Category Archives: Red-Headed Step-Children

These are the books that were somewhat painful to read. I think this is just as important as knowing the top picks and maybe I can save you from that awful moment when you realize you have no choice but to stop reading a book half-way through. Let’s treat these books like red-headed step children and pretend they never happened at all.

Tenth of December

Tenth of December

By: Geroge Saunders

Synopsis: Ummmm….????

Thoughts: Sooo it’s probably not a good sign that I just sat here for 5 minutes trying to remember what book I had finished a mere 4 days ago. And it’s also probably not a good sign that as soon as I remembered the title, my first thought was, “woof”. So I’ll keep this brief because, well…I just don’t want to spend much more brain time with this book.

Basically I struggled with this book for two reasons. First of all, I think George Saunders is a crazy mofo. I mean, I love me some good crazy every now and then, but most of these stories are so far out into la-la-land, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the majority. And second (and I think I’m probably not alone in thinking this), I just don’t like when a book makes me feel like an idiot. Suuure, I like having a solid think as much as the next guy, but you know that feeling when you’re reading through a book and you realise you just don’t (i.e. not even remotely) get what’s going on? And no amount of postulating or pondering or brain jazzercise will get you closer to the point? Yeah the combo of those two reasons – definitely didn’t make for an enjoyable reading experience.

Like I said…woof.

Overall grade: D

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The Fortress of Solitude

Fortress of Solitude

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Synopsis: Dylan Ebdus is a white, motherless boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 70s- where it really isn’t easy to be growing up as a white, motherless boy. When Dylan befriends Mingus Rude, he becomes somewhat protected in his street life. The story covers their unique and somewhat turbulent relationship from adolescence through adulthood.

Thoughts: Good lord that was a struggle to get through. I can’t even pinpoint exactly what it was that I didn’t like about this book – I just had the most difficult time connecting with it. And when you’ve got a 500 page book on your hands, that lack of connection can become a little tiresome. The characters weren’t particularly bad, but I just didn’t fall in love with, or really even like, any of them. I suppose it was also about 100 pages too long, but that’s never been the kiss of death before…

I think the thing that turned me off was the superhero aspect. We were going along fine with a nice story about a white kid growing up in the ghetto, and then all of a sudden, this superhero plot point comes completely out of left field. Then we’re back to the normal story like nothing happened…and then it happens again…and again…and again. I just think this would have been a lot stronger without all the fluff.

Overall Grade: D

Up Next: The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

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The Dinner

The Dinner

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Synopsis: Two brothers and their wives meet at a fancy restaurant in Amsterdam. It is clear there is tension between the couples, which is amplified when the true point of the meeting comes up. They begin to discuss the matter at hand – the fact that their sons may or may not have been involved in a pretty horrific homicide – and repressed feelings soon bubble up to the surface.

Thoughts: That book was dumb. And just know that I would love to stop my review there, but I won’t because I owe you good people more than that.

I could tell almost from the get-go that Koch was trying to set up something shocking – almost like a combo of Defending Jacob and Gone Girl (two books that I totally dug). But just as soon as I realized where the story was going, I realized it just wasn’t actually going to get there. The characters – good god, those characters were awful. Each was more annoying and less believable than the last. I don’t know who was worse: the seemingly normal mom who ends up going bonkers, or the wishy-washy dad who makes absolutely no progress throughout the book. Oh wait, no, it was probably the weak yet psychopathic unremorseful weirdo son.

And paired with those dashing characters was a not-quite-so-terrible-but-still-pretty-bad plot line. Cons – most everything in the book. Pros – I struggled through this one so you wouldn’t have to!

Overall Grade: D

Up Next: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Synopsis: Choppy. Sentences. Did. Not. Finish.

Thoughts: I tried to like this. I really really did. I love dystopian fiction, and even when it’s kind of vanilla (i.e. The Office of Mercy), I still can get through it with at least a small degree of interest. But this just did not cut it. I seriously cannot even express how difficult it was for me to get through the first third of this book.

The main problem – the writing was choppy. As in the author wrote a book and put it in the food processor and was left with : “Shouldn’t be. Benighted above treeline. Storms that move fast this time of year migrating like everything else. The cold. Exposed”. And that is the exact point where I decided to stop reading this book.

