Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the category “1 star – a book you didn’t like”

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #20: Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar

I was kind of suffering from writer’s block last week, and in between howling at the heavens for missing pieces to fall from the sky and insight to rise from the earth in a stream of eloquent and structured sentences, I somehow got to reading the Gossip Girl recaps on Television Without Pity. I’d watched most of the first couple of seasons of the show when it first aired, as it was quite relaxing to watch TV where I couldn’t relate at all to anybody’s life, and Jacob Clifton the recapper mentioned the books a few times, and I’ve been on a YA kick lately, so I thought…why not?

I ordered Gossip Girl from my local library, and read it in an evening. I was surprised by some things – the swearing, how the Chuck Bass character is basically a harasser/wannabe-rapist rather than a cavalier, broken soul, and indeed how much all the characters are patrician hooligans instead of overly sophisticated and entitled teenagers. Another surprising thing is how the writer seems to regard her characters with so little sympathy. The tone veers between piss-taking and vitriol-spewing – both Dan and Blair, for instance, are skewered mercilessly, and it is sporadically amusing but quite often just frustrating. It seems more like something written by Bret Easton Ellis than a young adult novel sometimes.

I don’t know. I guess I was disappointed that the TV show – not to mention the recaps – somehow evoke more depth (depth in the most shallow terms possible, like, a children’s inflatable paddling pool rather than a puddle) than the book does, and that Chuck faced no consequences for his treatment of Jenny, and that there was generally no heart or soul. I recently read a couple of the Princess Diary books (the thing that I’m writing is pretty intense and occasionally depressing so escapism-tastic) and  by comparison they were warm and witty despite their silliness. Gossip Girl was, by and large, cold. And yeah, it was probably meant to be like that, to evoke the narcissism and entitlement and privilege of the characters who nobody really cares about, even in the book – it’s all frenemies and romances that are more for show than substance (Blair’s fixation for making her relationship with Nate pan out according to cinematic tropes, for example) and oblivious parents wrapped up in their own lives.

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faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #43: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Thank goodness this one is over and there’s only going to be one more.

You know how you enjoyed the Sookie books as trashy summer reads and they lured you into watching that crazy True Blood on HBO? Yeah. All the reasons you did are gone in this the twelfth book in the series. There has been a complete and total annihilation of the story arc and character developments in this series and we the loyal reader who simply must read the entire series because we have some OCD issues are paying the price.

The plot for Deadlocked is that the fae are still infesting the Bon Temps environs, Claude is missing in Faery, Sookie has a magic fairy object that others are on the hunt for, the vampires are still dealing with the fall-out from the murder of Nevada vampires from several books ago, and someone is trying to frame Eric for the death of a woman on his front lawn, Eric has also been betrothed to another vampire and is waiting for Sookie to use her magic fairy object to save him from this without giving her a reason to do so. Oh, and there’s a missing werewolf who witnessed the vampire killings which may be related to the dead girl on Eric’s front lawn. I think that about covers it. Somehow, all of these disparate things attempt to tie together. Attempt being the operative word.

These books were never capital L literature. They were fun. So why take the fun away? Charlaine Harris seems to have it out for those of us who show up looking for the previous formula of a coherent mystery surrounding some aspect of Sookie’s personal life (whether it be her zoo of boyfriends, vampire friends, or fae family) and fun character development featuring the romance novel angle.  What are we left with? Mundane chapter swollen with the minutia of our formerly perky, polite, considerate protagonist’s day. The truth is it’s boring, and ultimately a waste of words. The action is absent, the characters are hollow and the main storylines are resolved with a flick of the fairy wrist and a new plot development pops up in the final 15 pages just in time to lure the reader into reading the final book next year.

This is only my second 1 star book of the Cannonball… be warned, stay away.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR4 Review #42: Gone by Michael Grant

Cannonball Read IV: Book #42/52
Published: 2009
Pages: 583
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian

I did not care for this book. There’s a fine line between interesting plot twists and “WTF did I just read??”. The storyline seems simple at first: In a small Californian town, suddenly everyone over the age of fifteen disappears. Sounds cool, right? Then it starts to seem like a YA version of Stephen King’s Under the Dome (which I really liked) when the kids figure out that there is a weird barrier around the town. Okay…still not too bad.

THEN…the kids start developing weird powers. I can also deal with that, although I was expecting more of a straight-forward dystopian novel.

