Tag Archives: DNF

Things We Never Said – Susan Elliot Wright – 3/10 (DNF)

The-Things-We-Never-Said-SEWIf it’s not an unfaithful partner, it’s a fraught pregnancy. Why, oh why, are we as readers condemned to these miserable renditions? Why can there not be a happy marriage? A simple pregnancy? Children who are well-behaved and intelligent? I suppose none of that makes for much drama, but still. These recurring slow personal tragedies exhaust me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Maggie awakes in what is undeniably a mental health facility in the 1960s, back in the day when mental health facility was not a way in which one would have commonly heard such a place described. I didn’t get to read much of Maggie’s story but there is a mystery as to why she ended up there, and how she is going to be treated by the psychiatrist who seems to pride himself on pioneering methods. In our other storyline, Fiona has fallen pregnant in the probably here and now (certainly London after 1990-ish), and is delighted, and Jeremy is glad to be at the end of two years of trying, but cannot bring himself to tell his family. Fiona is not happy that he won’t tell his grouchy father; and at the point at which I abandoned the novel, Jeremy’s mother was on the phone.

I like these historical investigative novels. I loved Russian Winter and Blackberry Winter, and I quite enjoyed Before I Met You, but I gave this 50 pages and it hadn’t got going yet. I hope others out there had more success!

(this review is really a whinge about how many “women’s fiction” novels are about infidelity and problems with pregnancy. Why can’t we have more books like Code Name Verity?)

Additional information:

Unsolicited copy sent by the publisher
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 384 paperback pages 
Order The Things We Never Saidfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

A couple of recent DNFs

Someone Else’s Wedding – Tamar Cohen – 2/10 (DNF)

someone else's wedding

Description from the blurb, because it’s very clever:

Mr & Mrs Max Irving request the company of:
Mrs Fran Friedman, mourning her empty nest, her lost baby, the galloping years, and a disastrous haircut.
Mr Saul Friedman, runner of marathons, avoider of conflicts and increasingly distant husband.
The two Misses Friedman, Pip and Katy, one pining over the man she can’t have, the other trying to shake off the man she no longer wants.
At the marriage of their son James Irving, forbidden object of inappropriate and troubling desire.

I never got off the ground with this one. I found Fran self-indulgent, self-pitying and the mystery of her relationship with the groom was very strange. Surely they should be totally different generations? Saul and the daughters were interesting characters and Cohen comes out with a spectacular turn of phrase every now and again, but I got really tired of Fran’s voice. DNF, and sharpish.

I don’t know whether this is just a piece of anti-romance snobbery I have – I just can’t be dealing with people’s nonsense.

(review copy from Doubleday, affiliate link to Amazon in case it looks interesting)

The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout – 2/10 (DNF)

Burgess boys

Jim and Bob Burgess have escaped their Maine upbringing to Manhattan; of the three siblings, only sad single mother Susan is left, struggling with her teenage son Zach. When Zach is caught goading local Muslim Somali refugees, high-powered lawyer Jim won’t give up his exotic holiday and sends tender but ineffectual Bob home instead. Old tensions rise unbidden…

This is written in that ethereal style of much successful contemporary literature – vignettes and snapshots of sad lives, tangled by some bizarre event (it takes quite an imagination to leave a frozen pig’s head outside a mosque…). I didn’t like it in A Visit to the Goon Squad, and I didn’t like it here. If you like this style of writing, this book may hold a lot more promise for you because I didn’t think it was badly written, I just don’t like that style of writing!

(review copy from Simon & Schuster; affiliate link to Amazon)

Fear not, this isn’t all I’ve been reading recently – more positive reviews soon!

The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood – 2/10 (DNF)

“I had returned from lunch and was licking and stamping envelopes for the coast-to-coast instant pudding-sauce study, behind schedule because someone in mimeo had run one of the question sheets backwards, when Mrs. Bogue came out of her cubicle.”

edible woman

From the blurb: What happens to someone who has been a willing member of consumer society when she suddenly finds herself identifying with the things consumed? … The witty and diverting story of a young woman whose sane, structured, consumer-oriented world suddenly slips strangely out of focus. As a result, Marian McAlpin finds herself unable to eat: first meat, then eggs, and finally even vegetables become abhorrent to her. In this tour de force, Margaret Atwood presents a striking condemnation of contemporary society and of the rampant consumerism that deprives people of both soul and sustenance.

Well, I don’t know at what point Marian starts identifying with the consumer products, but it hadn’t happened by page 100. Until then, she had just pottered along with her existence, her quite strange boyfriend, her fairly dead-end job, her bizarre housemate… so far, the setting has been confusing rather than dystopian. So I lost patience and gave up.

