Six Duds

Six book reviews.

By Margie Reins Smith

Last month I wrote about some of the best books I read in 2012. I promised to write about the bad ones, too. Why do I finish these less-than-engrossing books? Who knows? Sometimes I just want to see what happens, or how the writer gets her protagonist out of some complicated predicament. Sometimes I don’t have another really good book begging to be started, so I slog on. Sometimes I want to see how bad a novel can get. It helps me believe I can write one myself.

Here are six I wish I had never started.

The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown. Three adult sisters gather at their parents’ home. All are at a low point in their lives. Rose, the oldest, has remained in the town where they grew up, apparently to care for their ageing parents. Bean, the middle sister, has been caught embezzling from the New York firm where she works. Cordy, the youngest, is unmarried/unpartnered and pregnant.

The three don’t get along, of course. They’ve come home because their mother is dying of cancer. Finally, of course, they begin to see each other in a more sympathetic light, then change their ways for the better and move on to better living.

Their father, incidently, is a Shakespeare scholar and has named them
after the Bard’s heroines: Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia. I suppose their personalities and plot lines are linked, somehow, to these Shakespearian women.

I finished this brick to see what happened. The characters’ motivations were iffy and murky, it was not that well written, and much of it was not even close to being believable.

Eh. ★★ out of four stars.

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan. Talk about slow moving plots?
This story just schlepped along aimlessly and repeated itself over and over and over and over and. . . Very disappointing book, after reading O’Nan’s  Emily,
, which I loved.

One summer Kim, a teenager in Kingsville, Ohio, goes missing. Her family does everything possible to find her – search parties, fundraisers, walk-a-thons, posters, TV pleas, etc. O’Nan gives the reader every single miniscule detail of every freaking bit of the search, dropping hints here and there about who might be the culprit – her boyfriend, her father, her sister, a drug dealer, a kidnapper/serial killer.

By the time I was three quarters of the way through this dud, I didn’t give a flying fig who did it. Just get on with your lives, people.

O’Nan examines the family dynamics as the search goes on for more than a year, but the details drove me nuts. Ultimately, unfortunately, bore-ing. ★★  out of four stars.

The Night Strangers, by Chris Bohjalian. Chip and Emily Linton and their
twin 10-year-olds, Garnet and Hallie, move into a remote Victorian house in
northern New Hampshire. Chip, an airline pilot, is suffering from PTSD caused
by a plane crash in which 39 people died. He was the pilot, but he could save
only some of the passengers. He feels guilty.

This is a gothic ghost story. It’s plot driven. It involves ghosts, witches, gory descriptions of death scenes and all that goes with this kind of tale. I didn’t like it, probably because I don’t like ghost stories, but I kept reading to see how this disaster would end.

The end was unsatisfying. ★★  out of four stars.

Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock. Treacle. Sugary. ChickLitty.
Romantic. Tragic. But too much so. Way too predictable. It reminded me of a
Thomas Kincade painting – light and schmaltzy -- but with a nasty storm brewing
in the background. 

It’s the story of a breast cancer survivor, a woman with a high risk of the cancer recurring (it’s genetic, in her case). She falls in love with and marries a man with bipolar disorder. They’re in love, for sure, but oh my Gawd. Of course he has episodes of mania and depression. Of course her breast cancer returns with a vengeance. But to top it off, in spite of a tubal ligation to prevent their conceiving a child and passing along their terrible genes – she gets pregnant. It boils down to either her life or the baby's life. A 10-year-old could predict the ending.

The paperback version is 394 pages and Hancock described more than 394 different ways to cry. Here are some direct quotes: “a film of tears in his eyes;” “I
pushed tears off my cheeks;” “her face crumpled;” “tears filled my eyes again;”
“I was trying to hold back tears;” “I saw her wet-eyed concern;” “tears of
anguish filled his eyes;” “a tear rolled down his cheek;” “new tears were
brimming;” “I let my tears run freely;” “there were tears streaming down her
face;” “tears fell despite my reasoning;” “my eyes filled with tears;” “I
sobbed big heaving sobs;” “seemingly endless tears blurred the scene;” “hot
tears were running down my face;” “her eyes were moist with understanding;” “he gave in to tears that had been threatening.”

Are you bored yet?  The last five or six chapters were agonizing. ★★out
of four stars.

Goldberg Variations by Susan Isaacs. A very rich self-made woman,
Gloria (Goldberg, but she changed her name to Garrison) invites the three grown
grandchildren she has neglected for more than 20 years to her palatial home in
New Mexico for a weekend with the intention of turning over her multi-million
dollar business to one of them.

She’s built an empire by herself doing instant makeovers for women and men by
suggesting make up, hairstyles, clothing choices, etc.

The three grandchildren, Rachel, Matt and Daisy, have their own careers, their own lives, their own strong personalities. All reject her offer.

The grandchildren spend the rest of the weekend getting to know their cold, disapproving, nasty grandmother. Chapters alternate points of view among the four characters.

The whole thing was flat and predictable. The characters didn’t act like real people, but like people an allegorical tale. Maybe it was intended to be a fable or something, but I missed the point. I usually like Isaacs’ work, but this was underwhelming. ★★out of four stars.

I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg. Kind of a silly story. Lots of
coincidences. Lots of clichés. Lots of sappy sayings, which I think were meant to be humorous.

Maggie, a former Miss Alabama, is in her 60s and reduced to selling Real Estate in Birmingham, AL. She plans to kill herself. We know that right off.

She makes elaborate preparations –pays all her bills, cancels her credit cards, closes her bank accounts, gives her clothes to the local community theater, changes the oil and fills the gas tank and cleans her leased car, puts ant traps under the sink, writes a “To Whom it May Concern” letter and places it on the kitchen counter. She’s a perfectionist.

Her attempt to commit suicide is sidetracked and postponed again and again until – who could have guessed this? -- she realizes things don’t have to be perfect and life is worth living. Duh. ★★out of four stars.


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