Tag: 1/5- Blah

trading in the fast lane for my own dirt road

by Margaret Roach

I tried harder than I should have, with this book. It is what it purports to be- a memoir by a woman who worked as an executive for Martha Stewart, then ditched the city life and her job to go live in a house in the country on her own, with a garden and a cat that slowly eased his way into living indoors (she claimed she was not a cat person). However the focus was all on things I cared little about or could not connect to- her efforts to find romance via a paid matchmaking service, her tears over getting a sub-par local haircut, her extravagant shopping sprees, the dinners she had with friends, the efforts she made to sort her plastic storage containers and move a heavy chair. It went on and on. I just did not care. It’s written in a stream-of-consciousness style peppered constantly with quotes not only from writers and poets, but also song lyrics, which got rather old. Aside from that, most of the time I simply could not focus or understand her line of thinking. It’s so rambling and incoherent and I can only assume that I do not operate on the same wavelength as this woman at all.

However I did skim most of the book, and paused to read the few parts that were actually about gardening. Apparently her garden was so lovely she gave tours, and stocked her freezer and had tons of fresh home-grown produce to choose from in her fridge, but she barely tells anything about it. So disappointing. There’s briefest mention of composting, of setting out garlic cloves, of bringing tender potted plants indoors for the winter and trying to oust the insects they harbor. I could relate to all that. But it’s so few pages among the many many many chapters of navel-gazing. She does go on about frogs, and likes observing the birds- so I learned a few new things about amphibians and chickadees. And I did like this bit:

“Your garden is amazing,” people say when they come touring by the hundreds on garden open days I’ve held for charity for the last thirteen years. ‘How did it get this way?” 

“This is what happens when you stay in one place for twenty years,” I tell them, “and just keep digging more holes.”

That made me smile and chuckle. My yard is not much to admire yet, but every year I add a few new plants, and work a bit harder on the cultivated garden. Maybe someday my garden will be so full of interesting and beautiful plants that I’ll have trouble fitting in anything new (right now there’s tons of empty and wasted space)- but the only way to get there is a few holes each new season.

Anyway, this book is a toss. Not staying on my shelf. The only word of praise on the back cover I can agree with is idiosyncratic. I suppose other readers might understand her rambling, or connect to her new-age style musings but I simply couldn’t. Final thought: probably she didn’t write much about the garden in here because she does have a garden blog, called A Way to Garden- seems this book was more focused on the personal inner journey she took from the fast-paced high pressure executive lifestyle to taking care of her own house and garden with lots of solitude and time to do whatever she wanted. Admirable, yes. Readable, no.

Rating: 1/5
264 pages, 2011

Age of Fire Book Two
by E.E. Knight

Eh. I thought at first this one was going to be better, even though the pace at the beginning when the dragons are hatchlings moves too quick. If I hadn\’t read the first book, I might not have picked up on everything going on. I kind of like how each book in the series tells the story from the viewpoint of a different dragon, all siblings from the same clutch. When their cave is attacked by dwarves, this green female dragon Wistala flees with her brother Auron and they part ways soon after. She makes her way back to the home cave and finds some of her family\’s bodies skinned and mutilated. The rest of the story is how Wistala seeks revenge for the dragons. At first, still being small and vulnerable, she travels the wilderness alone, pitting her wits against other animals and creatures.  Tries to fight dwarves and barely survives. Kind of accidentally falls in with an elf and lives on his estate, cannily learning more about hominids so she can fight them later. That part- well, it just got to be very boring. I liked the part when the dragon was hanging out with a vulture- amusing how the carrion birds considered themselves to be more refined than any predator- because they politely wait for prey to die on its own! I also liked the part where the dragon befriends a cat- each finds the other has some very familiar and similar traits- although their trip underground to find treasure in rat tunnels was confusing. Once again, I\’m intrigued by this author\’s portrayal of dragons, their reasons for hoarding precious metals, their mannerisms and all. Wistala encounters her father again- I won\’t say more about that, it\’s a pivotal moment in the story- and talks hotly of fighting the hominids, but her father advises her to help the dragon race by repopulating with \”lots and lots of hatchlings\” because he of course thinks fighting should be done by male dragons. So she\’s asserting herself outside the usual female dragon role- going off on her own to battle trolls that are troubling the realm, for example. (This book has the weirdest depiction of trolls ever. I could not get my head around what it was supposed to actually look like. I feel like it should have had a made-up name like the blighters, because it wasn\’t anything like your typical fantasy idea of a troll). But oh, it got tedious when the dragon was living with the elf. That part of the story dragged on and on- I skipped ahead and read a later portion where Wistala left to try and find more dragons- that section held my interest until, disillusioned by the reclusive dragons\’ attitudes, Wistala returns to the elf\’s home again- and once more I just didn\’t care. Skipped and skimmed so much I really ought to called this one Abandoned.