Reading should be enjoyable. A part of me thought about continuing to read The Dog Stars – all the reviews I read said the ending was amazing. But there was literally not one part in this book that brought any joy to my life. So – I’m terribly sad to say, but I just can’t finish this one.

Overall Grade: F

Up Next: Defending Jacob by William Landay

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr Penumbra

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Synopsis: Clay Jannon works at a strange bookstore run by none other than Mr. Penumbra.  As time ticks by, Clay’s sense of curiosity begins to get the better of him. Though he has promised to not go digging into the secrets of the store, he cannot help himself. Little does Clay know, he’s in for quite the adventure.

Thoughts: Wow – that was pretty terrible. I’m actually a little surprised I managed to get through the book – but I was on a lengthy cross-country flight with only one book to keep me occupied and didn’t have much say in the matter (note to self – always pack kindle and/or back-up book).

So why a “D” and not an “F”? Well, there were some select (very select) portions of the book that were interesting. It moved pretty quickly (a good thing for a bad book) and it reminded me slightly of Ready Player One – in fact, it seemed like Sloan read that glorious book and thought to himself, “Hey, I’m going to write a book that follows this plot line, but I’ll make it seem original by changing the concept from video games to books – easter eggs to ancient unbroken codes”. Genius, right? Nope – it just didn’t work. The characters were tedious and juvenile. Two of the twenty-something main characters are engaged in this immature middle-school-type relationship that gave me the heeby-jeebies at the slightest mention.

Blah. With so many amazing books out there, don’t waste your time on this bad boy.

Overall Grade: D

Up Next: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
I’ve had this on my reading list for ohhh, about 6 years. There’s no time like the present!

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In One Person

In One Person by John Irving

Synopsis: A coming of age tale in which nothing really happens.

Thoughts: This was a giant struggle. After two weeks of trying to like this book, I finally gave up and stopped reading less than 100 pages from the end. Maybe the book was going to close in perfection, but I just couldn’t carry on anymore. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable, and this baby was a soul-sucker (ok, ok, I’ll tone down on being overdramatic).The sad thing is, In One Person actually started off really well, but the further in I got, the weaker it became. It had the potential to be a really moving story, but it was lacking the necessary character and plot development to get to that point.

The real reason behind me finally throwing in the towel was the main character. I honestly can’t remember a worse main character from a book in a very long time. Billy was frustratingly weak. Everything he did and said was entirely wishy-washy, and I ended up essentially resenting him. I won’t totally discredit Irving since I know he’s written some real gems, but this one was surely not his finest.

Overall Grade: D

Up Next: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened : (A Mostly True Memoir)  by Jenny Lawson
Mostly, I just like the “A Mostly True Memoir” disclaimer in the title.

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The Zombie Survival Guide

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
Synopsis: The Zombie Survival Guide details everything you need to know about surviving a zombie attack and eventually prevailing over the undead. From the best weapons, to the best locations to hide in, you will undoubtedly be over prepared after reading Brooks’ latest book.

Thoughts: I can’t believe this book has been getting such high ratings!! I had such high hopes for the book, but it got pretty painful towards the middle and I almost stopped reading. I just kept hoping that Brooks would pull out some of that World War Z magic that I know he has stashed away somewhere. The whole book was comprised of list after list and it just ended up being extremely repetitive. There were lists for weapons to use on the defense, weapons to use on the offense, terrains to seek out on the defense, terrains to seek out on the offense, supplies to pack, and on…and on…and on.

I thought it might take a slight turn for the better in the section that chronicled previous zombie attacks. A few of the stories were quite interesting, but for the most part they were kept to about a 2 page limit, which made them all blend into each other. The section with the most potential ended up as yet another list to add to the rest. I know the whole book was meant to be a parody, but I just wasn’t able to appreciate the humor of it.

Here’s my advice (which I just know you have been waiting with bated breath for): if you want a really great book that is disguised as a zombie novel, but really represents so much more, go for World War Z. If you A) have already read World War Z and feel like it didn’t give you enough detailed information about zombies or B) are genuinely concerned about learning how to survive a zombie attack, then you’re probably better off reading The Zombie Survival Guide.

Overall Grade: D

Up Next: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
A book about what happens when your expectations growing up don’t exactly pan out.

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