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review 2018-03-10 18:28
Need to Know - What you need to know is AVOID THIS BOOK!
Need to Know: A Novel - Karen Cleveland

10 hours of my life are gone. I wish I could give negative star ratings...


Rarely have I detested a character as much as I hated the main character in NEED TO KNOW. That alone doesn't make a bad book though. I've hated lots of characters in books I loved. This book is pure crap, though, and full of awful, whiny unrealistic characters. The bad ones practically twirl mustaches, they're so poorly drawn.


How did a female former CIA analyst manage to write such a simpering, naive, idiotic main character? If she'd ended up tied to railroad tracks by a dastardly cartoon criminal, it would not have surprised me. I stopped listening, jumped to the end of th physical copy (BTW, this should have warned me: both audio & hardback were available at the library,) confirmed I was correct (I got every single bad guy on my bingo card!) and felt actual anger over the hours wasted.


It is the worst book I've encountered in a long time. I think Harlequin Romances would have rejected this (even before their standards improved) as too unbelievable and poorly written. I can't believe it got published. It's not espionage, mystery, thriller or even suspenseful. It's dime-store pulp done poorly. The main character thinks, "this is Matt!" at least 500 times. She is so easily manipulated and duped that I seriously worry for our national security after this one.


This book is missing nuance and complexity at every turn. Every character is flat and unrealistic. The premise was good. Execution was horrible. I want my money and time back. A good idea got killed, but someone should have killed the book long before it got out into the public.


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text 2018-03-09 22:16
The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi
The Bamboo Stalk - Saud Alsanousi,سعود السنعوسي

I read the first 78 pages of this book, which has proven popular in the Arab world. It's about the position of foreign workers and outsiders in Kuwait, though the early sections are set in the Philippines, and it's constructed of short chapters. Unfortunately, I found it unengaging. The narrator describes his family's lives and his childhood and there's not yet a plot to be seen on the horizon. The characters are flat; I read an interview with the author about how we're supposed to love the narrator, and this was meant to make the criticism of Kuwaiti society easier for Kuwaiti readers to bear. It looks like that has worked for its intended audience, which is excellent, but I never felt anything for the narrator, nor did I find him interesting. Clearly, this is not for me.

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review 2018-03-03 21:15
The Dating Game - DNF @ 20% (Audiobook)
The Dating Game - Jay Northcote

I got the ebook free forever ago and cracked it open some months back but quickly decided to shelve it due to the writing. Then I saw this in the Audible Romance Package and decided to give it another go. Ugh! Narrator isn't bad, but really is too posh for the story. And the story itself is pretty standard contemporary romance with little else going on. Just not that interesting. 

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review 2018-02-24 18:05
All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones
All Aunt Hagar's Children - Edward P. Jones

I think I am done with this one, at least for now. I've read the first 5 out of 14 stories (132 pages) and am finding it a drag, though I loved The Known World years ago and later on liked Lost in the City. The going felt slow, and the stories felt cluttered and sometimes confusing. Not all readers will share my short story preferences - I like them to be streamlined and to end with a bang - but that didn't really fit with these stories, which tend to meander along with two or three subplots that often don't reach any resolution or have much to do with the main plot. They're well-written and I'd hardly say they were objectively bad, but I'm not feeling it right now.

Some commentary on the individual stories, because I always want to see more of that in reviews of collections:

"In the Blink of God's Eye" - a young couple moves from Virginia to D.C. at the beginning of the 20th century, and begins to grow apart after she adopts a baby abandoned in their yard. I liked this one, though I felt it was a little padded out with the stories of secondary characters.

"Spanish in the Morning" - a young girl starts at Catholic school and skips ahead to first grade. The ending of this one baffled me.

She falls at her desk when standing up and thinking about how she's not happy about the treatment of a couple of other students, and then we rejoin her in bed at home with a wound in her hand and her family saying she doesn't have to return to that school. I couldn't tell whether she'd had a seizure or medical episode - which would make sense practically but not thematically and wouldn't explain the wound - or whether she spoke up and the teacher stabbed her in the hand, fitting in with a story an older relative told her earlier about a teacher who had a pitchfork like the Devil. Which would make sense thematically but is bizarre.

(spoiler show)

"Resurrecting Methuselah" - an American soldier in Korea is diagnosed with breast cancer, and his wife decides to leave him. In this one it was the motivations that confused me. We spend a lot of time with the wife, including a long sequence in Hawaii on the way to Korea in which she buys some candy she remembers from her childhood to find it completely different.

Then for some reason that was unclear to me, she immediately gives up on visiting her husband and flies home instead. My guess is that, having spent her adolescence as an invalid, she wasn't willing to have sickness in her house or around her daughter. But what does the candy have to do with it?

(spoiler show)

"Old Boys, Old Girls" - a young man is imprisoned for the second of two murders he's committed, does his time, and once on the outside, has to figure out how his family and an old lover fit into his life. I liked this one, which is interesting and doesn't have room for random subplots.

"All Aunt Hagar's Children" - a Korean war vet wants to head out to Alaska to pan for gold, but the older women of his family ask him to look into the murder of one of their sons instead, and he does. This was interesting but the end unconvincing.

He sees the murdered man's wife strike a powerful pose and concludes that she was the murderer, although there are plenty of other suspects.

(spoiler show)

And this one too grew weeds: it spends a lot of time on a stranger who died in front of the narrator getting off a streetcar, which does nothing in the story other than to haunt him, and I didn't believe for a minute that he somehow memorized her last words when they were full sentences in a language he didn't speak. Strings of unfamiliar words are unmemorable gibberish to me, and I'm good at foreign languages.

At any rate, I'm certainly not denying that there's merit here, but this wasn't the right time for this book, so it's heading back to the library.

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review 2018-02-20 13:53
Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson, Abandoned @ 10%
Deadhouse Gates - Steven Erikson

Series: The Malazan Book of the Fallen #2


I'm invoking the "Life is too short and I have too many better books to read" clause.


I really wasn't a fan of Gardens of the Moon, the first book in the series, but I kept hearing from my friends that the first book isn't actually all that good and that Erikson learned how to write in the interim. Maybe. But the writing wasn't my only criticism of Gardens of the Moon. Mostly I was just bored.


The same thing happened here. The "clever" banter felt stale and I just didn't find myself interested in any of the characters. I was briefly interested in the apparent storyline to go assassinate the Empress, but honestly the plan felt so convoluted (yes, we want to go to point A but first we have to go to points B and C so that we can get further away to point D so that eventually we can get to point A and have our backup magically parachute in...ok, I admit I was probably half-skimming at that point) that I don't feel there will be enough pay off even there.


Sure, Erikson has invented a complicated fantasy world...but I just don't find it very interesting. This is the tired old fantasy in a new setting, the kind of stuff that made me swear off most fantasy (except for Pratchett) for the better part of a decade growing up.


I'll admit I decided to bail after reading the part about how Felisin is trading sex for favours, not because this is happening in the story, but because of the way it's described. It's a tired old cliché that's so impersonal it's just dull. The funny thing is that Felisin is supposed to be a protagonist and you feel absolutely nothing for her. Anyway, I basically went "Oh, so it's going to be THAT kind of story again...sigh. There are way too many pages left..." And put the book aside.


There are better books out there. Hell, there's better sword & sorcery fantasy out there. And by better I mean not clichéd and can actually hold my interest.

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