was muggy and rainy,  so I retired with Dear Enemy by Jean Webster.  The book is the story of young Sallie, a friend of Judy, the heroine of Daddy Longlegs-Webster's more famous book.  Tired of living a shallow life in Cambridge, Sallie agrees to become superintendent of the orphanage where Judy grew up.
And the cover was so fantastic, too…

This book is written in letter form and Sallie writes letters to Judy and her husband and the orphanage doctor, telling them about about her adventures in the orphanage.  There are accounts of reforming the unwholesome meals, leaving the windows open in the middle of January (this was the 20s where, apparently, it was fad to have sleeping porches and the like and to get plenty of healthy oxygen).  There is the steady winning over of the curmudgeonly staff and the gentle little romance with the dour Scottish doctor.  Now doesn't that sound like a cozy read for a rainy day?

Ahem.  It was definitely not.  Now before I criticize this book, I'm going to just give a little preamble.  Yes, I do realize that this was a different era and that people had different views than they have today, different things were acceptable, etc, etc.  But I couldn't get behind the general disturbing weirdness throughout the book.  Sallie and the Scottish Doctor are ardent believers in eugenics, of all strange things.  The doctor, an extremely "scientific" sort, we're assured by the author, gives Sallie these weird long lectures on how there are some people who are born "feeble-minded".  There is nothing to do for them, so says the doctor, but to keep them secluded until they die out and then won't we all be happier.

But wait, it only gets more awful.  There is a little girl at the orphanage whom Sallie supposedly feels terrible for who won't respond to any teaching.  Sallie tells the doctor in one of her letters that she just wishes that the doctor could euthanize this little girl to end her misery and put an end to a race that will go nowhere good.  I feel slightly ill just writing that.  I am sorry, but even in a different era, that is just disturbing.  After that particular impassioned letter, I found that I had no more sympathy for Sallie, her romantic Scottish doctor, or any of the other characters.  I'm sorry Jean Webster, you took things entirely too far this time.

If there had been one brief paragraph, I would have rolled my eyes and kept reading, but this was a repeated theme throughout the whole book.  So I smacked the book shut, started the second Her Royal Spyness book and sat down to write this post.  The End.  Oh, and don't read this unless you are far more tolerant than I and can stomach some really weird social commentary.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sewing and a Book Review

Today, I have been busy with projects and flaxing around (apparently flaxing isn't a word...autocorrect suggests "flapping" or "flexing", neither of which I was doing...in my book, it means "flying around, getting lots of things done").  One of the things I did was start work on a fabulous late 40s/early 50s wrap dress.  I seem to have a bit of a thing with wrap dresses this summer.  I made a flowery short 60s dress that is for fairly nice occasions and this dress is completely different.  It's long and swishy and will be for really hot August days at home.  I actually took the time to stop and take pictures, so I've included a few.
That blue thing is the bias tape that I'm using as facing
in the place of a regular facing.  The pattern I'm
using was missing any facing pieces.

This actually has a little bit to do with a book I just read.  Well, "read" is a little too serious.  It was more like, "skimmed some parts and read some parts admired the pretty pictures".  The book, written in the 90s, is called Life, Loss, and What I Wore.  I picked it up simply because I had a few minutes and I didn't want to be engrossed in something really good and burn the rhubarb sauce all over the stove (I did that anyway).  This book is a very small memoir of a woman's life, as lived through her clothes.  So, the story starts out with a dress that her mother made and wore in the 30s and moves through her life.  Each page is a small anecdote and its facing page is an illustration of the dress.  Each chapter is a decade and ends in the 90s, with the author's granddaughter playing dress-up in one of her old dresses. And there were some gorgeous vintage dresses mentioned.  I especially loved the description and picture of the author's elegant 50s ball dress.   Reading this description, this sounds like a charming and interesting read.  And it was, to some extent.  However, I didn't love it.  The writing style sounded extremely dated (in a bad way), but it wasn't just that.  It was extremely self-involved and navel-gazey.  I found myself saying, "Oh please," more than once.  So, I don't recommend this unless you just happen to own the book and haven't read it or you really want to know about it and get it from the library.  It's not worth purchasing, in my humble opinion.
The book

But back to my dress.   I can't wait to see how it turns out.  I love this era of pattern and I think it's going to be a very nice, practical dress.  Here's the pattern, so you can see what the end product will look like.  I'm doing the shorter version because, honestly, can't you just imagine tripping over that long skirt every time you walked?


