Unless you are the most blessed of readers you have run into slumps, books you could not finish, and those you couldn’t even start. If you’re also a book blogger there is another demoralizing category: books you’ve read that didn’t make enough of an impression to be reviewed. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me books I loved or hated are easier to write about. A book that’s ‘OK’ turns my brain to mud and leaves me with partial sentences and incomplete reviews.
What to do? Everyone knows a website needs new content to stay viable. The beast must be fed. Today’s post is my solution—bits and pieces about books I’ve read recently. If you’re a regular reader you know I’m pretty old-school. I like to give background about the book with my thoughts on plots and characters and then cut to the guts of why I liked or did not like it. Today? Today is my rough and random thoughts on four books that didn’t connect with me.
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Published by Scribner
Publication date: August 7, 2018
In The Trouble with Goats and Sheep I found author Joanna Cannon to be full of a cantankerous whimsy which tickled, but here it becomes treacly. The elderly Elsie is so full of aphorisms explaining life that the novel starts to feel like a motivational poster. Except that it takes place in an assisted living home and so is depressing. Add in a mysterious villain from the past and it’s all too much. I probably set the bar too high on this one, so others might enjoy it more than I did.
The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles
Published by Riverhead Books
Publication date: August 21, 2018
The Air You Breathe is set in Brazil in the 1930s with samba, the music of Brazil as its foundation. Two young girls, one rich, one poor, escape to the city to become famous singers. Unfortunately, the plot begins to feel secondhand—best friends, one has the looks and the talent, the other has the determination, the pretty one uses the other. Despite the settings and the times, it ended up feeling stale, unlike the musical aspects of the novel which crackled with life and tension. Not bad, but could have been so much better.
The Lost Family by Jenna Blum
Published by Harper
Publication date: June 5, 2018
The most gripping part of The Lost Family occurs before it starts—Peter’s wife and two small daughters are killed in the Holocaust. He makes it to America and opens a restaurant in NYC, remarries, and has another daughter. Three people connected as a family but completely disconnected. I stalled at the midpoint but decided to power through and regretted it as nothing that followed was particularly engrossing. Everyone in the book is lost, but Blum doesn’t create the emotion necessary to understand why, with the exception of Peter, who is consumed by grief.
The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut
Published by Ecco
Publication date: June 5, 2018
The Captives is told two from two perspectives: Miranda, a prisoner, and Frank, an inmate psychologist. She’s there for murder, after a precipitous downward slide caused by extreme guilt over the death of her sister (even though she was not involved). He is the quintessential everyman—personable but bland and he wants to do the right thing. When Miranda sits down in his office he finally feels as if his life has the potential for change. He can make a difference for her. Especially because he had a crush on her in high school despite their never knowing each other. What?!
This is more depressing reading about how bad things are in women’s prisons—which is a legitimate issue. It’s everything else about the novel that’s problematic. The author toys with the ‘one nice guy who wants to make a difference’ theme, giving it a dark twist, but it’s not enough to save the novel from the implausibility of a convoluted plot. The women-in-prison genre seems to be popular right now, but I’d recommend Stephen King’s Sleeping Beauties or Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room before The Captives.
How about you? If you’re a reader, do you find more books that are only OK rather than great? If you’re a blogger, do you have a backlog of books that left you apathetic?