Additional information:

More recent DNFs

I’ve realised the blog has become a bit DNF heavy over the last few weeks – which is a reflection of at least one of the following:

- I’m becoming less patient

- I’m less captivated by reading and want to do other things

- the books I’m reading are terrible

- I’m trying to clear some books off the shelves and am not giving them a fair shot because I just want to be rid of them

- I’m reading too many review books in a row and not enough books that I want to read.

In any case, a quick roundup:

Island of Wings

A Casual Vacancy

The Girl on the Stairs

The Slaughteryard – Esteban Echeverria – 5/10 (DNF)

Key short story by Echeverria, political activist in 1830s Argentina, in a new and very complete edition by The Friday Project containing a long and helpful-for-context foreword by translator which set the historical context (without which I would have been lost), text, glossary, original text with note, further poetry by Echeverria, and translation of foreword to original posthumous edition.

The story is barely 30 pages long, and there is no doubt about its gore and grisliness. The political satire/parody is very extreme – portrays bleak and bloody events and then says they show the glory of the regime. 5/10 awarded because I find it very difficult to award any sort of mark – so short and bizarre.

Additional information: copy courtesy of publisher via Twitter with no expectation of review; Friday Project, 170 pages, order from Amazon here.

Over the Rainbow – Paul Pickering – 2/10 (DNF)

Bizarre story set in Afghanistan now (i.e with war and chaos); Malone and his wife are young aid workers. Malone meets and is captivated by Fatima, Oxford-educated daughter of the former head of Pakistan intelligence services. When she films a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and it is leaked, she and Malone have to go on the run – and what’s Kim up to in Kandahar.

This felt like it was written on an acid trip. On the one hand, the portrayal of aid worker life in Afghanistan is interesting, gritty, bleak but appears well researched; on the other hand, filming a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in downtown bombed-out Kabul? Everything in which Fatima was involved was incredible. The whirlwind romance between Malone and Kim and the fundamentalist religious aspect of their marriage didn’t really make a lot of sense either.

Additional information: unsolicited review copy; Simon & Schuster, 303 pages, order from Amazon here.

Shogun – James Clavell – 4/10 (DNF)

Old-timey shipping adventurers end up in Japan (which is where they were aiming) after storms and shipwreck etc. So they land very much on the wrong foot. That is all that has happened in the first 110 pages (out of 1200).

This was borderline as to whether I continued or not, but another 1100 pages of every pirate on the crew saying his bit in what was a fairly straightforward argument, and random and unnecessary violence, was too much.

If you like shipping adventures and new lands and don’t mind ridiculously convoluted conversations, go for it.

Additional information: part of a big box purchase; Coronet, 1244 pages, order from Amazon here.

A Casual Vacancy – JK Rowling – 4/10 (DNF)

“Krystal’s slow passage up the school had resembled the passage of a goat through the body of a boa constrictor, being highly visible and uncomfortable for both parties concerned.”


Nothing I write is going to change your mind on this book. People are going to read it because they want to read the new JK Rowling, not because reviews have said that it’s particularly good or bad. However, I would say don’t read it.

There are very few likeable characters in this novel; as a number of reviews have pointed out, the best developed characters are the teenagers that Rowling has had so much practice writing. A significant number of the adults are actually repellent. While every book needs the odd repellent character (Filch, anyone?), these ones are caricatures.

What stopped me from carrying on with this book was the way that the writing is not only adult, gritty, dark etc… it was as if Rowling was deliberately inserting adult content simply for the sake of it, to make the book not suitable for under-18s. “Hmm, this sentence is missing any mention of an R-rated body part. Where can I squeeze one in?” Yeurgh.

There is some funny writing (see quote above) and Rowling has a knack for the petty-minded empire-builder. But with a huge cast and vocab from the gutter, it’s easy to turn away.

Additional information:

The Girl on the Stairs – Louise Welsh – 4/10 (DNF)

Jane finds herself heavily pregnant in a new city, unable to communicate effectively, and with a partner who works too hard and isn’t home enough. When a girl in a red coat crosses her path and she hears raised voices next door, she becomes concerned for her young neighbour’s safety; a little too concerned for her own good.

I found the characters in this too extreme, and I suspect the author has a political agenda. The protagonist was both lesbian and pregnant, and consistently putting herself in danger with her obsession with the safety of the girl next door. She was in a foreign city; annoyed because her partner’s career had not been curtailed by pregnancy and her partner was travelling off to Vienna; her German is not very good, so she is quite isolated in her new city. Somehow, her vulnerability and difficulties were over-emphasised, and I struggled to believe her willingness to go walking about a creaky, potentially haunted apartment block in a foreign city while very pregnant.

