Category: "Books: Don't Read"

Touchstone - Melanie Rawn

February 21st, 2012

Touchstone by Melanie RawnCayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard -- and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high-society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and his troupe is something very special.

The four of them intend to enter the highest reaches of society and power, but not the way Cade's mother thinks they should. They'll be the greatest players of all time, or die trying.

Come experience the magic of Touchstone: wholly charming characters in a remarkably original fantasy world. You'll never want to leave.

Cayden and two of his childhood buddies are looking for the missing piece to their theater troupe when a charming, though difficult-to-tolerate, elf asks for a tryout. Fortuoutously for them all, he is just what they need. Together, the four young males seek to become the greatest performers the kingdom has ever seen.

This book fell short for me. The story begins without laying any foundation; Touchstone is the first book in a new series, but it starts off like it is the continuation of some other story and no recap is given. The plot is shallow at best and the author writes descriptively about things she should skip and skips things about which she should be descriptive. The story jumps ahead whimsically and is difficult to follow.

At the beginning there were a few pieces of wisdom from Cade's old teacher. I thought they were beautifully written and poignant. There were three of them in the first few chapters. I was excited that there would be more. No dice.

I wanted to like this book, but I did not.

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Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh

March 28th, 2011

Sea of Poppies by Amitav GhoshAt the heart of this vibrant saga is an immense ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its purpose to fight China's vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts.

In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship brothers. An unlikely destiny is born, which will span continents, races, and generations.

The vast sweep of this historical adventure embraces the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the crowded backstreets of Canton. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, that makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive -- a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelist.

I consider The Man Booker Prize to be a great source from which to grow my "to-read" pile and it is where I first learned of Sea of Poppies. The book was shortlisted (basically it was a semi-finalist for the award) in 2008, losing to Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, which fueled my desire; not only was it nominated for the award, it nearly won. I can understand the praise this book has received in its layers of complexity and the artful strokes the author used. However, this book lost me along the way with...just how artful the author was...and just how complex this story really became. Much of this book is not written in English, with its uneducated, slang dialogue between low-caste characters in India. Often the words were used in such a context that you can understand roughly what the author is saying, but it disrupted the flow of the book for me. I also found that the paradox of how complex the story was contrasted with how little was actually happening made this a long and drawn-out read.

I love watching professional hockey for its fast-paced action. This book was like watching a professional baseball double header, where you feel they should bring out the landscaping crew to trim down all of the grass you just watched grow.

I appreciate the author's craftsmanship, like I appreciate some paintings in a museum, but that doesn't mean I would hang them in my house. Admittedly, Amitav Ghosh sculpted Sea of Poppies in such a way that it was simply over my head. And I am a relatively well-read man, pushing 30, who just finished a post-graduate degree. If you have an eye for fine art, and the patience for major league baseball, you may well love this book. The dots poppy seeds are there, but I couldn't connect them.

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Straight Down the Middle: Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance, and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Golf Swing - Josh Karp

March 16th, 2011

Something Missing by Matthew DicksThroughout the ages, the ancient arts of Zen and meditation have helped warriors prepare for battle, brought philosophers to enlightenment, and opened the path to inner peace for countless practitioners. Perhaps most importantly, however, these practices have allowed golfers to transcend their game and shave precious strokes off their handicaps.

In this hilarious memoir, journalist and former-18-handicap Josh Karp tries it all -- from quantum physics to Feldenkrais -- in an attempt to transform his mindset, lower his score, and tap into the mystical connection between golf and spirituality. Asissted by a quirky roster of Zen-influenced golf masters, Karp's unique experiences across the fairways of North America (and Scotland, of course!) are as funny as they are enlightening. Straight Down the Middle chronicles the lessons learned during the inspired, at times frustrating, but always entertaining, journey of a common man in search of an uncommon kingdom.

The book about wanting to be a better golfer has been written many times before. I was hoping for a hilarious retelling of this man's attempt to achieve golfing greatness. This is really the story of a man who is wound too tightly trying to relax, enjoy life, and just maybe become a nicer person.

If you find golf on TV, stroke after carefully-selected-for-entertainment-purposes stroke, to be the perfect way to induce a good Saturday afternoon nap on the couch like I do, you might wish for more excitement in this book. A hefty portion is dedicated to recounting rounds, holes and individual swings in painstaking detail. But I can tell you that if you are so inclined, you can pretty much skip these parts; the intimate details he recounts from the course are filler.

