Tag Archive | really bad books

The Best Kind of People – Zoe Whittall

I have never returned a book to the bookstore before. In the past, if I read a book and the-best-kind-of-people_jpg_size_custom_crop_427x650didn’t like  it, I would normally just donate it to goodwill. Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People comes with Heather Reisman’s money back guarantee, though. Reisman is the CEO of Indigo, Canada’s largest book retailer. If she endorses a book with her Heather’s Pick sticker and you don’t like it, you can return the book – no questions asked – for a full refund. So, that’s where The Best Kind of People is going.

Although I was intrigued by the premise of Whittall’s novel, there were some negative reviews on Litsy and so I didn’t purchase it. Then it was chosen as our book club book and I had no choice but to read it.

George Woodbury is a local hero in Avalon Hills, a sleepy bedroom community in Connecticut.

George could be recognized by his trademark brown tweed jackets with the corduroy elbow pads, and his perpetual armload of books and papers. Everybody knew him, from school or from the many boards and committees he sat on. He was a fixture in town. He remained the man from Woodbury Lake who saved the children.

Ten years ago, George stopped a lone gunman who entered a school to kill his girlfriend. Now George is a beloved and respected teacher at the local private school. George has the added privilege of being extremely wealthy because of his father’s business acumen: doctor turned real estate tycoon. His two children, adult lawyer Andrew, who lives in New York City with his partner, Jared, and seventeen-year-old, Sadie, are used to being part of the inner circle. Joan, George’s wife, is a nurse who dotes on George and loves him without question. Until there’s something to question.

And there is. In present day, the police come to the Woodbury estate to arrest George for “sexual misconduct with four minors, attempted rape of a minor.” Of course, everyone believes it’s a huge misunderstanding. George assures his wife that “it’s just an error.” But it’s an error that throws everything Joan has ever believed about her marriage and her life into question. It also throws Andrew and Sadie’s life into turmoil.

It’s a pretty good hook for a book. And it might have been a pretty good book, too, if Whittall had written characters that were even remotely believable.  There’s the “stand by your man” wife who is so overwhelmed she lets her daughter move in with her boyfriend, Jimmy, and his mother. There’s Andrew, the angry gay son who races to his mother’s side but who hates the small-minded town he grew up in. (The town, by the way, where he came of age in a relationship with one of his teachers.) There’s Clara, Joan’s shrill sister who used to be a “staple on the 1990s New York City party scene.” There’s Kevin, the parasitic writer who lives with Jimmy’s mother. There’s Amanda, Sadie’s supposed best friend who and whose younger sister is one of the complainants. Her comment to Sadie: “I know your dad is a fuckin’ perv and all, but you don’t have to act like I’m dead.”

The dialogue is one of the things that irked me the most about Whittall’s narrative. I read whole sections out loud to my son because it was just so…unrealistic. For example, when Kevin moves out of the house, Elaine, Jimmy’s mother explains his absence by saying: “Right now he’s staying at the Hilton while we work through some…grown-up issues.” It’s a ridiculous comment to make to the son for whom she is providing condoms and looking the other way while he sleeps with Sadie.

The Best Kind of People offered a good opportunity to raise all sorts of questions…without being didactic (which the book often is). Instead, wooden people moved through a series of hoops towards a conclusion which is neither satisfying or brave.

Don’t waste your time.

Amazing Grace – Lesley Crewe

Holy ol’ Jesus, Amazing Grace is awful. So awful that if it hadn’t been chosen for book club, I would have abandoned it right around the time that Amazing Grace Willingdon, 60, flies off to New York City from her trailer in Baddeck, Namazingova Scotia, to help her estranged millionaire son, Jonathan, rescue her teenage granddaughter, Melissa, from making bad decisions. You know, the kind that you make because you are sixteen.

We are to understand that Grace is a firecracker because she doesn’t suffer fools easily,  the church women give her indigestion and she yells “asshole” at drivers who speed past her. It’s not her fault that she’s curmudgeonly; Grace has had a hard life including a duel with cancer (which she won), a sham marriage and a childhood as a member of a religious cult where she and her sister (Ave Maria – not a joke) and their mother, Trixie,  were repeatedly raped by the cult leader. I wish I could say that these are the only difficulties that Grace endures, but amazingly (see what I did there) they are not.

That’s at least part of the problem with Amazing Grace. When I tried to explain the story to my son, Connor, I found that I could not adequately convey the number of ridiculous things that happened to this character or the number of times she was saved by her inheritance or her son’s private jet or just old-fashioned serendipity. But the bigger problem in Nova Scotian writer Lesley Crewe’s book is the writing itself.  It’s just…bad.