But then the wolves start talking. We have snakes that fly. Some weird entity called “the Darkness” that lives in an old mineshaft. WHAT. THE. EFF? It just got too freaking weird for me. Not to mention the most anti-climactic ending ever. Most of the book was leading up to this big confrontation between the “good” kid and the “bad” kid (who were twins that were separated at birth by the way). Then they BARELY fight and just kind of walk away from each other.

Read the rest of the review in my blog.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #55 The Master of Heathcrest Hall by Galen Beckett

Hope springs eternal.  Despite disliking both the first and second books in this trilogy by Galen Beckett, some small part of me wanted the storylines of those two books to pay off in this final book in a satisfying way.  They didn’t.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #54 The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett

Anyone who has read my review of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent knows I disliked that book.  Yet, for whatever reason, I continued to read the rest of the trilogy.  Perhaps because I already had them (they were given me as a gift), perhaps some small part of me hoped the books would get better.  Perhaps I simply enjoyed disliking them too much to stop reading.  Whatever my motivations, I did indeed read Galen Beckett’s entire trilogy.  What a waste of time.

In my review of the first book, I took on the novel’s uncomfortable mashing up of Jane Austen’s and Charlotte Brontë writing styles and Beckett’s sexist premise.  I do not think I mentioned the author’s dissatisfying world-building.  The society he portrays is one that is meant to mirror early 19th century English society.  That being so, I’m not really sure why Beckett did not simply use the titles, forms of address and social hierarchy then in currency.  Instead he uses similar titles in what seems like a less structured way.  It is unclear to me whether or not Beckett simply did not do his research, and did not understand the differences between the different titles and forms of address; or if he simply created his own, simplified social hierarchy without thinking his rules through.  Whatever the case, each instance of irregularity, of inconsistency, or of inaccuracy was like nails on a chalkboard to me.  I understand that for many people, who do not have a heightened awareness of 19th century English history, or who do not care about world building, this may seem like a nitpick, but this little irritation enhanced what was already a dissatisfactory reading experience.

I really do not recommend this series at all.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #43: Heroing by Dafydd ab Hugh

I had such high hopes for this book. A female mercenary! Trying to get signed on to a quest and prove all the menfolk wrong! Contemplating the nature of heroes! Unfortunately, she’s kinda dumb, and kinda mean. And then the book veers off into strange philosophical territory, and then wraps up with a lesson about mental illness. I’m going to go ahead and spoil this in the plot summary, partly because I don’t know how else to explain how weird this book was, and a lot because I don’t think anybody else should read it.

Jiana is a hero for hire, looking for work and wanting to make a name for herself. She tries to join a prince’s quest, but he scoffs and dismisses her, telling her that it’s no job for a woman, then takes away her sword. I imagine his next step would have been to hand her a dishtowel and a bucket of soapy water, but Jiana immediately kicks the asses of all his guards, gets the sword back and runs for the hills. Her brilliant plan from there is to follow the prince and his hired heroes, wait until they get into trouble, then save the day and show them all that a woman can be a hero too.

The story takes its first step into weirdness at this early stage, and Jiana gets lost, loses her horse, and ends up starving and battered at a remote farmhouse. She is helped by a 15 year old boy who lives there, Dida, and he is instantly smitten. She spends a few days recovering and having a mental battle with herself about seducing the FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOY. She’s 28. TWENTY-EIGHT. Spoiler alert: she gives in and they have a wild roll in the literal hay. Whereupon he falls madly in love with her and follows her when she leaves to continue her quest.

When she catches up to the prince, she finds out that he’s not just sexist, he’s also pretty much the villain of the story. For reasons I never quite understood, he’s burning and pillaging his way through the countryside. (She “accidentally” kills a village survivor who keeps insisting the prince is a godlike hero, and my brain started hurting. She’s the most unheroic hero I’ve encountered in quite a while.)

Okay, this is getting way too long, especially for a book I didn’t really like. Jiana continues following in the prince’s wake, even after she finds out he’s a murdering dillhole, because saving him will still get her name in the storybooks. Besides a lovesick, horny teenager, she collects a priest-turned-philosopher who decides to come along for the ride because he’s fascinated by her multiple personality disorder.

I don’t even know how to describe all this. Jiana thinks that she was born an evil little girl with magic powers. After the evil girl killed her/their abusive father, Jiana buried the evil girl (she calls her Jianabel), stopped having any magic, and became the regular, well-adjusted person she is today (ha). Except that she’s started having a little bit of magic ability, and the priest explains to her that Jianabel wasn’t a demon, Jiana wasn’t cursed or possessed – Jianabel and Jiana are the same person. And he basically tells her about traumatic experiences and splintering off bits of your personality to survive, which Jiana has never heard of because she lives in the world of a fantasy novel, and the priest lives in a psychology textbook. So THEN, they have lots of long fireside conversations about the nature of personality, childhood, magic, whether the gods are real, etc. etc. etc., and apparently it’s now a philosophy textbook.