From cover to cover you wonder when he will stop name dropping -- as if each enlightened being he visits paid for his or her chapter. This feeling is re-enforced when you know that none will be his true path to the end. With each teacher he encounters he finds temporary improvement to his golf game, only to lose his focus and need to find someone else almost like clockwork. It is like when they make a prequel to a long-running series about a character and that younger version of the character is in a potentially life-threatening situation in this prequel. Is it really suspenseful? Do you really think he is going to die? You have read 10 books that take place chronologically after this seemingly dire moment. If Josh Karp had found peace with any of these spiritual leaders, his book would have been cut short, mission accomplished, writing assignment incomplete.

You also have a pretty good idea, as a reader and semi-intelligent human being, that to truly become a good golfer, the trick is some worth-while instruction and a lot of repetition. I thought for sure this book would not take itself seriously and would be filled with cheeky anecdotes and hilarious commentary. It starts out to be pretty funny for the first chapter or so and there are a few more laughs later, scattered between the many other failed attempts at humor that were not so cleverly emphasized with gratuitous vulgarity.

For success where this book fails, read Carl Hiaasen's The Downhill Lie.

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The Cabinet of Curiosities - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

January 15th, 2009

The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln ChildIn an ancient tunnel underneath New York City a charnel house is discovered. Inside are thirty-six bodies -- all murdered and mutilated more than a century ago. While FBI agent Pendergast investigates the old crimes, identical killings start to terrorize the city. The nightmare has begun. Again.

FBI Special Agent Pendergast is in New York City on unofficial business. He is deeply interested in a crime scene that is over 100-years old, yet he refuses to tell anyone why. Once again he enlists the help of someone who works at the Museum of Natural History to aid him in his rogue investigation. Like the first two books in the Pendergast series, Agent Pendergast is a unique man. He is almost like a more bookish James Bond. Unlike the first two books in the series, in The Cabinet of Curiosities Agent Pendergast is acting very much on his own behalf and receives little to no help from the NYPD.

Pendergast has always marched to the beat of his own drum, but in this book he really has gone rogue. His intentions are not always clear and his messages are more cryptic than ever. This book focused more on him and his work, so maybe that is why there was a different feel. If that is all it takes to change my opinion of this series, please let Agent Pendergast take a step back. He seems to make a better supporting cast member than lead.

I am about to make a statement that even I think sounds ridiculous. The story in this book was a little too far-fetched for me. Yes that means that I had no problems with a reptile/human hybrid creature that terrorized a museum feasting on any hypothalemus it encountered. All I can say was that was within my limits, but this story was not. Some sci-fi works for you and some does not. This sci-fi did not work for me.

And I thought the conclusion to this conflict to be quite poor. The entire book we wonder what this antagonist's great life purpose was. And when you find out the entire story falls flat on its face. I am not saying that I can do any better than the two men who authored this book. Ultimately all I am saying is that I recommend only the first two books of the Pendergast series. I will not keep reading these books.

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Black Powder War - Naomi Novik

December 15th, 2008

Black Powder War by Naomi NovikAfter their fateful adventure in China, Capt. Will Laurence of His Majesty's Aerial Corps and his extraordinary dragon, Temeraire, are waylaid by a mysterious envoy bearing urgent new orders from Britain. Three valuable dragon eggs have been purchased from the Ottoman Empire, and Laurence and Temeraire must detour to Istanbul to escort the precious cargo back to England. Time is of the essence if the eggs are to be borne home before hatching.

Yet disaster threatens the mission at every turn -- thanks to the diabolical machinations of the Chinese dragon Lien, who blames Temeraire for her master's death and vows to ally herself with Napoleon and take vengeance. Then, faced with shattering betrayal in an unexpected place, Laurence, Temeraire, and their squad must launch a daring offensive. But what chance do they have against the massed forces of Bonaparte's implacable army?

As Captain Laurence is about to make his slow way back to England, an urgent message is delivered to him. Ultimately, his orders change so that he must hurry to Turkey to pick up three dragon eggs that England has purchased. To make it in time, Capt. Laurence, his crew, and his dragon Temeraire must travel across the uncharted expanses of land that lie between China and Turkey.