Maybe my reaction is a sheltered one, one of a person who likes characters to fit into certain boxes, and Welsh is trying to provoke a reaction and shock the reader out of their prejudices. Well, that may be, but I don’t think I am a reader who is all that easily shocked, and this felt political. In which case – fine, but advertise it; I felt ambushed, as I did by “Christian fiction” a few times in the past where a book with a strong agenda was dressed up as a middle-of-the-road thriller.

I found all of the characters slightly overdone, like I was watching a film from the perspective of a character on drugs which amplify all the sensory inputs (that took longer to write than I intended; either you will know the cinematographic trick that I mean, or you will not!). Petra is very businessy, very German (I have a strong link to Germany. “Very German” is not a negative comment!), very unemotional. The old neighbour downstairs has hallucinatory Alzheimers. The priest is very judgemental. The girl next door is aggressive. No one is just a person who serves a plot purpose.

Berlin, as a location, is done well. The buildings with facades hiding derelict courtyards and shameful histories, the underground train stations with a slight sense of menace, the openness of residents once you get past the initial aloofness; all are captured well. What is not conveyed is the energy and positivity of the city, but you don’t want that in a horror novel, do you?!

Quite spooky. If you don’t mind the LGBT agenda smacking you over the head every few pages, and you like Gothic horror stories, this might work for you. It was too much for me.

Additional information:
Copy kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: John Murray, 288 pages (paperback)
Order The Girl on the Stairs from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Clockwork Angel – Cassandra Clare – 3/10

“That’s the same symbol that’s on the Dark Sisters’ carriage – that’s what I call them, Mrs. Dark and Mrs. Black, I mean…”

Having had a rather good time with YA literature pretty much any time I’ve read any (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Before I Die, Elsewhere), I thought I’d finally give in and try out one of Mini-Me’s favourite series. Being methodical, I thought I’d start with the prequel and carry on through the (currently) 4 volumes of the Mortal Instruments series…

Well, this was not a good start. I gave up on page 117.

While The Hunger Games was a well-crafted world to which a reader could easily relate, this was not only set in Victorian London but with a hefty dose of not terribly clearly explained magic thrown in as well. As a result, the setting was simply too remote to be able to make much sense of it.

The female character, Tessa, had a fair amount of get up and go about her, but nothing very special, no shining light that those around her recognise. Will was a male character written for teenage girls – full of infuriating grins and sarcastic wit.

And as for calling Mrs. Dark and Mrs. Black “The Dark Sisters” – I couldn’t believe the lack of effort given to that particular name; it dragged the target age group down to 5-8 year olds. At least call them Mrs. Black and Mrs. Shadow, or something!

Additional information:
Copy borrowed from my 15-year-old sister, who loves this series.
Publisher: Walker Books, 476 pages (paperback)
Order The Infernal Devices 1: Clockwork Angel from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

The Queen’s Secret – Victoria Lamb – 6/10 (DNF)

“Who would have thought the orphaned daughter of a Moorish slave could find such favour at the English court?”

Lucy Morgan, a young Moorish singer, finds herself catapulted into the Queen’s favour at a summer progress. She becomes a secret emissary between lovers and spies; with assassination plots abounding, it won’t be long before Lucy’s world comes crashing down around her ears…

I gave up on this after about 180 pages; I got fed up of the constant to-and-fro of the love triangle of Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley and Lady Essex (Lettice Knollys); while Lucy was a sympathetic character with interesting friends, too much of the plot revolved around the women’s jealousy. Meanwhile, Walsingham is either plotting with the assassins or blissfully ignorant of their presence. The book failed to sustain my interest – I can’t pinpoint anything particularly deficient, it simply bored me.

Additional information:
Copy provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Publisher: Transworld Books, 359 pages (hardback)
Order The Queen’s Secret from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting costs.

The Human Race – O. C. Heaton – 2/10 (DNF)

In this thriller by O. C. Heaton, Uma Jakobsdottir has developed some world-altering technology, and British entrepreneur Ethan Rae is helping her to expand it. But when Uma’s office is broken into and two journalists are killed driving through a storm in Iceland, it seems that someone with rather sinister intentions has found out about their little project…

If that seems a rather scant synopsis, it’s for two reasons:  I had serious difficulties with this book (to be enumerated below) and that is as far as the turbo-charged plot had got, 25% of the way in; and it’s a serious thriller in that every page reveals critical plot points which can’t be revealed in the synopsis for spoiler reasons!