Rating: 1/5                        390 pages, 2006

by Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod

There are some cases where an old book just shouldn\’t be around anymore. For once I am really disappointed in one I picked up on swap at whim, and I\’m going to recycle it instead of sending out into the world again. In the first place, this isn\’t really a book. More of a pamphlet. I should have noticed the page count.

In the second place, it\’s old and outdated enough that some of the instructions, if followed, I\’d consider bad advice and poor husbandry practice. It does tell a bit about common, easy plants- elodea, ludwigia, camboba, amazon swords, cryptocoryne, milfoil- but the way this puplication suggests growing them- well, there are much better methods nowadays. I have to say though, the small black-and-white photo of a tank full of crypts, vals and stems is impressive in its plant density. It would look really lush in color. The fishes mentioned are guppies, mollies, swordtails, platies, zebra danios, black tetra, angelfish, betta, pearl danio, firemouth cichlids, corydoras. That\’s it. Something in one of the fish descriptions made me laugh, but now I can\’t remember what it was. The details on their keeping is basic at best. I have much better books in terms of fish selection and disease treatment. And when it comes to an interesting look at how things used to be done, or quaint but quality photographs, this little publication just doesn\’t do it either. Sorry! Bye.

Rating: 1/5          32 pages, 1970

by David Vann

I didn\’t like this book. Halfway through I started skimming so much I really ought to call it Abandoned. It\’s about a couple in Alaska trying to build a log cabin on a small island, while their marriage is falling apart. The husband, Gary, has always rushed headlong into projects without adequate planning and then gets frustrated at the inevitable failure: this cabin is no different. It was really ridiculous that the island already had a cabin- one that Gary admired and tried to copy, but couldn\’t. Why didn\’t they just live in that one, cut down some trees for the view? It made no sense. Through all their difficult work (in endlessly bad weather), the wife is suffering from debilitating headaches that doctors can\’t find a cause for. She\’s bitter at being dragged into the building project which she doesn\’t care about, and seems to harbor years of resentment against her husband. There\’s a lengthy side story about their grown children, one of whom is cheating on his girlfriend with a tourist. I don\’t know why that was such a large part of the plot, it felt pointless. I didn\’t care about any of these people. I did like the descriptions of the wide landscape. Nature was beautiful, but the weather terribly oppressive- the cold, wet and relentless wind are emphasized. It\’s full of miserable people wallowing around in their unhappiness and ineptitude with relationships, career choices, building projects and all. The ending is horrible. (Something awful happens right on the last page).

Oh, and I was once again thrown off by the sameness of conversation and thought. This book has no quotation marks whatsoever. I suppose it heightens the sense of unease, not being able to trust your own senses, not knowing for sure if something is spoken aloud- or maybe it\’s a style thing, to make it feel seamless. But on the heels of a different book which overused quotation marks to the same effect, it was just annoying.

I should have known better. I picked this up off a library shelf recognizing the author- I did like his book Aquarium not so long ago. But I had a sense from other reviews that most of his works are very dark, and they weren\’t kidding. I don\’t think I will pick up any more by this author.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 1/5                293 pages, 2011

more opinions:
Savidge Reads
The Asylum

by Kevin Henkes

This one didn\’t work for me. I picked it up on a whim at the library sale- the cover (which seems to feature someone standing at the water\’s edge near some carp suffering from ammonia burns) intrigued me, plus the flyleaf description which mentioned a shared secret that connected two characters.