Barring some unforeseen event, this is the last book in the Temeraire series that I plan to read. In my review of book 1 (I left it out of the review for book 2) I have described before that Captain Will Laurence is a drab and uncharismatic leading man. I was hoping to see a change in his demeanor and that has not yet happened. It still may, but there are too many other books I could read instead of waiting for him to become more interesting. And to make matters worse he seems to be really affecting Temeraire. The dragon has always been a free thinker and has bucked authority, trying to balance out how obsequious Capt. Laurence is. Through three books, now the relationship is beginning to strain and it is frustrating.

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Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson

June 18th, 2008

Out Stealing Horses by Per PettersonWe were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and one of the first days of July.

Trond's friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them.

But this morning was different. What began as a joy ride on "borrowed" horses ends with Jon falling into a strange trance of grief. Trond soon learns what befell Jon earlier that day -- an incident that marks the beginning of a series of vital losses for both boys.

At age sixty-seven, Trond has settled into a rustic cabin in an isolated part of eastern Norway to live the rest of his life with a quiet deliberation. A meeting with his only neighbor, however, forces him to reflect on that fateful summer.

Petterson's subtle prose and profound vision make Out Stealing Horses and unforgettable novel -- an achingly good read.

As a boy Trond spent his summers in the country, where he became friends with the adventurous Jon. Now older, and with his days of adventure well behind him, Trond relives one particular summer, a summer that forever shaped his life and Jon's.

The synopsis from the book's dust jacket suggests, as dust jackets do, that this is the tip of the plot iceberg and there is a great deal more detail coming so you should read the book and find out. False. Per Petterson writes well in spurts, but he offers very little detail. He gave little depth to his characters and expounded upon almost none of the events that he created.

I hate to say it, but I feel like nothing really happened in this book. I'm not trying to be hard on it, but the book was seemingly about...nothing. And that made it difficult for me to enjoy. I won't tell you not to read it, but please consider this as a warning.

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The Feast of Love - Charles Baxter

March 11th, 2008

The Feast of Love: A Novel by Charles BaxterLate one night, Charlie Baxter wakes with a start from a bad dream and decides to take a walk through his Ann Arbor neighborhood. After catching sight of two lovers entangled together on the fifty-yard line of the football field, he comes upon Bradley W. Smith, a friend and fellow insomniac, who convinces Charlie to listen to the first of many tales that will become a luminous narrative of love in its sublime, agonizing, and eternal complexity.

We meet Kathryn, Bradley's first wife, who leaves her husband for another woman, and Diana, Bradley's second wife, whose cold, secretive nature makes her more suitable as a mistress than as a spouse. We meet Chloe and Oscar, whose dreams for their future together are more traditional than their multiple body piercings and wild public displays of affection might suggest. We meet Esther and Harry Ginsberg, Bradley's neighbors, whose love for their lost son persists despite his hatred of them. And we follow Bradley, ex-husband, employer, and friend, on his journey toward conjugal happiness. The community of souls found in The Feast of Love is unforgettable -- as is the perfect symphony their harmonized voices create.

An author takes a walk one night to combat his insomnia and he bumps into a neighbor who becomes his muse for a new book. This neighbor promises new perspective on the oft discussed topic of love. Many stories follow that cover various contexts for the often illusive thing; there is husband-wife love, wife-lover love, boy-girl love, parent-child love, boss-employee love, lonely man-mysterious girl love and more.

I will admit that I let my expectations get the better of me as I began to read. I allowed myself to (I feel) be lead to believe that the two men who could not sleep would share and discuss a selection of anecdotes on the subject. There would be third-person retelling of a story about love and two men, romantic or skeptic, would give it depth.

In place of that the book was first-person retelling of the stories from characters who were too ordinary to be entertaining. The Feast of Love was very Jerry Seinfeld, very quick to emphasize themes that occur in almost all of our lives. I have never developed an appreciation for this.

Charles Baxter was a surprisingly talented writer. He sprinkled the book with some wonderful literary gems, but the story as a whole lacked in substance. I think that anyone who reads The Feast of Love would highlight/underline/jot down/post on the web many snippets, or gems, and no two people would necessarily be moved by the same ones. From that angle, I liked that there was a broad mix.

Without the occasional silver-lining excerpt, The Feast of Love was an unremarkable book. The story was intended to be full of ordinary people, but I'm not sure they were supposed to seem so...plain. Admittedly I thought the book was headed in a different direction and my disappointment and bias is on record. I liked parts of The Feast of Love, but not the book in its entirety.

