After so many years of reading – I’m well into decade number five – I have a pretty good idea of what I’m looking for, though surprises are always welcome too.
But once in a while I do run into something that I think I should like, that is highly recommended by people whose opinions I respect, and that is touted as a “must read”. And I just can’t do it. Either I blow through it skipping great tracts of text just to get to the end, or I out-and-out abandon it part way through.
So this page is added in the interest of full disclosure. Sometimes knowing what a person just can’t get into is as informative as knowing what they loved. And if you want to try to convince me differently – if your absolute favourite read is here on this list – please feel free to try to talk me around.
Occasionally I might have posted a (Non)Review – those will be linked.
Stand clear – parachute opening!
(In alphabetical order by title.)
- A Hidden Life by Adèle Geras. Couldn’t finish it – speed-read the last half. Definitely qualifies as “chick lit”, in the most stereotypical way. Unlikable people screwing up their lives and those of everyone around them. Set in England and very occasionally France, neither of which felt quite plausible. A WW II North Borneo prison camp and a dead mother add pathos. At 400+ pages, about twice as long as the subject matter deserved and much longer than my interest could be sustained for.
- A Time in Rome by Elizabeth Bowen. I like the idea of Elizabeth Bowen, and I hugely enjoy reading her book reviews, but with this one I struggled. Just bogged down. I had to think too much to really appreciate it, so I’ve set it aside. Another time and mood, perhaps?
- The Backwards Glance by Lynne Reid Banks. I get that a lot of people love the opinionated heroine of the L-Shaped Room, but she just irritated me. Couldn’t make it through the sequel.
- Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara. A more than decent first novel, well written and interesting, but sadly it lost me half way through because of the super-abundance of plot twists. Felt like the author was throwing every good idea she ever had into one glorious big mess. I wanted this to be cleaner, more spare and elegant. I did what I never do, and flipped ahead to the end. The thing that was resolved was unexpected, but I found I didn’t care enough to go through the chore of plugging through the unread portion of book to get there properly. Maybe I’ll finish it one day, or just wait for the next novel. Nice cover art, by the way.
- The Chamomile Lawn by Mary Wesley. Complicated, not terribly well-written, and gave me a bit too much detail about stuff I didn’t need to know. A “sexy” book that wasn’t, quite. I see from the internet reviews that the TV mini-series was perhaps better than the book it was based on? Another one I’m passing along via BookCrossing. Good-bye!
- Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. My rating: 3/10. No review. This was cute, but ultimately too contrived for my enjoyment; the premise employed by the author wasn’t strong enough to carry a tale of this length. But many people love it, so don’t take my word for it. I found it too much like work to read, so I bailed.
- Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Totally stuck about a third of the way through. My second time reading, so I know I can do it, just not this time round. I’ll revisit Davies, but for now I’m banishing this title to the “Bailed Out” list to get him off the “Must Review” sidebar.
- The Glad Season by Paula Elizabeth Sitts. Published 1967. Subtitled: Boyhood in the Cariboo of British Columbia. A super-sentimental, highly fictional feel-good tale of an orphaned boy and his grandmother “homesteading” somewhere in the South Cariboo in the 1930s. All the neighbours are über-helpful, and apparently endowed with super-human abilities. The versimilitude deal-breaker for me: one old man assisted only by his short, stout, also-elderly wife cuts down – by hand-axe/saw – enough trees to build a substantial log cabin in one morning. He then rafts the logs across a lake, and has the roof on the cabin by the end of day three. A second cabin takes a whole two days. Anyone at all familiar with the tasks so involved will understand my cynical dismissal of the author’s subsequent storytelling. This deeply dull book is well-meaning enough, but not rooted in reality in any significant way. Being from the Cariboo myself, I wanted so much to like it, and gave it much benefit of the doubt, but it defeated me completely. Into the giveaway box.
- God Loves Laughter by William Sears. No review. My rating: 4/10. A memoir by B’nai B’rith personality William Sears. I had no idea what this one was about when I started it; the early years were interesting but once he found religion he rather lost me, sad to say. So I quit reading. Probably more interesting to those who already know who this is. Released back into the world via BookCrossing.
- Good Daughters by Mary Hocking. Second time tackling this first book of a family saga trilogy, and rather embarrassed to admit I’m still not feeling the love that so many others do. Hocking, born in 1921, obviously has personal memories of the era she writes about, though as this novel which starts in 1933 wasn’t published until 1984, I imagine a lot of the details are a bit hazy. I can’t quite put my finger on just why I found it so emphatically put-down-able, unless it is that so many other writers did the same sort of thing with such astounding virtuosity that this reader is spoiled. Three sisters grow up in a preacher’s household, the eldest yearns to be an actress, and that’s about as far as I got.
- The Green Knight by Iris Murdoch. It defeated me at page 80, after a long rambling set-up filled with the complicated back stories of way too many characters. Weird things going on with phrasing and punctuation, too, which had me stopping in confusion and re-reading whole paragraphs to see if I was missing something. I wasn’t, but the editor certainly was. Browsing ahead, there are some intriguing passages, and I hope to return one day to enjoy them. Perhaps.
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Picked this one up to while away the hours waiting outside the dance studio for my daughter while she was working on solo choreography a whole year ago. I’ve recently realized that I’m probably not going to finish it, though it’s been riding around in my car for this whole year – I like to have a “desperation read” on hand for those times I’m stranded unexpectedly waiting to perform as on-call chauffeur. It was more than O.K., but I found myself tuning out. I eventually leafed through to the ending to see if my predictions were correct as to the progress of the tale. (Yup, completely. I called everything bang on.) I doubt I’ll tackle it again. I may watch the movie one day. Or not.
