Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

5 Clunkers You Can Skip & Not Miss a Thing

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Your time is valuable, right? Especially when it comes to books.

That’s why Mom and I launched the BKLBITS (Big Kitty Litter Box In The Sky) Awards last summer. It was one of our most popular features. I mean, Holy Meow Mix! No one wants to waste their time on lousy snoozers littered with unsympathetic, cardboard characters we don’t know, don’t want to know, and could care less about.

Mom and me, we like to be helpful. As in, save you some time. So here, without any further ado, we’re rolling out BKLBITS Awards, Part II:

1. Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese

This book gets all kinds of rave reviews elsewhere. It’s supposedly about two brothers “whose fate is intertwined.”

So not impressed.

It takes seven chapters – we kid you not – for a laboring mother to give birth. Yea, verily. We don’t expect or require every book to move at warp speed. But this thing moves with the alacrity of a three-toed sloth. Bye!

2. The Demeter Code, by Russell Brooks

We received a request to review this international spy “thriller” novel in November. It’s supposedly about biological warfare, CIA spooks, Syrian arms dealers, thieves, contract killers and corporate espionage, punctuated by lots of gun play and a seemingly never-ending dead body count.

It was obvious early on that the author did not bother to read our submission guidelines. Or maybe he figured we wouldn’t notice just how majorly this thing sails outside our wheelhouse. Ugh. (Main character Ridley Fox gives stray alley cats a bad name.)

But a request is a request. So here’s our review:

If you gravitate toward trashy “thriller” books of the pulp fiction variety, this one’s for you. Otherwise, feel free to choose something more productive. Like watching grass grow.

 

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo

“Beautiful forever” is a corporate slogan for Italianate floor tiles. That matters in Annawadi, a .miserable slum of Mumbai where residents young and old scrape out a meager existence in the shadow of luxury hotels and an international airport. Because this novel is all about mercurial promises that gleam like new tile but crack and crater the moment they’re set down or even lightly jostled.

This colorful novel centers around the “professional competition for trash” that keeps Annawadi barely alive, eking out bare subsistence in a society roiling with corruption, disease, poverty, and squalor.

A Pulitzer Prize nominee for general nonfiction, this story is reasonably engaging. It’s beautifully written. But you may find its pace uneven and the plot plodding.

4. I Will Always Love You, by Ashley Lee London

This book is an ambitious effort, spanning multiple generations and relationships. That’s part of its problem. There’s no real cohesive, unifying theme. It’s all over the place. The result is a confusing, muddled morass of artificial emotion and manufactured pathos. For example, the godfather/goddaughter relationships between Michael and Lori seems artificial. Like it’s trying too hard to make up for deficits in Lori’s upbringing.

There’s also a recurring issue with print quality. Numerous pages sport smudged ink and blurred paragraphs.

Additionally, the characters are hackneyed, the plot humdrum. While the story had potential, much of it is frittered away scampering down multitudinous bunny trails and story arcs that are tangentially connected at best.

Unfortunately, story threads don’t really start coming together until around page 300. Only the most diligent of readers is likely to wait that long before beating a hasty retreat to the nearest exit. (Read our full review here.)

5. The Aviator, by Eugene-Vodolazkin

A man wakes up in a Russian hospital. He has no idea who he is, how he got there, or what year it is. He gradually realizes he’s been in cryo storage for most of the 20th century. Memories of his grandmother reading Robinson Crusoe, a summer dacha, a murder, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and a barbaric gulag bubble to the surface as aviator Platonov tries to make sense of who he is, where he is, and why.

Reminiscent of Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, ‘The Aviator’ is also dense. At times it’s even oblique in the tradition of Franz Kafka.

The narrative is packed with details and rich descriptions of people, events, and observances that are seemingly superfluous or irrelevant. Connecting the dots into some semblance of coherence can be a challenge, perhaps mirroring the mental and physical deterioration of the main character.

Snorefest!

 

Next up:

One of the best historical fiction books we’ve ever read! Stay tuned!

2 thoughts on “5 Clunkers You Can Skip & Not Miss a Thing

  1. Apart from maybe “Cutting for Stone” it sounds like you read through all of them. Reading dedication: Reading for the sake of reading — even when you don’t like something. (My FB accounts goes bye-bye in a few day — I hope my comments here don’t!)

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