2013 had been a year of branching out, reading out of my comfort zone kind of year. It’s a very fruitful year with so many memorable reads. I have gained a solid foothold on the mystery and crime thriller genres. Historical fiction still has a prominent share in the reading list. Out of the 97 books, 71 books were written by authors whom I read for the first time. I believe that “no adventure, no gain,” so inevitably there were books that were not impressive, in terms of the story and/or the writing style. Here are some rotten tomatoes:
Light Years by James Salter. Very poetic language, actually overly poetic for my taste. But I was having problem after problem with it. The 3rd person omniscient narration that occasionally lapsed into first person for a bit of authorial intrusion. It’s really meant to be read in increments and very slowly—unfortunately not when I was on vacation.
The Flowers of War by Geling Yan. Uneven read. Interwoven are the back stories of the prostitutes who seek refuge at the church. But the way these stories are presented is disjointed. I felt like most of what we got from the book was a once-over. Not so much detail or emotion, but more of just a storyline.
Dreams of Joy by Lisa See. A not so desirable sequel to Shanghai Girls. It is a dramatic story set during the challenging times of the New Society in Red China. For Pearl, the changes in the city she fled twenty years earlier are heart breaking. Joy has all of her hopeful illusions about communism and her father shattered. By the end, the mother and daughter have retraced new versions of the horrors experienced by Pearl and her sister May in their first escape. But it’s overdressed. Joy is unbelievably naive.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. This is the most dreadful, miserable book in a long time. The book fails to live up to expectations of Austen novel and a good mystery. No evidence turns up, nor do the characters make any attempt to find any. No red-herrings. The full story of the murder is randomly turned up in the end, almost as if it’s no mystery. It’s more a realization that was not realized erstwhile. This is my very P.D. James book and I doubt I’ll explore her further any time soon.
Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay. Kalotay’s tedious plot and excessive musical descriptions really mar the novel’s flow. Also whenever I seem to get a handle on her characters, they totally go off the tangent. She succeeds in intertwining symphony and married love, but the book does not impress me as literary fiction.
The Receptionist by Janet Groth. Probably the most disappointing book of the year because I had such high hope on this one. It has the perfect blueprint: New Yorker magazine, the working of the magazine, the literary gossips. But this one fails so badly. The book drifts off to ill-fated affair with a cartoonist, trips to Europe, elegy to her beauty, shagging and a pregnancy by a doctor who refused to practice contraception. To my disappointment, Groth barely touches on the in and out of work politics and behind-the-scene of the magazine. When she does put aside her narcissism and talks office culture, it reads like an out-of-body experience.
Taipei by Tao Lin. Drinking party. Sniff a line. On the road. Overdose. A cab ride to another drinking party. Drugs. In the midst of all these, there’s your internet exhibitionism.
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. This is the sexual and incestuous version of Tao Lin’s Taipei. An orphaned white girl is raised by her mulatto mistress on a plantation in the south, where everybody was sleeping with each other, producing babies nobody can keep track of. The book keeps getting more incredulous and ludicrous, almost too tragic to even make sense. I understand the point that the idea of family transcends skin colors and blood ties, but the overdone drama makes me go from general sadness to numbness and then apathy.