The main one is twelve-year-old Martha. She\’s going on summer vacation with her family, to visit their grandmother at the beach. One of her classmates, Olive, had recently died in an accident on her bicycle. Olive\’s mother gave Martha a page from her daughter\’s journal where she\’d written that she wished Martha was her friend… Martha wonders a lot about those words. On the vacation she gets to know her grandmother better. She\’s frequently annoyed at her parents and her older brother, and is often left in charge of her little sister. She finds her feelings changed towards the family of boys next door- one of them pretends to like her in order to play a trick on her. He leads her on enough to get her to kiss him on film, which is hugely embarrassing. Martha wants to become a writer, and wishes to make a nice gesture towards Olive\’s mother.

But the secret between the two girls… ? It never materialized- either I missed it when I got bored and started skimming, or the flyleaf blurb was erroneous. The writing style felt really dull, and the extreme brevity of the chapters didn\’t help in this case (some less than a page long). The characters were convincing enough, but the descriptions about them and the events were so bland. I kept expecting more of a connection to come up between Martha and her lost classmate Olive, in fact I read through to the end just to see if there was some big reveal. Nope.

I was really surprised this one got onto a banned books list. Because it has some swear words (I hardly noticed them) and one time the older brother remarks to Martha that their parents\’ flirtatious behavior in the morning indicates they\’d just had sex. That felt oddly out of place, but there was no more to it.

Rating: 1/5      217 pages, 2003

more opinions:
Becky\’s Book Reviews
Books in the Spotlight

from Endangered to Extinction
by Diane Brischke

This book is a call to action on behalf of endangered wild animals. It highlights twenty very recognizable species- cheetah, elephant, panda, manatee, wolf, iguana, parrot, rhinoceros, etc and tells briefly what kinds of threats they face from mankind including pollution, habitat loss, climate change, poaching and population decline due to the pet trade. Sadly, it is not a book I can recommend. I expected from the large format to find gorgeous photographs inside, but only a few are excellent in quality, the rest are just okay. I know the book is directed at younger readers, but still it seemed overly simplified and very repetitive. Not much real information was shared, mostly generalizations about animals loosing habitat and facing the end: extinction. Except- some of them aren\’t in that dire of a situation yetBlack bears are featured in this book, yet the IUCN lists this bear as being of \”least concern\” and National Geographic says \”this is the only bear species considered secure throughout its range\”. Sloths are also \”of least concern.\” Leopards are \”threatened\”. So why are they in this book? There are far more species seriously critically endangered that could have been included.

Aside from that, I found it annoying to read because of the numerous typos, odd punctuation, run-on sentences and awkward phrases that seemed to be missing words, so they made no sense. I often had to read a sentence two or three times. The book really needed a better editor. White text on various dark and colored backgrounds was a poor choice, it\’s a headache for my eyes. I can only imagine this would be frustrating and disappointing for kids to read, as it was for me.

I received a copy of this book for review.

Rating: 1/5      52 pages, 2014

by Anne Bishop

So. Curiosity will lead me to sometimes read things outside of my norm, and this was one of those instances. It didn\’t sit well, let\’s say. The Invisible Ring is in a fantasy world where the social system is turned on its head. People are born with magic powers, women are controlling, men are pretty much slaves to their instinct to protect and serve women. In fact, if I remember rightly, a backbone to the premise was the idea that women were not \’ahem\’ available all the time, but only receptive to men at certain times, and when that came around, the men would battle to the death for the privilege. Like animals. And as you might guess, most of the people in this book treat each other besitally. Everyone\’s been done wrong to or tormented and they all suffer from mental problems or past traumas, and act strangely. At least, I couldn\’t make sense of it. The main character, Jared, was sex slave to an evil queen until he killed her and got sent to an auction. He is bought by the Grey Lady and taken along on a journey. Of course he moves from being her slave to her paramour, with lots of fights in between. It was predictable. Characters alternated between being dull and confusing. The book is a prequel to the Black Jewels trilogy, which I haven\’t read- I don\’t know if it would have been better or worse for me if I had. This book made me never want to read another thing written by Anne Bishop. Sorry, but it was that bad. So forgettable I\’m not sure now if I even finished it.