I point my finger in his face. “You are going straight to hell, Ed Wheeler. You have the devil inside you and we all know what happens to evil people. They burn forever. The very thought of it makes me giddy. You tried to destroy me, but you didn’t. You tried to possess me but you couldn’t. I am the powerful one now. The tables have turned, you creep. You have no one. You are a big nobody. You will never cross my mind again, because I win, you bastard. I win.

I live in New Brunswick – right next door to Nova Scotia – so this landscape and these people should at least be familiar to me. On top of that, I am just a few years shy of Grace’s age; she’s my contemporary. But she’s not even remotely believable to me. I have never once overslept and yelled “Holy macaroni.” I can’t imagine being a grandmother and chasing my granddaughter down the hall, grabbing her from behind and then hauling her “squirming and yelling” back to the kitchen to apologize for a snotty comment because words are “the most powerful force of all.” It’s all so melodramatic and over-the-top.

Ultimately, this is a book about family – our biological family and the family we choose. But the book is so overstuffed and the writing so pedestrian that I just couldn’t have cared any less for these people.

 

Off the Shelf – My Book Graveyard

Listen here.

Books are like a relationship, sometimes you have to break up with them

I’ve been a little bit of a reading slump of late. I blame Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which at almost 800 pages gave me a total book hangover. After finishing that, I definitely needed some lighter fare to cleanse my palate. So, I headed to my ridiculous TBR shelf and chose The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw. I thought that might have been just the ticket to jumpstart my reading again, but it’s been super-slow going. It’s the story of two families whose lives intersect because of not one but two affairs and I have almost given up on it a couple of times. The writing is good though, so I keep trudging along.

I used to be the reader who finished everything she started. I couldn’t stand the thought of abandoning a book that I’d started, but the older I get and with more demands on my time (aka Netflix bingeing) I find that I am not as willing to go the distance with a book that doesn’t float my boat.

So, what causes me to close the book forever?

  1. Style over substance. Okay,  I am attracted to the pretty. But I am also more – how should I say this – seasoned. I am less enthralled by a beautifully written book with nothing to say. It doesn’t take long for  the pretty to wear off.  I’ll compare it to being at the bar. Across the room you see this gorgeous guy. You make eye contact. Then you realize he isn’t actually looking at you; he’s looking at his reflection in the mirror behind you. A book that works so hard to be literary, to impress, but is really just naval gazing loses my interest pretty fast.
  2. Unbelievable characters. I don’t have to like the characters, but I do have to believe in them. Even if the author has chosen to put them in crazy situations, I want to share their journey.  I can’t travel with characters who fail to earn my respect or admiration or sympathy. So, I’m back at the bar. Handsome guy across the room. Eye contact made. You move towards each other. He buys you a drink. Then he starts talking and after about five minutes you realize he’s as dumb/self-involved/humourless/dull… as a pet fence.  You stop listening to him because you stop caring about him. Characters like that.
  3. S-L-O-W/tooquick  plot. Not every novel is driven by plot. Some stories don’t depend on what happens as much as to whom it happens. I don’t have a preference. Pacing is everything. Back at the bar, you’ve consumed your drink(s); there’s potential. And then he sticks his tongue down your throat. Whoa, buddy, didn’t see that coming! Timing is everything. If you are building suspense, build it. If your characters are going to do the horizontal mambo, let them take their time; but if nothing happens for page after page after freakin’ page while the author describes cutlery and grass clippings, sorry, it’s over. Or, if without any character development or too much exposition the book lands me in an unreasonable place, we’re through.
  4. Bad writing. Come on. Who is going to slog through a poorly written book? Not me. Not anymore. It’s amazing to me that these things get published! I mean, Twilight, okay. New Moon. Seriously!? And two more after that? Yikes. Books like that come with buzz – like your handsome friend at the bar. Until he opens his mouth and, dude, you need some breath mints or something.

So, I have a little Book Graveyard at The Ludic Reader and that’s where I send the books that just don’t make the cut. Some of those books include:
Erin Vincent’s memoir Grief Girl, which was well-reviewed but I just couldn’t finish it. It’s the story of an Australian teen whose parents are involved in a horrific traffic accident…but it was just so plodding and

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare  is a super popular teen franchise which has been adapted for television. Loads of my students have read and loved these books but I just found them derivative and poorly written. I gave up pretty early.

The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire by Abigail Gibbs

I actually read 300 pages of this book before I relegated it to the book graveyard. I would consider myself a huge fan of vampire fiction, but this book – which was written by a seventeen year old and started its life in serial form on Wattpad. Seems to be the way lots of writers are discovered by traditional publishers, but man – this book needed some serious editing help.

