DNF: The Color Master

The Color Master, Aimee Bender“In this collection, Bender’s unique talents sparkle brilliantly in stories about people searching for connection through love, sex, and family—while navigating the often painful realities of their lives. A traumatic event unfolds when a girl with flowing hair of golden wheat appears in an apple orchard, where a group of people await her. An ugly woman marries an ogre and struggles to decide if she should stay with him after he mistakenly eats their children. Two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds.

In these deeply resonant stories—evocative, funny, beautiful, and sad—we see ourselves reflected as if in a funhouse mirror. Aimee Bender has once again proven herself to be among the most imaginative, exciting, and intelligent writers of our time.” -Goodreads

I’d rather stick a needle in my eye

It started out so promising. NPR gave The Color Master a great review, and I thought that for the first time in my life I might have stumbled upon a collection of story stories I could enjoy.

Unfortunately, though, I appear to have underestimated my intelligence; where People calls author Aimee Bender’s stories “moving, fanciful, and gorgeously strange” and The Boston Globe pronounces her writing “full of provocative ideas,” I just see a mish-mash of unconnected, weird, boring stories.

The stories are dull, unconnected, and couldn’t hold my interest. I gave up after story six, “The Fake Nazi,” in which a delusional man who was in no way involved in the Holocaust turns himself in at Nuremberg and believes he cursed his brother with the power of his mind.

Many of Bender’s stories have a fairytale flavor, just not the kind I can endure. Where novels like Ash, Deerskin, and even The Sugar Queen were beautiful and dark, I found The Color Master incomprehensible and annoying.

Does this make me a lazy reader, unwilling to dedicate brain space to interpreting “deep” literature? Possibly. But I’d rather spend my reading time enjoying myself than trying to find meaning in stories to which I feel no connection.

DNF: Kushiel’s Dart

Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey“The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good…and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission…and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies.” – Goodreads

Just…no

I heard about Jacqueline Carey’s Phèdre’s Trilogy sometime in 2012 or 2013, and was intrigued to read a series starring a character like Phèdre nó Delaunay; I like female characters who are strong and intelligent, and I was especially interested to see how Carey would treat the masochism element.

…after 200+ pages if someone can’t get their mind around the world you’ve created, perhaps you’re doing it wrong.

What Kushiel’s Dart ended up being — as least through page 206, which was as far as I got into the 1,105-page chunkster — was more of a political “thriller,” replete with aristocrats betraying each other at every turn, dastardly murder plots, and two-faced friendships.

In short, boring. And there’s two more books in the series. I just couldn’t do it.

The amateur psychologist in me wanted to learn more about Phèdre, her “peculiar” enjoyments and how she comes to terms with them. Is she able to find happiness?

Instead I was bombarded by the political drama of a constructed world that on which I could never quite get a handle. So they’re all Nephilim? Is everyone a member of the various houses? How did this world come about?

Maybe these questions would have been answered had I kept reading — but after 200+ pages if someone can’t get their mind around the world you’ve created, perhaps you’re doing it wrong.

Like Byron Easy, Kushiel’s Dart is not poorly written — it’s just so far from my taste in books that I couldn’t enjoy it. I’m disappointed.

Anyone read Carey’s series? What did you think?

DNF: Byron Easy

Byron Easy, Jude CookDisclosure: I received a free copy of Byron Easy from publisher Pegasus Books, LLC, but was not compensated for discussing/reviewing it. My thoughts on the book are my own.

“It’s December 24th, 1999. Byron Easy, a poverty-stricken poet, half-drunk and suicidal, sits on a train at King’s Cross Station waiting to depart. In his lap is a backpack containing his remaining worldly goods—an empty wine bottle, a few books, a handful of crumpled banknotes. As the journey commences, he conjures memories (both painful and euphoric) of the recent past, of his rollercoaster London life, and, most distressingly, of Mandy — his half-Spanish Amazonian wife — in an attempt to make sense of his terrible—and ordinary — predicament.” – Goodreads

Welcome to my nightmare

I’ve found myself in the predicament feared most by bloggers: giving a bad review to a galley they’ve received. I’ve always hated disappointing people; the publisher has spent time and money mailing me a free book, and here I go crapping all over it.

To clarify, I don’t think that Byron Easy is badly written — it’s actually got some great similes (my favorite being “vulnerable as a peeled egg”) and unfolds the story slowly and well, inviting the reader to keep reading just a bit more.