Rating: 1/5 ……… 416 pages, 2000

more opinions:
A Novel Read
Romance Book Wyrm
the Bookwyrm\’s Lair
books in review

by Patrick Taylor

This novel is about a young doctor who works in an Irish country practice under the direction of a gruff older physician, well-respected (even feared) in the community but whose practices make Barry Laverty raise his eyebrows. At first I enjoyed reading about the interesting characters and run-ins the young doctor has with his patients, the older man\’s questionable ways of getting around their ignorance and stubbornness. There\’s also the intriguing details about medical practice in the sixties, and a little bit of romance. But in the end I found myself bored and loosing interest quickly. I skimmed a lot, barely finishing enough to avoid tagging this one as abandoned. It\’s an easy read but there\’s just not enough meat there for me. I found the little glossary in the back curious reading though, and not because it explained all the quaint local expressions used in the novel (soft hand under a duck = very gentle or good at something; not as green as you\’re cabbage looking = you\’re more clever than you seem). But also because there were a lot of expressions defined in there that were so familiar to me I\’d think they would not need to be included. Such as bigger fish to fry, bit my head off, hold your horses, no spring chicken, you\’re on, among others. Did the author really think these were phrases particular to Ulster dialect?

Rating: 1/5 ……… 351 pages, 2004

I\’ve been reading with interest some of the posts lately on other blogs about \”bad books\”. Are there really books that can be said to be awful? Doesn\’t every book have a merit somwhere, if it has an appreciative reader? I\’m not sure. I know there\’s a lot of books that simply don\’t appeal to me personally, but no matter what the reason I don\’t like them, there\’s bound to be other readers who do. On the other hand, books that have grammatical errors and other flaws seem to me they could have used a stronger editing hand. If the story is poor as well, I sometimes wonder why they ever got published.

So it struck me as kind of funny that on our latest trip to the public library, we picked up two books that disappointed me. They\’re both children\’s books, which I don\’t usually mention here, but they got me thinking so I\’m going to write about them.

The first is a step-into-reading book with a Barbie theme. Now, I rarely ever censor my daughter\’s reading choices. Whatever she chooses at the library that she wants to read, I\’ll read it to her, even if I think it\’s silly. But the kid books based on cartoon episodes and movies can really annoy me. Usually the story is chopped up so much to fit into a book format that it makes an unsatisfying story. Barbie in A Mermaid Tale is based on a full-length animated movie (which I haven\’t seen). It\’s a book aimed at beginning readers, so the sentences are very short and simple. It begins like this (each line here is one page of text):

Merliah loves to surf. She is the best surfer in Malibu.

Merliah\’s hair turns pink! She dives into the water. She can breathe!

Merliah meets Zuma. Zuma is a dolphin. Zuma talks!

Zuma tells Merliah about her past. Merliah is half mermaid!

So… the story goes on to reveal that Merliah\’s mother, the rightful queen, has been imprisoned and her wicked aunt Eris taken over the undersea kingdom. Merliah gets a fake tail to swim, the help of some animal and mermaid friends, and goes on a quest to save her mother. She has to do three three things: find a magic comb and a special fish (dreamfish), and get the necklace her aunt wears. Here is where the story starts disintegrating. I\’m assuming the comb and dreamfish are to help Merliah finish her quest and confront Eris, but there\’s no explanation of how they do that. After finding the dreamfish and getting his promise of help, the rest of the story reads like this:

Merliah has a plan. She grabs the necklace! Eris is angry.

Eris traps Merliah in a whirlpool.

Merliah accepts that she is a mermaid. She gets a real mermaid tail!

Merliah escapes! Eris is trapped in the whirlpool instead. Oceana is saved!

