I don’t finish all the books I start. There are several reasons why I do not finish a book and they vary wildly: it could be because the writing is uninspiring or the characters don’t ring true. Or because the world-building is not interesting or lacks inherent logic. I am not above pet peeves either, and sometimes even one little thing will make me put the book away for good. Sometimes I quit a book only after a few pages, sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes it is clearly a case of the wrong time to be reading a particular book and I just put it aside to pick it up at a later date. Sometimes I am pretty sure I will never open it again.
Here are some of the recent books I was unable to finish – and the reasons why.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Viking (US)/ Headline (UK), February 2010, Hardcover: 608 pages
Review copy received from Headline
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…
The hype surrounding A Discovery of Witches is tremendous. The positive reviews are coming hard and fast and the marketing material I received with my review copy has about a page full of blurbs and quotes including a starred review from Booklist. The book is about a young witch who does not like the fact that she is a witch (it is a family thing) and has turned to scholarly pursuits (because it is the least magical profession she could think of). She is incredibly powerful though ( and also incredibly precocious and with a great intellect as she makes sure to tells us) and her powers cannot remain contained. One day she is at the Oxford’s Bodleian Library doing some research and finds a manuscript that is oozing with power and her adventures begin. There is a romance with a vampire as well. Let’s put aside the fact that the premise sounds like just about any PNR out there (it sounds as though adult fantasy publishers are finding out right about NOW the potential in a good PNR story and are trying to sell it to a wider audience?) what didn’t work for me here was the writing.
The book starts as the main character gets this manuscript at the library, 11 pages later, she opens it, then returns it. The pages between holding the book and actually opening it are made of exposition, of boring info dump about her past and history with witchcraft which completely stills the action. Chapter 2 begins, she is back at the library, she feels she is observed by a vampire and takes a whole page info-dumping about what vampires look like and then another FULL page to describe the one that is looking at her (a vampire who is of course, incredibly good looking). The description includes the following bold statement:
But the most unnerving thing about him was not his physical perfection. It was his feral combination of strength, agility and keen intelligence that was palpable across the room.
Please note that at this point, said vampire has not moved or spoken a single word to her: how can she tell he is strong, agile and intelligent just by looking at him? I tried a few more pages and realised that the writing was not for me, and since the premise sounded just like a thousand other books and didn’t grip me from the get go, I decided to put it aside.
Pages read: 31
For a different opinion, read this very positive review from The Book Bag.
Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux
St Martin’s Griffin(US)/ Headline (UK), January 2010, Hardcover: 352 pages
Review copy received from Headline
Allison Hewitt is trapped. In the storeroom of Brookes & Peabody’s. In a world swarming with the Undead, the Doomed, the Infected.
Locked away with an oddball collection of colleagues and under siege, Allison takes advantage of a surviving internet connection and blogs. She writes, as the food runs out and panic sets in, as relationships develop and friends die, and as zombies claw at the door, all in the hope of connecting with other survivors out there. But as she reads the replies to her posts, Allison begins to comprehend the horrifying scale of the damage. And when no one comes to the group’s rescue, they are forced to leave the safety of their room and risk a journey across the city; streets that crawl with zombies, and worse – fellow humans competing for survival.
I love the idea that this book started as an experimental fiction blog, as the author wrote as the character and this concept became the book after the blog became a success.
The book is entirely made of blog entries written at the beginning of a zombie apocalypse by Allison Hewitt who is trapped with 5 colleagues at a bookstore. The story follows the first days of their confinement and what they must deal with and is a “historical” account of those first days of the ZA and even include blog comments from other readers that are also stranded. I enjoyed the first chapters very much; Allison has a good voice; the story, although not entirely original, was gripping enough with the Human Elements and how they deal with panic and tragedy. HOWEVER the problem is that the writing, or more specifically, the format grew inconsistent as the story progressed. Some of the blog entries contained dialogue; some of the blog entries were written in the present tense as though things were happening right now when they couldn’t have been because a blog entry can only be written after the fact. This bugged me to no end and prevented me from enjoying the book. The concept of the book, what sells the book as “different” is the gimmick, ie the blog entries. These HAVE to be consistent, they MUST follow what blog entries really look like for it to work properly. Otherwise, and that’s how unfortunately I feel about it, it is nothing but an empty gimmick, quickly published to capitalise on an original, clever idea.