I would love to hear from you: what book have you given up on and why?

The Bronte Project by Jennifer Vandever

I am starting to get annoyed with the recommendations slapped on book covers. For example, Karen Quinn called The Bronte Project “a brilliant first novel of love. ” On the back  there’s more praise: “So original, so enchanting, so poignantly true that it defies you to put it down.” But wait- that’s also by Quinn. Was there only one author willing to give this book their seal of approval? After reading The Bronte Project, I’m not surprised.

The blurb makes this sound like a great read, especially for someone as enamored of Brontes as I am.

Shy young scholar Sara Frost’s unsuccessful search for the lost love letters of Charlotte Bronte hasn’t won her any favours at her university, particularly now the glamorous new Head of Princess Diana Studies has introduced her media-savvy exploits to the staid halls of academia. But it’s not until Sara’s fiance suddenly leaves her that she begins to question her life’s vocation.

I thought the book sounded like it had promise…but not so much. By about half way through I was totally exasperated with the expository nature of the writing, the mini-lessons on the Brontes, the ridiculous decisions Sara made and the even more outlandish denouement. Then I realized that Vandever is a Film School graduate. Like Sara, maybe she hoped her work would somehow make the perfect fodder for a film.

Let’s face it – I don’t have anything intelligent to say about this book…except perhaps – don’t waste your time reading it. Even if, like me, you love Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Love: A User’s Guide by Clare Naylor

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It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this bad. And when I say bad I mean stinky bad- filled with clunky writing, unrealistic characters, stupid plot. So I’m lying a bit when I count it as a book I’ve actually read- mostly I skimmed.

Amy works for Vogue in London. She’s beautiful and smart and funny and quirky and perfect and fashionable and and and. Orlando Rock is a movie star. He’s gorgeous and perfect and kind and hot and not even remotely stuck on himself.

Amy and Orlando meet on a beach (shortly after Amy has her first sexual encounter of the lesbian kind with someone who happens to be a dear friend of Orlando’s). He’s smitten. So is she.

What followes is a completely ridiculous courtship followed by even more ridiculous plot machinations aka tabloids which drive a temporary wedge between our lovers. Every once and a while the author speaks  about the characters as if she’s some sort of benevolent angel watching over their love affair.

“…we have to make allowances for love and hope that the lesson they learn won’t be too painful.” (170)

Yeah okay- what about the pain you’re causing your readers, Ms. Naylor?

This book was so bad, I had to make a new tag category: really bad books.

The Falls by Karen Harper

You know you’re in trouble when you come across a line like this in a book: “I have a feeling my survival training from years ago and my duty during Operation Desert Storm is going to come in real handy.’

Of course the joke’s on me. The revelation- spoken by hard-as-nails Sheriff Nick Braden doesn’t come until page 285- but I knew the book was gonna be a stinker by page 10…yet I still kept reading.

Publishers Weekly loved The Falls and said Harper has a fantastic flair for creating and sustaining suspense… Um- okay.

Claire Malvern wakes up in the middle of the night and discovers that her husband, Keith, is missing. They live in Washington State, where they are renovating an old fishing lodge they intend to open as a B and B. When Keith’s body turns up in the river, presumably after having jumped off the bridge at Bloodroot Falls, the Sheriff calls it suicide, but Claire just knows Keith would never kill himself.

Sadly, though, Claire knows less about her husband than she thinks she does. And it turns out that most of the small cast of characters in Harper’s cliched novel have something to hide. Sadly, none of it is very interesting.

Look- there are all sorts of this kind of book out there and I’ve read lots of them. What’s the most important ingredient to make them work? You have to care about the characters. They have to be believable.

Nothing to look at here, folks. Move along and save your money.

The Lake by Richard Laymon

This almost never happens to me. I couldn’t finish this book. It was CRAP…I mean, crap in the sense that it was poorly written, unbelievable and stupid…not crap in the sense of lots of fun- the sort of entertainment I generally read quickly in between books. Sort of a palate cleaner.

I bought it on the bargain table and paid very little for it…but 100 pages in I wish I’d saved my money.

So, I went looking for book reviews…and strangely, other people seemed to like it.

This totally absorbing crime thriller will have readers enthralled and unable to put it down until the last page is turned
, says one review.

But when one of the characters is chased by a man wearing a chef’s hat carrying a cleaver turns out to be, in fact, a crazy chef her mother recently fired…well, you can see where I’m going with this.

I have no idea what happens…and I don’t care.

Save your money!