I think I have to stop now; there’s just too much weirdness to cover. Out of body experiences, deals made with gods, the prince’s captain of the guards is really a demon who Jiana has to unleash Jianabel on to defeat, capture, escape, breaking up with the 15-year-old, lots more philosophizing…this book has a lot to say. Unfortunately, none of it is very good, and none of the characters are very likeable, or have any reason at all to do the things they do. Dida leaves his home and family to follow a bitchy heroine who doesn’t want him. Jiana follows an evil prince and keeps trying to save him from stuff, even though he keeps killing innocent people. The priest follows Jiana and Dida off on a far-fetched quest with no real motivation at all. Nothing they do makes sense, but they talk about it a LOT.

There, I don’t think I actually spoiled anything, since I’m not sure any of the above makes a lick of sense. Now you know how I feel!

Jen K’s #CBRIV Review #13: The Wedding Dress

The one where I accidentally buy Christian fiction believing it to be chick lit.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #50 The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

I think I should start by saying that this is not a book I would ever pick up for myself.  I own it because an acquaintance gave me the entire trilogy.  Having spent my childhood and teens obsessed with 19th century English novels (either ones that were written in that century or set in it), I am very very particular about fictions which attempt to create a fantasy version of either the Regency or Victorian eras.  Any mistakes made in recreating either the language or the complex social interactions will completely prevent me from deriving any enjoyment from reading the book.  When an author does this well, I’m absurdly grateful and pleased (I am thinking specifically of Naomi Novik and Susannah Clark); when she does it less well, I become very very cranky.  Imagine my reaction, then, when I read this on the flyleaf of this novel:

What if there were a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?

Jane Austen lived most of her life in the 18th century and died during the Regency of George IV.  She was a Georgian writer.  Charlotte Brontë was born the year before Jane Austen died.  She was a Victorian writer.  Not only do they come from different eras, they also come from different social and educational backgrounds.  Moreover, their writing styles are VERY VERY different.  To conflate Jane Austen with Charlotte Bronte simply because they are both English women writers from the 19th century would be almost as bad as to conflate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with Mikhail Bulgakov simply because they are both Russian male writers who lived in the 20th century.  Of course, you can explore any similarities between two writers as a way of discussing common themes across their works, but to merge them into the same category as one another?  No.

See?  I haven’t even started talking about the book and ALREADY I am cranky.

With this novel, Beckett actually proves that Austen and Brontë do not sit comfortably together in the same narrative.  In the first part of the novel, Beckett attempts to write like Jane Austen.  The first two hundred pages of the book are a socially conscious romantic comedy in which the heroine, Ivy, a middle-class girl, falls in love with Mr. Rafferdy, who is an aristocrat.  As much as possible, Beckett apes Jane Austen’s prose style and I found it extremely grating.  Then, abruptly, circumstances change for the heroine and she moves to a lonely house on the moors.  The writing style shifts from third-person omniscient pseudo-Austen to first-person pseudo-Brontë.  Ivy is introduced to a new romantic interest who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester.  Suddenly, instead of existing inside a romantic comedy, we are now in a gothic mystery.  It reminds me of what China Miéville said (to Naomi Novik, in fact) about mashing up genres:

“Just because you add ‘awesome’ to ‘awesome,’ doesn’t mean you’re going to get something twice as awesome. Sometimes you get an abomination.”

Thankfully, Beckett only continues this pseudo-Brontëist writing going for another hundred and fifty pages and finally, finally, just writes the rest of the novel.  The second and third books of the series are written in a third person omniscient neutral voice that I wish Beckett had applied to the first half of the first book as well.  Obviously, trying to write like two of the most famous writers in English, while an interesting exercise, is almost calculated to draw unflattering comparisons between your prose and that of the justly more celebrated novelists you are stylistically copying.

