Monday, May 2, 2011

Here I Fell Asleep: Books I Couldn't Finish

I have a bookmark, a little leather triangle that fits over the corner of a page, that says, "Here I Fell Asleep." Its from Florence (as in Firenze) and has pretty gold decorations stamped on the leather. There is something to be said about books that put me to sleep. I love reading at bedtime, for one thing. It works well for me as a transition from awake-time to dream-time. The sleep hygiene people say your bed should be used only for sleeping and sex, but I disagree. Bedtime reading is sacrosanct. But not reading Stephen King! Reading something interesting enough to be pleasurable and sedate enough to help me relax. Good bedtime books would make a nice blog topic, but that's for another time.

This is about books I didn't finish. Recently, I've been more diligent about posting review of books I liked and it just occurred to me that it's as important to look at books that didn't work for me...and why.

First, a good bedtime book: Trolls in the Hamptons by Celia Jerome. Lightweight, but enjoyable. It's grand for bedtime because there's just the right balance between plot and romance and cozy everyday stuff. This is not an easy trick to pull off, and I was not surprised to discover, when I flipped to the copyright page (you see what a devious and suspicious mind I have!) that Celia Jerome is actually Barbara Metzger, who's written dozens of Romances, including a slew of Regencies, and has been an editor and worn a bunch of other literary-type hats. In other words, she knows what she's doing. The book has that sense of utter solidity in the best sense; no wobbles, no blind-sides. You're in the hands of a thorough professional. And the world and characters are interesting enough that I'll be looking for the next volume.

Now the stack I didn't finish:

Holly Black. White Cat (The Curse Workers). I really wanted to like this one. Holly Black's a terrific YA writer and I've loved her other work, particularly Tithe. I made it about half way through and then gave up. The prose is solid (again, a good thing), the premise worth exploring. Magic comes in the form of "curses" that run in families -- luck, glamour...death. Despite all sorts of laws to identify and control those with these abilities, Mafia-style families are basically running the world. I found the world so dreary and the characters so unsympathetic, I was sorry they had to live in a such an awful place but really none of them was trying to make it better, so I suppose they deserved it and wouldn't I really rather check out some other book...

Laura Quimby. The Carnival of Lost Souls (Handcuff Kid). In this YA novel, I cared about the characters, I liked the nifty spooky stuff that you just know is going to come out and bite the hero, the references to Houdini, direct and not, were fun... but the story-telling was so ponderous and clumsy that irritation eventually overcame interest. I made it through about 100 pages in before I set it aside. The prosecraft might not pose a problem to the target adolescent audience...but even middle-school boys deserve better writing.

Kate Thompson. The White Horse Trick. This is a sequel to The New Policeman, that won all sorts of awards, but which I haven't read. The opening was great: "They came in the dead of night when the famiy was sleeping. If there had been any dogs left, they might have heard the men approaching, but there weren't. There hadn't been dogs there for years." After such a skillful opening, descending into one laborious "as you know, Bob" conversation after another just wore me down. And adults should not talk like kids. Horribly unpleasant world, characters I could root for, but an infuriating let-down and incompetent bad guys. I guess I have little patience when an author demonstrates a high level of craft and then descends to sloppiness.

Jerry and Sharon Ahern. Written in Time. I gave up after about 10 pages of a man and his wife driving along a country road, having one of the most idiotic conversations I've read in a long time. If it had been meant to be funny, that would have been one thing. As it was, the prose was laden with prosaic nonsense, distracting and irrelevant details, and worse of all, the pervasive sense of copying copies of other books. By the time the wife, who was "nearing the end of what she called 'her first trimester' " (as if she had invented the term, or perhaps she was mistaken in calling it that), smoothed her skirt (ack! shades of '50s Romances), I was done. The length of the book -- 644 pages -- did not inspire me to plow on. Might have been a good premise, but I could not get past the Lucky Strikes, maroon suits (hers), single-breasted gray suits (his), or '63 Cadillacs, coupled with not a shred of where-are-we-going-and-why, all on the first page.


  1. Good for you for not just politely refusing to say anything negative. I think a lot of us hesitate to give unfavorable reviews for whatever reason, as though thinking bad thoughts about a book (and daring to express them!) is somehow a sin. There is nothing wrong with stating an honest reaction. I only grow annoyed by negatives when it is clear that someone has gone to great pains to be snarky and seems to be going for the childish "Look at me! I'm funny!" posting.

  2. @Sue, I'm sure some other reader somewhere might adore these books. They're all professionally edited, nicely produced. Just not for me. In that sense, these are "no-fault" reviews. If I were to put them up on amazon or some other site that uses a star-rating system, I'd be in a quandary as to how to rank them, especially the Holly Black.