Then Merliah meets her mother, and there\’s a happy ending.

Uh… what happened here? The pictures give a little more information, but not much. It looks like Merliah is dancing to distract Eris, but then she just swims up and snatches the necklace? that\’s a plan? how did the dreamfish help? And the statement about accepting she\’s a mermaid seemed out of the blue. I\’m guessing that\’s what enabled her to escape from the whirlpool, but again, no explanation. Both my daughter and I were left kind of scratching our heads at the end. She had a bunch of questions, and I just had to shrug. I don\’t know the story in its full context. Silly perhaps to get annoyed over a little kid\’s book like this, but why can\’t they make it just a bit more complete? Only two more pages would have fleshed out the story a bit more. I know the plug is to get kids interested in reading by publishing books on themes and characters they\’re already fans of, but do they have to make it inane?

Needless to say, my daughter likes the book anyway because it has mermaids, and the pictures are all very pretty, pink and sparkly. She doesn\’t care that the story has holes.

The other book was one I chose, because I loved the illustrations by Beverly Doyle. They\’re wonderful, lively, textured paintings depicting the environment of the ocean and shore, the waves, sky and creatures all rendered with beautiful attention. I was even more intrigued when I learned they were created with a medium I\’m not very familiar with, airbrush. I thought at first they were watercolor or acrylic paintings!

The text of What the Sea Saw by Stephanie St. Pierre, starts out like this:

What the sea saw was sky above. / What the sky saw was sea below… / The sky saw soft, white-feathered wings dip into the foaming sea. / The gull saw fish in the sea swimming in schools, scales shimmering silver. / The fish saw light on the waves weaving into the deep.

Here the book abruptly changes tone. Instead of continuing the thread of what-something-saw (which I was rather enjoying) it becomes prose describing things:

Sandpipers ran across the wet sand leaving a trail of three-pronged footprints. / The gull screeched and flew through the heavy sky.

Then shows the events of an approaching storm and rainfall. Still very lovely, but I was thrown off at the change of rhythm. Then it goes back into the sea saw/ the sky saw thread, until the book closes with nightfall. I was puzzled again. I wanted to love this book. The illustrations are wonderful, and both the what-something-saw thread and the description of how seashore creatures experience the rainstorm are nice. But they don\’t seem to fit together. I would have enjoyed a book that just described the animals and events of the day on the seashore, or a book that linked everything together by showing what each animal saw. But put together it makes a jump in the middle that made me like it less.

So, this is a case of me not liking one book because I thought it was poorly written, and the other because it didn\’t quite meet my expectations. Maybe I\’m being really picky, about not liking these kid books. If I had to give them ratings, I\’d give the barbie book a 1, and the seashore book a 2. For a balance of opinion, do read about What the Sea Saw on Wild Rose Reader.

by William O. Pruitt

This one was rather disappointing. I picked it up randomly from The Book Thing several months ago. I read it to compare to Icebound Summer, since it describes different animal life of the northern region: red squirrel, arctic hare, arctic wolf, caribou, moose, lynx, etc. At first I enjoyed the writing more; the descriptions of the foreign, ice-clad landscape were easier for me to picture in my mind. (Despite the constant use of several Eskimo terms for \”snow\” which kept confusing me). Animals of the North concerns itself a lot with ecology and the upset humans have caused in Alaskan wildlife. Its information feels a bit outdated, sometimes preachy, and perhaps intended for a juvenile audience. After about 100 pages my interest really began to flag, and I just skimmed the last 70.

This book has also been published under the title Wild Harmonies. The flyleaf says that it \”will delight readers of Lois Crisler\’s Arctic Wild\” and that the author\’s \”original and gripping dramatizations of [the] animals will make the book a classic.\” I think it failed on those points. I love Crisler\’s books, which are much better written. It doesn\’t compare. And I hardly believe Animals of the North even approaches being a classic. I\’d never heard of it before, and can only find one other opinion of it online, this brief review on Amazon (by someone who appreciated the book better than I).

Abandoned                 173 pages, 1960


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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