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For One More Day - Mitch Albom

August 2nd, 2007

For One More Day by Mitch AlbomMitch Albom has mesmerized readers around the world with his number one New York Times bestsellers, The Five People You Meet in Heaven and Tuesdays with Morrie. Now he returns with a beautiful, haunting novel about the family we love and the chances we miss.

For One More Day is the story of a mother and a son, and a relationship that lasts a lifetime and beyond. It explores the question: What would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?

As a child, Charley Benetto is told by his father, "You can be a mama's boy or you can be a daddy's boy, but you can't be both." So he chooses his father, and he worships him -- right up to the day the man disappears. An eleven-year-old Charley must then turn to his mother, who bravely raises him on her own, despite Charley's embarrassment and yearnings for a complete family.

Decades later, Charley is a broken man. His life has been crumbled by alcohol and regret. He loses his job. He leaves his family. He hits bottom after discovering his only daughter has shut him out of her wedding.

And he decides to take his own life.

He makes a midnight ride to his small hometown, with plans to do himself in. But upon failing even to do that, he staggers back to his old house, only to make an astonishing discovery. His mother -- who died eight years earlier -- is still living there, and welcomes him home as if nothing had ever happened.

I read Mitch Albom's column frequently and I have read both Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven. I don't like his writing as much as I (generally) like his ideas. I was as excited about the "For One More Day" idea as I have been for anything he has written in a long time. I even made sure to attend the charity event held to promote the book.

I try to think that my expectations didn't get the better of me, but it would appear that they did. I didn't like For One More Day for two main reasons: it was too similar to The Five People You Meet In Heaven and the main character was not one I could support.

While I understand that the plot lines were entirely different in The Five People You Meet In Heaven and For One More Day, one thing seemed too similar. Both books featured visits from and conversations with people who had died. Those people came to the story and told about things that happened during their time alive which affected our protagonists indirectly. The anecdotes were meant to help the characters see the big picture about life and how the things we do affect other people and the things people who love us do to protect us without us ever knowing. They are both good lessons, but all I am saying is that I want to see the Vegas odds that Mitch Albom's next book will focus on interaction with a person or people beyond the grave.

This book chronicled what leads to a new lease on life for a man who was down and out. He was past the point-of-no-return, or so he thought. Here was a man whose life had snowballed downhill years before and his daily dose of alcohol to bandage his problems had lost its effect. One main theme of the book is that no matter how old we get or how many things in life we achieve, there is still nothing that can substitute for Mom. I love that message.

I also like the other message from the book: that everyone deserves a second chance, but that is where this book lost me. Charley's life did not turn out the way he had planned, but the only reason he was able to become anything at all was because of his mother. The problem was that when he wasn't directly treating his mother poorly it was because he was too busy ignoring her. Charley was saved from himself by One More Day with his (deceased) mother. She told and showed him how she cared for him, the things she did for him that went unnoticed. The stories of sacrifice give Charley a desire to make right the times he had been wrong.

This was not the Mother-Son story I had expected. I had expected a story-book answer to the question, "If you could spend one day with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?" That question would have been posed to a man whose mother was taken from him, and he could choose to spend the day with anyone. And he would choose his mom. For One More Day answers, instead, the question, "What can save a man who is, by his own account, beyond being saved?" And I did not feel that Charley deserved a visit from his mother. While it shows that a mother's love is eternal and I did not want to see Charley successfully take his own life, I thought it was too easy. Like everyone, I felt that Charley does deserve a second chance (even though he had technically had many already), but I felt like he should have had to work harder to get it.

The problem I have with Mitch Albom's writing is that usually he is too narrative, too detached. I felt the same way here. This story deserved more emotion. It needed more passion. Stories since the beginning of time marvel at the power of a mother's love, but reading For One More Day I only felt a mother's pain because her child would not love her back. You may be able to support that child, but I could not.

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Hannibal Rising - Thomas Harris

February 14th, 2007

Hannibal Rising by Thomas HarrisHannibal emerges from the nightmare on the Eastern Front, a boy in the snow, mute, with a chain around his neck.

He seems utterly alone, but he has brought his demons with him.

Hannibal's uncle, a noted painter, finds him in a Soviet orphanage and brings him to France, where Hannibal will live with his uncle and his uncle's beautiful and exotic wife, Lady Murasaki.

Lady Murasaki helps Hannibal to heal. With her help he flourishes, becoming the youngest person ever admitted to medical school in France.