OK, the reasons I didn’t get on with this book:

1. It was not what it was marketed as: the synopsis from Amazon is

 “Ever had a secret so big that the very knowledge of it consumed you? Uma Jakobsdóttir has one. A huge one. And if it falls into the wrong hands it could obliterate mankind. Unfortunately two men have discovered it. Ethan Rae, Britain’s richest man, is counting on Uma’s secret to finally seal his position as the greatest deal maker of all time.

Across the Atlantic, Samuel Reynolds III, playboy CEO of Reynolds Air, is battling to keep the airline his granddaddy built alive. Once the largest company in America, it’s now facing bankruptcy as the fallout of 911 cripples the airline industry. He desperately needs Uma’s secret to ensure its survival.

From the leafy suburbs of London to the frozen wastelands of Iceland, in the shadow of Ground Zero and under the barren dryness of the Mojave Desert, both men will stop at nothing to get what they want. There can only be one winner and the fate of the human race hangs in the balance as they battle it out. The race is on…”

which doesn’t indicate the hefty dollop of science fiction that this book contains. I think readers deserve an honest description; I’ve written about misleading marketing before.

2. Very short chapters coupled with an inordinately long expository introduction (first 25% of the book and counting). Short chapters (as I’ve written about before) drive me crazy and often here the chapter break was simply so that we could have a new date and time at the start of the chapter; there’s got to be a more elegant way to indicate a small change in time.

3. Serious editorial oversights: a couple of errors which ought to have been caught by a copy-editor (it can’t be 1815 in New York and 1015 in Reykjavik – the truth would be vice versa) and large sections which should have had a red pen taken to them energetically (“Next, he called his assistant, Scott Adams, with the news that his plans for the next three days had changed, and to rearrange all of his appointments. Scott quickly ran through the changes to Ethan’s schedule and rang off, having confirmed that he would call a limo to pick Ethan up…” DO YOU SEE WHY THIS MAKES ME STABBY???). Throw in some stilted dialogue (“I still cannot fully believe what we saw today…” from one young, cool journalist to another) and there is not enough tea in my kitchen to make me happy about this book.

4. I was taught at school that dying characters can’t bequeath thoughts: “The last sound he remembered, as the four-by-four toppled to meet the patiently waiting lava fields below, was his passenger’s piercing scream, followed by a blinding flash”. Also, surely he would hear the sound, not remember it, as she pre-deceased him by only a few seconds. Grump.

This book would appeal to:

- people who were not in my Year 8 English class with Mrs Highfield.

- end-of-the-world thriller devotees who don’t mind some scifi with their plot

Cover image comparison

This book actually came to my attention via Judith’s Ugly Covers Competition, which featured the original cover:

The book is now into its second edition and onto the Kindle with a much better cover:

which, for me, is much less repulsive and conveys the idea of the the world falling apart… Not quite sure which of our characters is supposed to be holding the world in his hands (which reminds me of this most excellent West Wing episode), but there we go. Much better cover.

Additional info:
This Kindle copy was kindly provided by the publisher via Leeswammes Blog.
Publisher: Rookwood Publishing
Order The Human Race from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.

The Charm School – Nelson Demille – 5/10 (DNF)

“Hello. Anything exciting happening?” “Yes, but it’s happening in Rome.”

Rich frat boy Gregory Fisher is driving his Trans Am across Europe. Because he can. When he gets to Russia he is mildly amused by the Big Brother control – until he meets an American war pilot, MIA since Vietnam, in the woods. He races on to Moscow to pass the message on to the attaché there, but something sinister seems to have happened to him since he made that phone call…

This thriller had plenty of potential. Gormless rich boy screwing things up? Check. Russians doing bad things? Check. American embassy two steps behind all the time? Check.

However, after 100 pages, the plot didn’t seem to be going anywhere (I had endured a lengthy restaurant scene where the American hero from the embassy dallies over Afghani food with another embassy employee before heading out to the aid of the MIA pilot), and there were just too many editorial errors! A date which should clearly have been 1969 was given as 1989 (the year of publication of this book, I believe), and on two occasions, sentences with very similar structures (“This, he thought, was a xxx thing”) occurred in the same paragraph; the structure is unwieldy once but twice it is careless.

I didn’t fancy wasting another 587 pages on something that hadn’t been properly proof-read, so on the DNF pile it went. Others may will be rewarded for being more patient than me.

Additional info:
This was a personal copy.
Publisher: Sphere Publishing, 687 pages (paperback)
Order The Charm School from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this, which goes towards giveaways.

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