Thursday, December 3, 2009

Quarter Three in Books

What? Q3 only ended two months ago. You do not come here for timely news (thank God). So, here is what I read (and listened to, as that is quickly starting to outnumber the books I've read) in the third quarter and what I thought about them.

1. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - Very atmospheric Asian novel about two little girls who are friends growing up, have a fight and stop being friends. Good, but kind of mild. The misunderstanding that led to them to not speak for so long was a little lame, in my opinion.

2. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (audio) - Oh, the main character in this annoyed me to no end. And I saw the "surprise" ending coming a mile off. And now I really don't want to see the movie, which I very much wanted to see before, and I absolutely love Kate Winslet. I don't know that I would go so far as to say that I didn't like it. Well, yes, I think I will. I didn't like it. I didn't like the main character - I thought he was a spineless wimp who made some really inexplicable, indefensible decisions. And Kate Winslet's character was woefully underdeveloped. We do not understand why she does one single thing that she does. Ever.

3. Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman - Horrible, horrible book about a woman who willfully gets into an abusive relationship with a man she dated in her past. She leaves a stable marriage for this man! Against the advice of her daughter and all her friends. And then proceeds to totally not notice when he cuts off the phone and gathers up all the mail. Yes, she just DOES NOT NOTICE that the phone doesn't work at all and no mail ever arrives. Even though people tell her that they tried to call and that they mailed her invitations and other things. One of the stupidest books I've ever read. I'm sorry; I rarely criticize books that harshly, but it's true. I think I bought this book for a dollar from a vineyard on the farm tour last year. Yay, I'm so glad I didn't really pay for it.

4. A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George (audio) - I had very high hopes for this because I loved What Came Before He Shot Her so much, but I was really disappointed in this one. It's a murder mystery, and it seemed to me that George really hadn't figured out who the murderer would be before she finished writing the book. Then, as she worked through the plot, she eliminated possible suspects one by one. Upon reaching the end, she realized that she had actually eliminated all possible suspects and had now left herself with no plausible murderer. At which point, she returned to her first, not really plausible, suspect and concocted a terrible not-at-believable motive. There is a good sub-plot with a friend of the murder victim and his aged father. That is this book's only redeeming feature.

5. When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson - This is the third novel by Kate Atkinson to feature Jackson Brodie, private detective, who is an awesome and tremendously likable character, and this one is far far better than One Good Turn (the second book), which I thought was very disappointing. Like Case Histories, the novel that introduced Jackson, Good News weaves together several seemingly unrelated crimes and mysteries. Jackson's tangled and tortured personal life gets drug in, too, of course, as the poor man can't figure out how to have a relationship with a woman. I really liked it, as you can definitely tell.

6. The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman (audio) - And here is where I gave up on Alice Hoffman. Ice Queen is the story of a weird girl who wishes that her mother would die in a fit of anger one night and of course, her mother is killed in an auto accident that evening. Later in life, she wishes to be struck by lightning, and gets that wish as well. After that, she falls in love with a man who isn't quite what or whom he seems to be and works to alienate or not alienate her brother and sister-in-law, she can't quite decide which she wants. A very weird character and a very weird book. My final opinion of Hoffman is that she is a very uneven author who doesn't mind at all if her plots are heavy-handed or, y'know, believable.

7. The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo (audio) - A cute and almost whimsical tale of a boy who is tormented by bullies at school, lives in a run down motel with his dad, then gets to stay out of school for a time, meets a little girl and goes for walks in the woods where he finds a tiger in a cage. Things kind of go downhill from there, but it's still a cool little story.

8. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (audio) - I absolutely loved this book. It was one of the few audio books that I kept. Four random strangers meet at a tall building on New Year's Eve, each planning to commit suicide. They talk each other out of it for that night, but what comes after that? Very funny, very human.