Aside from the above issues, all of which were a constant source of annoyance while reading the book, I was mildly entertained by the narrative.  I was interested enough to keep on reading but was never really enthralled by magical world which Beckett has created.  In fact, I was made uneasy with the fact that Beckett turned sexual differences (male and female, homosexual and heterosexual) into limits on ways the characters could use magic.  Women were witches (they could never perform spells, no matter how hard they tried to), men were magicians (unable to perform the “natural” magic that women can do, but able to use spells), gay men were illusionists (able neither to connect to the natural world like women nor to speak spells like men but able to trick the eye with illusions).  Simplifying your magical system along sexual lines is … problematic for me.  In fact, I would say that regardless of authorial intent, the world and the book seem MORE sexist than the real conditions under which Austen and Brontë wrote.  I will give the book credit for keeping me reading (I don’t automatically finish any book just because I’ve started it) but that is almost the only thing I can give it credit for.  The writing style was, well, let us say it failed in its narrative and stylistic objectives; the characters were two-dimensional and often annoying; and the world-building was shallow. I am quite thankful I’m finally writing this review so I can get this book off my desktop and donate it to the local Goodwill.  Perhaps someone else will get more pleasure out of it.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #43 Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan

Here’s the short version of my review: do not read this book.  Do not under any circumstances buy this book.  If any of your friends suggest that they might want to read this book, use all your power to convince them not to.

Now for the longer version.

I’ve had this book given to me three times.  Not handed to me with a suggestion that I might like to read it, but physically given to me as a gift.  The first two copies ended up donated in my periodic bookshelf organizing sprees.  The third time someone gave it to me, I felt obligated to read it.  I’d been assured, many many times that I would love this book.  My friends all know that I am interested in Australian Aboriginal culture and history.  Everyone told me that if I wanted to learn more about the Australian Aborigines, this book was a must read.

The book presents itself as a memoir and, more importantly, as an accurate (if perhaps fictionalized) communication of Australian Aborigine beliefs and culture.  Everything from the back cover description to the quotations and endorsements from various famous spiritual figures to the opening chapter of the book suggests an intention to be as true as possible to Australian Aborigine mythology.  I read it as a sort of fabular memoir.  I honestly would not have read it if it weren’t implied that this book captures Australian Aborigine belief systems because the quality of Marlo Morgan’s writing is tiresomely mediocre.  Some very unbelievable things happen to Marlo Morgan in this book, but taking it as her attempts to communicate mythology in an identifiable way, I initially accepted it.  But as the narrative of the book continued on, the improbable events which Morgan so earnestly insists really happened accumulated past my toleration limit.  I put the book aside and googled it.  I wanted to see the crowd-sourced wisdom on this book.  There are whole websites dedicated to breaking down absolutely everything that Marlo Morgan has written in this book so I’m not going to go into details about it.  If you’re curious, google it.  Here’s the basics:  Marlo Morgan seems to be a sincere person of average intelligence who stumbled upon a New Age phenomenon.  That can happen to anybody.  I don’t really have a problem with the fact that she wrote this book. I have a problem with the fact that this book is racist, it promotes dangerous ideas about an already misunderstood ethnic minority and most importantly, I have a problem with the fact that because both the publisher and Marlo Morgan have made a sh*t ton of money from this book, they have made no attempt whatsoever to correct the idea that this book is a memoir, or to retract the book’s false assertions about Australian Aborigines and their beliefs.  The Australian Aborigines whose names were used to promote this book have withdrawn their endorsements but their names continue to be printed in the book’s pages.  Groups of Australian Aborigines have tried repeatedly to point out all the inaccuracies and misrepresentations in this book and yet it continues to be sold as is, with no change in its packaging.  This book is evil because it promotes demeaning stereotypes.  I don’t think it should be banned, but I do think that it should be labelled differently.  When a work of fiction (which is what this is) is marketed and promoted as a factual account about a poorly understood minority and their belief systems, when that book is likely to be the only book that most people will read about that minority, a great injustice is being done.

In the book, Morgan is essentially kidnapped by a tribe of Australian Aborigines who want her to go on walkabout with them.  Once she realizes that their intentions are benevolent, she accepts her situation and learns to adjust to the primal and difficult way in which the Aborigines live.  So far, so not too terribly evil.  After having a few adventures with the Aborigines (learning to hunt, etc), Morgan discovers their true purpose in bringing her along with them.  The world is in danger, the Aborigines have been caretakers of the planet but have decided to commit genetic suicide (they will not procreate because THEY WANT TO BE EXTINCT) but someone needs to carry the mantel of the Aborigine’s spiritual purpose and that person, that chosen one, is a blonde white American woman.  Entire essays can and have been written about how racist the basic premise of the book is.  Morgan seems genuinely taken with her myth of the noble primitive, she’s fallen in love with these imaginary creatures and she wants so desperately to be one of them that she casts herself as the hero in their story.  I don’t believe she meant to write a racist book, I think she simply lacked the intelligence, honesty and self-awareness to realize that her book was racist.  My problem with Marlo Morgan and this book is not that she wrote it.  My problem is that while portraying herself as a champion of the Australian Aborigines, she is actually making money by perpetuating damaging myths about them, myths that are very comforting to the white people who consume them.  My problem is that she has been given every opportunity to correct the mistakes made in how this book has been promoted and she hasn’t done so.  While her original intentions may have been positive, while the racism she displayed in writing was a passive racism of unchallenged assumptions, she is now making money off the backs of these people and has ignored their repeated attempted to make her change how her book is marketed.  Now Marlo Morgan’s racism is an active one.  She is literally making money off a white supremacy product while assuring those who buy her books and pay to attend her lectures that her “mission” has been endorsed by the very ethnic minority she is misrepresenting.