Unfortunately I just don’t find the story compelling. I’ve never done well with stream-of-consciousness novels, and I couldn’t seem to drum up any sympathy for the title character — and if that doesn’t happen in the first 50 pages, I’m not sticking around any longer to see if it shows itself.

I’m a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of person, less sympathetic to characters and people who find themselves in unpleasant situations, especially when they act as their own enablers.

I didn’t find myself rooting for Byron so much as wishing he would just stop talking.

Byron Easy was my first DNF of the year, but I attribute this partially — she says, rationalizing — to my current mood. I’m in a fairly positive head space at the moment, so reading such a relentlessly depressed and negative story was, to borrow a phrase, killing my buzz.

Onward and upward, I suppose.

Anyone else have trouble handling a DNF of a galley read? How do you cope?

DNF: The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose, Umberto EcoIt’s 1327, and Brother William Baskerville and his companion (monk-in-training Adso of Melk) have just arrived at an unnamed abbey somewhere in Italy or France. A resident of the abbey has committed suicide — or possibly been murdered — and the abbot has requested that William investigate.

William hopes for a quick resolution, but the abbey and its occupants have their secrets — and no one is willing to share. The danger escalates quickly as six more of the abbey’s occupants are shuffled violently off this mortal coil, and it is up to William and Adso to uncover the killer before he strikes again.

It had such promise

How could I pass up a book whose main character is considered a “medieval Sherlock Holmes”? I didn’t enjoy the original Holmes short stories as much as I wanted, but I did like Holmes himself, and was excited to see some of his most famous traits set against the backdrop of medieval Europe.

I liked William enough; it was the rest of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose I couldn’t stand, and eventually had to DNF for two main reasons.

1. Constant philosophical drivel – The novel starts off perfectly, with William using his Sherlockian powers of observance to solve the mini-mystery of the abbot’s missing horse. But soon the reader realizes that the novel is merely a vehicle for Eco’s philosophical and religious mental masturbation. It’s like he went in with an idea for a philosophy text but his publisher convinced him it wouldn’t sell unless it was a mystery novel, so he Frankenstein’d this monstrosity together.

It felt like all the monks were in a constant pissing contest, each trying to get in as much about how great their beliefs were and how dumb everyone else’s were.

2. Unnecessary Latin everywhere – Usually in conjunction with the aforementioned philosophical drivel. William would be the middle of questioning a suspect or witness about the interesting plot point (murdered monks), then suddenly off they’d go quoting long strings of Latin — with no translation provided by the author — and debating various religious tenets.

I wanted to see more of William’s crime-solving brilliance, not his arguments with other monks about religion. It was distracting; instead of being able to sink into a great plot, I was constantly aware of skipping long sections of Latin and incomprehensible chatter.

I tried to stick it out to see if the murder plot would pick up, but it never did — and I’m just not willing to put up with a bunch of garbage for a story that’s just not worth it. I’d have tossed the book out a window if it weren’t a library copy. Total failure.

DNF: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery**Spoiler alert: This spotlight contains spoilers for The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Proceed with caution.**

This book was—in a word—awful. It started off badly, got a little better, but then quickly spiraled down into lameness from which I’m not sure if it recovered — I snorted in disgust and threw it down on the sofa a few chapters before the end, and nothing on earth could make me pick it back up again.

Reasons it failed

I disliked this book for two reasons:

1. It smells like pretentious in here

Could this book have been any more French, any more pretentious, or any more filled with useless blather that did nothing to forward the plot? Barbery’s novel reads just like the character Paloma’s journal: the pseudo-intelligent philosophical ramblings of a 12 year-old. It felt like the author was trying to come across as smart, and make these sweeping statements about culture and the wealthy and poor and blah, blah, blah.

I ended up doing a lot of skimming, trying to find the plot — which didn’t actually begin until half a dozen chapters into the novel, anyway.

Dull, dull, pointless, and more dull.

2. That ending. What. the. F**k.

As soon as Renée got hit by that car or bus or whatever it was, I literally threw the book over my shoulder onto the sofa. Just as we’re getting into a plot, just as we’re starting to have hope for her, blam! Dead.

What lesson is that supposed to teach? What point could there possibly be for Barbery to kill off a character just as that character is learning to be herself, and has made a couple friends? Why should a reader waste his or her time on this book?

I don’t know. Which is why I’m not. Onto something—anything—else.