9. What Comes After Crazy by Sandi Kahn Shelton (audio) - Maz, daughter of a psychic, struggles to get her life together after her husband runs off to New Mexico. Then, just when she's getting it together, he comes back. And her mother comes to visit. A little too "zany". It's funny, it just tries a little too hard.

10. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon (audio) - I love Michael Chabon (author of Wonder Boys, and the absolutely fabulous, Pulitzer Prize winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), so that means that what I'm about to say pains me greatly. The Final Solution is a mystery that features a very old, formerly very famous detective who is supposed to remind you very strongly of Sherlock Holmes. Maybe it's this, because I tend to find all things connected with Sherlock Holmes deadly boring (although I VERY MUCH want to see the upcoming movie - Robert Downey Jr. couldn't be boring if he tried!), or maybe it's just this book itself, but I was bored to tears. I had bought the book years ago, when it first came out, and read the first chapter or so, and couldn't get into it. So I picked it up on audio book, acknowledging the fact that I will probably never go back and read the actual book. The audio book is nearly as boring as the print book, I'm sad to say. It's about a lost parrot. And that's about it.

11. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - Yes, I re-read it when the second one came out. What of it? I understood the financial stuff this time around, so who's laughing now? I still love it just as much as I did the first time around.

12. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson - What? You're sick of hearing about how much I love this trilogy? Okay, okay. I will just say that the cliffhanger ending on this one just about killed me dead. And that at one point, I threatened to fly to Sweden, dig up Stieg Larsson, and kick his ass. Then, a few pages later, I forgave him. (I should really get out more, shouldn't I?)

13. Promise Me by Harlan Coben (audio) - Please, please tell me you all read Harlan Coben and I don't need to tell you how wonderful he is. This book was read by the author, which was a treat, because he has a warm, rich, deep voice with a nasally NE accent. He sounded like a big, New England teddy bear which was the perfect sound for his character, Myron Bolitar. In this novel, Myron makes two high school girls promise him that they will call him if they are ever in trouble and need a ride home. He will come get them, no questions asked, and not tell their parents. Which, as we all know, is a tremendously dangerously offer to make to high school girls. Of course one of them takes him up on it. And then vanishes. Coben tends to write twisty, turny, smart books. I've read and listened to four or five now and loved every one.

14. Who By Fire by Diana Spechler - Clever title, lackluster plot. Screwup girl goes to Israel to bring home her uber religious brother. Their mother gets taken in by a con man. Overall, a very forgettable novel.

15. The Last Summer of You and Me by Anne Brashares (audio) - This book hinged on one of those "if the two people had only talked for about 1.5 seconds this misunderstanding wouldn't have happened" plot points that absolutely infuriates me. I hated it with the fire of 10,000 suns.

16. Tara Road by Maeve Binchy (audio) - Out of the 19 discs, more of these were messed up than were not (I checked it out from the library.), yet I still loved it irrationally. It is a huge, sprawling novel that follows Rea over the course of her life, from young woman working in an office and meeting Danny, to marrying and having children, to well, you'd just have to read it, now wouldn't you? Along for the ride are her friends and family, all interesting and well-developed characters in their own rights. I so wish there was a sequel. That says a lot, doesn't it? 19 discs and I wish there was more.

17. Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding (audio) - Um, I know that this was the book that started the whole "chick lit" phenomena and all, but I really wasn't impressed. Way too predictable. Way to yell-y and loud. And I didn't really like Bridget all that much.

18. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan - Discussed here. If you don't want to click, mildly interesting history with a pretty shocking ending. Overall, disturbing.

19. Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner - Smart chick lit. Really, really liked it. Two friends, road trip, what's not to like?

20. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris - First of the Sookie Stackhouse/ True Blood books. Really fun, very campy. No heavy lifting here, but for mindless fluff, you really can't go wrong with the True Blood crew. Decent mystery, good characters.


Anonymous said...

We have such similar taste in books. I started the Ice Queen and could NOT get into it. I gave up. I did like The Story Sisters, though it was weird, too. I love love love Harlan Coben, esp the Myron Bolitar series. In fact our "Elf on a Shelf" elf is named Myron!