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Unsatisfactory Books

I promise you, I am reading, but I've come across several duds recently, which is why I'm writing this post today and not a book review post.  Nearly every time I go to the library, I find a book that I don't like for some reason.  I've come up with a list of the various kinds of unsatisfactory books.   Accompanying this post are pictures of the latest unsatisfactory books I've read.

1.  The writing was dumb/the author/book annoyed me-  Oh dear, there's quite a lot of this.  There are just some writing tones that annoy me and sometimes the writing is pathetic.  Sometimes I can't even pay attention to the story because the author is just such a terrible (or annoying) writer.

2.  I just can't get into the book-  This doesn't happen very frequently, but I just had it happen recently.  In my book loot post two weeks ago, I listed South of Superior.   The story had everything:  a good plot, was well written, and had charming characters.   But for some reason, I just couldn't get into it.  I read up to about page 70, but the book just wasn't sticking with me and I kept looking longingly at the last Flavia de Luce.   So that book got packed back to the library.  Maybe my mood will change and I'll enjoy that book, but for now, I'm not going to read it.
I'm usually not a cookbook snob, but honestly, celebrity
cookbooks get on my nerves.  Whenever I read one,
I want to say, "Oh come on, the last time you cooked
was 3 years ago."

3.  I strongly dislike the character-  The book can be one of the most well-written books I've ever come across, but if I hate the character, there is no way I'm going to read the book.

4.  The book isn't quite right for the mood I'm in-  This fits a little into the 2nd category.  Maybe the book was just too dark and depressing when I was in the mood for something funny or light.  Or maybe I wanted a serious autobiography and instead am reading a romantic comedy.

So I think I've covered all of the problems that books can have.  Do you have anything to add to this list?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier

Daphne DuMaurier is a very interesting writer.  When I opened Rebecca (DuMaurier's most famous novel), I fell in love.  I read the story through twice and it continued to haunt me.  It is a book that I still return to regularly
Crocuses!  Pictures in this post are of spring sightings.
However, Rebecca is the only one of DuMaurier's books that I have ever really enjoyed.  I read Jamaica Inn and liked it, but didn't adore it.  I didn't like the heroine and there was something odd about DuMaurier's writing style.  Then I attempted My Cousin Rachel and enjoyed it even less.  Two weeks ago, when I was at the library, I was browsing through DuMaurier's many works, thinking, "I need to get over this aversion and read something else by Daphne."
Pink rhubarb noses poking out of the ground!
Unfortunately, Don't Look Now, a collection of haunting short stories written in the 60s was my least favorite of all of DuMaurier's writing.  I happily started the first short story one drizzly evening and prepared to enjoy a good shiver.  At first, the story was very enjoyable, with a set of psychic twin sisters in Italy and two grieving parents.  But then, as I moved through the story, I started to frown.  A story that had great potential to be a good, eerie yarn, went down a gruesome path, ending (Spoiler Alert!) with the main character getting an ax thrown through his head by a dwarf woman.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good, haunting thriller, but this was too eccentric and gory to be thrilling.   I stopped reading. "Huh?" I said.  I skimmed the rest of the stories and found them just as odd.  I firmly shut the book and finished up the evening with something a little lighter.

Another kitty shot
In my opinion, Rebecca is the exception that proves the rule.  I don't particularly like DuMaurier's writing style, but she did manage to produce one pretty wonderful book.  So, I highly recommend Rebecca, but don't bother reading any of DuMaurier's other writings, unless you like lots of the supernatural and a very dark writing style.