But Hannibal's demons visit him and torment him. When he is old enough, he visits them in turn.

He discovers he has gifts beyond the academic, and in that epiphany, Hannibal Lecter becomes death's prodigy.

Thomas Harris has done a great job through the series of writing an otherwise very likeable and respectable man. I know I was not alone in my excitement when it was announced that Hannibal Lecter was coming to us again in print.

It was a very ambitious task for the author to try to bring him back in a prequel, but the end of Hannibal did not exactly leave much room to tack anything on the end. Without being able to append new material to the end, Harris chose to start from the beginning and show us Hannibal Lecter's childhood and what led to...well the events that occurred in Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.

I appreciate the attempt and I enjoy the star of the show, but I think the project just wasn't feasible. I liked how Harris stayed consistent with writing Hannibal in a very likeable fashion; he grew up as a very cultured boy, responsible and devoted to his family and he worked harder than most at schooling. The other books could be described as "suspense" novels and Hannibal Rising attempts to follow suit.

It is very difficult to write suspense in a story where the main theme is revenge. Ok I am generalizing too much. It is very difficult to find suspense in a story about revenge where the suspense is tied to whether the main character will make it out alive...when have three books already written as concrete evidence that he escapes relatively (physically) unscathed.

The book is short and easy to breeze through; the font is large and the page margins are wide. I think the book was actually too easy to read in some regards. I never felt the hook set while I read. I kept waiting to be engaged by Hannibal Rising like I was in earlier installments of the series. If you have read it, you may think I am crazy, but I just thought there was an absence of depth in character development and the progression of some scenes. I also don't like that in some aspects Hannibal Lecter was turned into a mild action hero.

Thomas Harris is a great writer and I wish he would not keep his fan base waiting so long between books. But I believe we have now established that, if he would continue to write (and I wish he would) it may be best to retire Hannibal Lecter.

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Next - Michael Crichton

January 26th, 2007

Next by Michael CrichtonIs a loved one MISSING some BODY PARTS? Are BLONDES becoming EXTINCT? Is everyone at your dinner table of the same species? Humans and chimpanzees differ in only 400 genes; is that why a CHIMP FETUS resembles a human being? And should that worry us? There's a NEW GENETIC CURE FOR DRUG ADDICTION -- is it worse than the disease?

We live in a time of MOMENTOUS SCIENTIFIC LEAPS, a time when it's possible to SELL OUR EGGS AND SPERM online for thousands of dollars and to test our spouses for genetic maladies.

We live in a time when one fifth of all OUR GENES ARE OWNED by someone else, and an unsuspecting person and his family can be pursued cross-country because they happen to have certain VALUABLE genes within their chromosomes...

Devilishly clever, Next blends fact and fiction into a breathless tale of a new world where NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS and a set of new possibilities can open at every turn.

Next challenges our sense of REALITY and notions of MORALITY. Balancing the COMIC and the BIZARRE with the genuinely FRIGHTENING and DISTURBING, Next shatters our assumptions and reveals shocking new choices were we least expect.

THE FUTURE IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK.

Michael Crichton has been my favorite author for many years. It was his science fiction that has led me to the close-knit relationship I have with books today. He has written some of the most engaging fiction I have ever read. His stories have always interested me and I have become a devoted follower of his work. That means that even when a book comes out that I am afraid will be too much social commentary on an arguably growing global concern, I buy it anyway. And I read it with fingers crossed.

Next was the first Crichton book for which I had this ugly premonition. With the book he released before Next (State of Fear) the author delved more deeply into creating awareness in a "current event" as he taught the opposing view to global warming theory. In Next, Crichton teaches again; one thing he does so well is include a strong fact-base to his fictional story. The depth of his research is apparent even without flipping to the extensive bibliography at the end of the book.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with Next. The points that he made relative to the shocking ways in which large firms dealing in genetic research are able to exploit ordinary people were eye opening. As stated previously, his level of research was dazzling. It was only the fictional packaging in which he wrapped these nuggets of truth that fell short. I had hoped for a little more cohesion to the multiple stories he maintained concurrently in Next. There were many people in many different situations whose lives revolved around genetic research as characters in the book, but I felt that was too broad of a common element to unite these men and women in one story. It was more creative than handing out a stack of pamphlets alerting people to the growing concerns around genetics, but it was not very entertaining. This was just not the level of quality one should expect from Michael Crichton.

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