Gina said...

I think this is the 1st list that I hadn't read most of. I love Harlan Coben, too. And the one about the woman who didn't notice the phone never rang or no mail came? There are sadly actually women like that. My friend's 1st marriage was story after story like that. She never understood why the utilities got shut off, because no warnings or calls ever came.

nicole said...

I keep trying to get the first Sookie novel at the library, with no success thus far.

I just finished Best Friends Forever, and I was disappointed. It was all just too predictable to me. I really like Jennifer Weiner, but I think she is stuck in a rut. I did not like this book nearly as much as Good in Bed and In Her Shoes and Little Earthquakes.

I may have read one book by Harlan Coben, I can't remember.

You should read In The Woods by Tara French. It is a character-driven mystery, I really liked it.

Fiona Picklebottom said...

Well, by the time you got to "When Will There Be Good News," I was wondering exactly that. :) I also really like Harlan Coben.

Shelly said...

Shelly - I was curious about Alice Hoffman when there was that story about her having a hissy fit on Twitter about some critic not liking Story Sisters. So I read and listened to two of her books. I totally gave up on her after that.

I am totally finding more Myron Bolitar books and more Harlan Coben in general, because he is fabulous!

Shelly said...

Gina - well, for some of these books, that's a good thing! Some of them I would not recommend. I'm sure there are women like that. I think it would be really frustrating to be friends with someone like that.

Shelly said...

Nicole - I have an extra copy you can have! Matter of fact, you can have the first two in the series. : )

The thing about Jennifer Weiner, as smart as she is, is that she tends to write too much from her own life.

You should check him out, if you haven't. I've liked everything I've read by him, which is pretty rare for a modern author.

Ooh, thanks! I'll add it to my list.

Shelly said...

Fiona - LOL! Sometimes I get in a rut of bad books. I'm an eternal optimist, though and always think the next one will be better. Sometimes I cheat, though, and read something by an author I love or consider to be completely reliable to make sure the next book is good.

Lots of shout-outs to Harlan Coben! Yay. I'm glad everyone likes him.

nicole said...

Oh, the author's name might be TANA French, I can't remember now. Just look for the title. ;)

Reg said...

Hey Shelly, glad you're enjoying Stieg Larsson. Have you read #3 yet? A pretty good wrap-up of the trilogy (seeing it was supposed to be a 10-book series). Too bad we'll never know what happened to Lisbeth after that.

I heard Harlan Coben speak at Bouchercon in October, and he was so witty and funny and so encouraging to beginning crime fiction writers that I have to read him soon. Thanks for the tip!

If you haven't checked out my blog please do -- featuring pix from my recent trip to Stockholm and Söder especially. Unfortunately it turned out to be the almost the darkest November in history!

desperate housewife said...

The Last Summer of You and Me truly did suck. I found myself caring about the characters initially, but after the whole RIDICULOUS, would never have happened in real life misunderstanding, I just wanted to backhand all three of them.
A Place of Hiding was disappointing too. I had the same impression, that she began the story with no idea who the actual culprit would be!

Shelly said...

Nicole - No worries - I know what book you mean - I've seen it. It's got a really cool cover with vines all over it. But thanks for coming back to correct the name. I keep meaning to look in my old emails for your address so I can send those books to you. I hope to get those sent out this week!

Shelly said...

Oh wow, hi Reg! Welcome and I'm so psyched that you found me. Yes, I've read the third book (ordered it from and I absolutely loved it. I think the trilogy got better and better and I beyond bummed that there are only the three books. The third does wrap things up well, though, so it can be an end to the story.

I can imagine that Harlan Coben would be fantastic in person. He comes across very warm and witty in his books.

I will definitely visit your blog and feel free to come back here anytime!

Shelly said...

Des - Yes! By the end, I hated all three characters and felt they got what they deserved. Truly uncharitable, but that's how I felt.