- I’ll Never be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier. Another one I finished but didn’t enjoy. Emotionally, I bailed.
- Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor. This one is going to be put on pending status. It’s a collection of three YA fantasy stories, and while I found a lot to like in Taylor’s created worlds, I bogged down about halfway through the last story. It just got… bleak. And very much reminded me of the last quarter of Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I started out loving but found increasingly tiresome as I worked my way through towards the cliff-hanger suspended ending. (Re: Smoke and Bone, I knew before I started that a sequel – or several – were pending, so no surprises there, but I personally like a bit more of a concluding note, especially when the next installment is a year or more away. Marketing, marketing, marketing – keep them eager to find out what happens next. Not a new technique!) Anyway, this is an author I don’t want to dismiss, but I do feel I need to back up and take another run at her work to give a fair review. I want the book off my sidebar, because it’s feeling naggy to continually see it there, so I’m parking it here for now.
- Mosby’s Memoirs by Saul Bellow. Saul Bellow sounds so good in his back-cover blurbs, but I really struggle with reading him. This collection of short stories didn’t get off the ground for me, though the writing is excellent. Too much unremitting bleakness; it also didn’t help that I tackled this collection just after my mother passed away, and the themes of physical, mental and moral decay were not really what I needed to wallow in at that point in my life. So I’m shelving Saul way up high next to my collection of D.H. Lawrence for another elusive “right time” when I can tolerate large doses of dreary micro-examined reality.
- Mrs. de Winter by Susan Hill. I didn’t actually bail out on this one, but I read the last half with such faint interest that I might as well have quit on it. Snarky review is linked. Ambitious but not particularly interesting sequel to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
- One Winter in the Wilderness by Pat Cary Peek sounded extremely promising, being presented as the diary of Peek and her wildlife biologist husband one isolated winter in the Idaho back country at the Taylor Ranch Field Station. It might have picked up steam farther along, but the first few sections were just the tiniest bit plodding, as if the writer were trying a mite too hard – and mostly unsuccessfully – to turn her repetitious diary entries into something more literary. Apparently the Idaho Book of the Year in 1998. Fair enough. Back on the shelf, perhaps even into the giveaway box, for someone else to take a go at.
- The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne. The one and only attempt at a mystery story by the creator of the venerable Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. Kudos for Milne to writing this story to please his father, but somehow even this sweet connection did not make up for the glacially slow pacing and lack of any sort of action, ambitious plotting aside. It had its moments, though few and far between, and was determinedly “humorous”, but I just couldn’t sit still for the whole thing, and bailed less than halfway through. Into the giveaway, I think.
- The Roaring Girl by Greg Hollingshead. Twelve short stories. Very noir, and too kinky for me. I tackled eleven and a half of them, and appreciated the author’s skilful manipulation of his words, but couldn’t face re-reading it, so it’s gone, baby, gone.
- This Year It Will be Different by Maeve Binchy. Several people whose bookish opinions I respect have recommended Maeve Binchy to me, but somehow I just can’t quite get into her. This book is a collection of Christmas-themed short stories, and I did manage to make it to the end, but I found them seriously underwhelming. She’s really nothing special as a writer, is she? Technically speaking, that is. Competent but not sparkling. And these stories were, quite frankly, deeply boring. And the male characters took most of the hits, plot-wise. So I have to say I’m not feeling the magic with this writer. If the novels are anything like these shorts, I’ll be staying well away.
- Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan. I will finish this one someday, but just couldn’t get into it this time around despite the recent Canada Reads 2013 hype. I’ll be looking for a secondhand copy in a few months once they start showing up, as they inevitably will, on the used book store shelves. The copy I borrowed was poorly printed and hard to read; a factor in my abandonment.
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I wanted to like this one so much, and it started out with some promise, but it slowly deteriorated into sentimental, mawkish dreck. I speed-read through the last third or so, found out the Great Big Secret which the doomed Queenie and Harold shared, and what really happened to Harold’s son David, but I just couldn’t care. Ick, ick, ick. I am so glad I got this from the library; I almost purchased it at one point because I’d heard gushing reviews. I really wish I could have my time back to spend on something else. Sorry, those who loved this one. Just couldn’t stomach it myself. The only weeping I’m doing right now (other reviewers reported that they’d wept at the beautiful ending) is a few tears of aggravation that I let myself get sucked in to this droopy, touchy-feely, modern micro-saga.
- Waiting for Willa by Dorothy Eden. Oh, dear. I wish I had my two dollars and hour or so of time invested in this one back again. A suspense thriller that failed to live up to its billing. A non-thrilling, lackadaisical, disappointingly poorly written book. I bailed mid-way, then read the ending, congratulated myself on not sticking it out, and placed it gently into the giveaway pile. A young woman goes to Sweden to track down her cousin who has gone mysteriously missing. Stuff happens. Yawn.
- The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve. I persevered for about a quarter of the book before becoming annoyed with the totally unempathetic and boring characters – I don’t need to like a character, but I do require them to be at least a little interesting. I went to Goodreads to see what others had to say and reviews were definitely mixed, so it wasn’t just me. Ends (apparently) with tragic/unnecessary death of a child. Oh hurray, what an incentive to finish – NOT!