The thing is, none of my friends are racist or stupid.  They read this book, in good faith, as part-mythology, part-memoir.  They read it as a sincere attempt to communicate the Australian Aborigine lifestyle and belief system. This is why I think this book is particularly evil.  Or rather, I should say, Marlo Morgan and her publishers are evil.  The book itself is not evil.  What is evil is that the book is disseminating a misleading and patronizing narrative that the Australian Aborigines have tried many many times to counter.  As I mentioned earlier, the Australian Aborigines whose names are used to endorse the book as a fair representation of their people and spiritual beliefs have repeatedly attempted to have their names and misleading statements removed from the book and have been ignored by Marlo Morgan and her publishers.

This is the only book I’ve ever thrown away.  I can not in good conscience donate it to a local Goodwill and know that I have in some way participated in perpetuating its dangerous lies.  It’s the first book I’ve ever considered burning.  It’s a cancer in the heart of pop cultural consciousness.  It should be removed, stored in a formaldehyde jar and properly labelled as a cautionary tale for future generations.

If you choose to read this book out of curiosity, as is your right to do, then please don’t buy it.  Marlo Morgan and her publishers don’t deserve your money.  And please consider reading other perspectives on Marlo Morgan’s story.   This website is a good place to start: http://marlomorgan.wordpress.com/helping-yourself-fabrication-of-aboriginal-culture/

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #77 & 78: Bloodring and Host by Faith Hunter

There is such a flood of post-apocalyptic fantasy out there that I thought I’d take a look and see what all the fuss is about. I found Bloodring among the library freebies and thought the premise interesting and began to read. Unfortunately, I discovered too late that this is a trilogy and was only able to get access to the first and third books of the series. Nonetheless, I think between the two novels, Bloodring and Host, I gave the genre a fair shake and can honestly say that this is not my cup of tea.

Hunter can write fairly well and has a vivid imagination, to be sure. She also has the most mixed-up and confused plot I think I’ve ever come across. In a nutshell, the future earth has been subjected to a war of annihilation by a race of Seraphs (aka the High Host), who are either avenging angels conducting a purge of mankind on the authority of God or are aliens from another time and/or place, trying to take over the planet. It’s never quite clear. In the aftermath of the war, which has left the Earth in a new ice age, children were born with special gifts surfacing at puberty. These “mages,” seen initially as witches by human survivors, are confined to enclaves where they are licensed to practice their varied crafts in isolation from humans. Evil—in various and sundry forms—has been subdued temporarily, but is gaining strength and allies and threatening to burst anew upon the scene. The Seraphs continue to hover over everything, watching and keeping their distance….sort of.

The main protagonist of the trilogy is Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage with the unique ability to hear the thoughts of all other mages simultaneously. To protect her from going insane, her mentor smuggles her out of her childhood enclave and into a distant human town, where she works—unlicensed and therefore under threat of death if discovered—as a jeweler with a strange collection of partners who turn out to be only semi-human themselves. Thorn seems to be fated as the savior of everyone—and that includes humans, mages, and the High Host—and both novels boil down to a non-stop series of intense and terrifying battles of Thorn and her allies vs. evil spawn of every description, with a few connecting chapters that tend to center around Thorn going into heat (yes, heat, like an animal!) every time she’s around a Seraph or its ilk. Enough said.

The series is heavily overlaid with religious references, and at first I thought there was some profound philosophizing going on about heaven, hell and the existence of God, but by the time I had finished the second book, I had decided that author Hunter either thinks she is creating some new kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy genre for Christians, or she’s exploiting the Christian overtones for more commercial purposes. In either case, I think she needs to go back to the drawing board, strip out about 50% of the extraneous characters she peoples her novels with, and get a clearer handle on the message she is trying to send out to her readers. Because, let me tell you, this was one mighty confused reader by the end.

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