Pages read: 97
For a different opinion, check out Graeme’s review: he finished it and he liked it (but with some of my own reservations)
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Harper Teen(US)/ Hodder & Stoughton (UK), February 2010, Hardcover: 400 pages
Review copy from HarperTeen via Netgalley
There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world. People would go to the end of the earth to find it. They would tell lies for it. Even kill for it.
Then, at last, they found the cure.
Now, everything is different. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Haloway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.
But then, with only ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable.
A confession: I will admit that I only picked this book up because I was persuaded by the hype and the positive reviews that are popping up all over the place. The premise sounds very similar to Matched by Ally Condie, another recent dystopian YA novel (which I didn’t like) and I wasn’t very keen on yet another Dystopian-romance but persuaded I was and that’s all there is to it. I was determined to give the book a fair try and in fact, I read half of it before I called it quits. The reason to stop reading this one? I could never buy into the premise.
(Before I get into that though, to those who are wondering: although it sounds like Matched, it is actually very different and stands on its own when it comes to its world-building whereas Matched was uncomfortably similar to yet another dystopian read, the classic The Giver.)
The premise is that about 64 years ago, doctors and the president (of the United States?) identified love as a disease – a disease that causes madness. A cure was found a few years later and everybody once they reach 18 is given such cure. This means that everybody after they are 18 is safe: and lead a calm, collected life free of such madness. The entire society is thus, lobotomised into behaving well. The main character is a girl called Lena, whose mother committed suicide because she was never “cured”. Lena is terrified by this disease and is looking forward to her approaching birthday when she will be cured and then matched with a husband (which she gets to chose after she is given a few choices) . But then of course, she meets this guy and he winks at her and …..love is in the air.
My main question concerning this book is: why? WHY would love be considered a disease in the first place? You see, the thing about dystopias is that they always come under the guise of a Utopia – or at least set out to be an utopia and then things go wrong and ergo, dystopia. A dystopia is usually the degradation of a good idea. And that idea has to have originated with something believable. In The Giver for example there is this idea of safety and security, which has gone awry and led to the loss of colour and vibrancy and the human experience and of course, the loss of love. The loss of love and human experience is a consequence. Ergo, to me, it doesn’t make sense to treat love as a disease as an a priori because there is not anywhere in the world, a place, a culture where love is a bad thing. The lack of love is a worse, horrendous idea so this society, in this book, set out as a dystopia from the get go. Because it can only be a dystopia, because none of this can never ever work to anyone’s benefit. Especially when you only start to being “cured” at 18 – what happens before that?? You have uncured children, being capable of love being brought up by their parents who are unable to love them thus creating a condition for chaos rather than eliminating it.
Plus, in a society where everything is controlled, everyone is observed, where there are curfews and basic rules to be followed, it seemed extremely easy to break said rules, to get around them. The main character at one point, leaves the house unnoticed, breaks the curfew, rides a bicycle for a few minutes and reaches a barn where there is a co-ed party with music and alcohol even though all of the aforementioned is extremely against the law and everybody is presumably being monitored! It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
(I will not even mention how the love story felt forced and too instantaneous for my taste) (I will also not mention how boys and girls are brought up separately so that they wouldn’t fall in love with each other regardless of the fact that well, hello, boys fall in love with boys and girls fall in love with girls too. Although this is seen as another side of the disease but worse called “Unnaturalism” and ok, it is a dystopian society and I did not read the entire book but I wonder if this is going to be addressed at all).
I wasn’t a fan of the writing either (“”there’s a deep aching in my chest as though something large and cold and sharp is lodged there”) and since I was unable to finish Oliver’s previous book Before I Fall, at least this has helped me to decide that I am not a fan of this author’s style and will not be reading her other books .
I am definitely in the minority here though.
Pages read: 45% of it, according to my Kindle
For a different opinion, check out Kirkus’ starred review.
So this is my latest batch of books I did not finish. Have you read them? Agree, disagree? Let us know what you think!