Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Top 17 Stinkers of 2016

There are some books that are poorly executed, and some that are just blah, and then there are some that you're prepared to love but are just plain disappointed by. Here are the books that most disappointed me this year. They all fell short in some area, whether in technique or execution, or didn't measure up to my expectations. This isn't necessarily a list of my least favorite books of the year, just the most disappointing. (I'd only call one or two of them truly bad books.)

Crossing to Safety
This book was beautifully written. It was quiet and heavy on character and light on plot. I love all three of those things in fiction, and everyone who reads the book seems to love it, but it really fell short of my expectations. I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters, which is the kiss of death in a character novel.

Death Comes to Pemberley
I watched the movie before reading this, but I'm not sure that mattered. I think writing other chapters to Jane Austen's novels should be banned, and I didn't think that until I listened to this book. There was no spark, no Austenian wit. It fell flat. (This cover, though, is one of my favorites of the year.)

Eighty Days
I'm unsure where this one went wrong for me other than I didn't particularly like either Nellie Bly or Elizabeth Bisland, and although parts were very interesting, I walked away with a bad taste in my mouth. Ethics weren't necessarily something Bly valued.

Harriet the Spy
I was prepared to love this book, but I ended it feeling kind of angry. I think I was looking for something a little more moralistic with a happier ending. The book depressed me.

I Never Had It Made
Jackie Robinson's memoir is not at all what I was expecting, and I definitely came away with a different impression of him after reading it. For one thing, it wasn't really about his baseball career, it was about race relations and his activism since he left baseball. Given that it was written not too long after the Civil Rights era, perhaps it's forgivable for being so political, but I felt blindsided by the turn it took.

Into Thin Air
It's no secret that I tend to detest books written by journalists. Too many journalists just don't seem to have the skills to move from fact-reporting to story-telling, and although I think Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven is one of the finer books in nonfiction, he writes like a journalist in this one. There were too many characters to keep straight, too many ill-explained details, and the whole thing was too defensive. I ended up skimming and reading with only half my attention on the drama. Everyone thinks this sets the bar for adventure/survival stories, but in my opinion, In the Kingdom of Ice blows this out of the water.

Lily and the Octopus
Occasionally my book select-o-meter goes haywire and throws me a book like this that is touted to be all the things, so I succumb and just totally detest it. This one puts the contempt in contemporary fiction. It was poorly written and manipulative, the two things I dislike most in a book.

Love Warrior
It pains me to put this one on my Stinkers list, but I have to be honest. I looked forward to this book for months, but it was not simply a case of too-high expectations that landed it here. The book was just too dark and too tell-everything for my taste. There was no subtly and not enough of the wit and charm of Melton's first book. I felt bad for days after finishing it.

Watch the movie instead. It's sad and heartwarming and charming and thought-provoking. The book deals a lot more with Philomena's son's gay lifestyle than it really needed to. I thought the movie had it right: the real story here is a young Irish mother forced to give her baby away, not a promiscuous gay man contracting AIDS.

I will never forsake Pumpkin's Instagram feed, but her book was not much like it at all. The hilarity and picture quality was just not there. It felt rushed and thrown together.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice
I was so excited for this book, and I fully expected to find a series to really sink my teeth into. The writing here was fabulous, and I think King has a good handle on Sherlock Holmes's character, and yet, I don't think I'll go on to read others in the series. The book was unexpectedly violent--and if not always bodily violence, psychological violence--and I found it too intense to be pleasant. I'm sure it's nothing in comparison to most psychological thrillers and current crime/mystery novels, but the writing is so good, it kind of got into my head.

The Bridge Ladies
I did not like a single character in this memoir. I don't think you can call what these four bridge-playing women share "friendship." It didn't make me feel good at all.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
This book taught me a lot about what I need in a novel, and for that I'm thankful. I did not expect to like this one, and I really, really didn't. The book asked for too much suspension of disbelief, and I think the author masked her immature writing skills with rather fantastical situations.

When Breath becomes Air
Didn't expect to see this one here, did you? Don't get me wrong, I think the writing is beautiful and the situation touching. I'd lost my father just months before reading it, so parts of it hit home, and I did cry. I think of all the books on this list this is the one that most fits the "it's not you, it's me" label. I had no business reading this book, knowing that my beliefs about death differ from the mainstream population, but I just had to know what was going on here since it was a huge bestseller. 

Gone with the Wind
I'm amazed that I can put this book on my Stinkers list without a twinge of regret for having spent hours and hours of my life this summer reading it. Yay me. I found the writing here masterful, and I learned an unexpected amount about the Civil War and how it affected southerners. But I was so bothered by the utter lack of growth in both Scarlett and Rhett that I was angry about it. I think this one is worth the read because it really is quite a sweeping story and wonderfully written, but it will never be a favorite for me.  

My Kitchen Year
I have loved a number of Ruth Reichl's books, but this one was a dud. It is part memoir and part cookbook, but I constantly found myself wanting more memoir and less food.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Brief is right. And I think brief is the problem. If you don't grasp the concept in a particular essay, you go away feeling like you've learned nothing. And even if you grasp the concept (and I generally did), the essays are so brief you don't retain what you've learned. My husband was a physics major once upon a time, so I would recap the concepts for him to see if I understood them, and he found some flaws in the material and how it was presented. I mean, some of this is theoretical, but I began to question Rovelli's stance from time to time. He has another book that just came out about reality which I plan to read, as the nature of reality is at the heart of my religious beliefs. Perhaps it will be better.

And now that I've complained 17 times, I'm ready to get back to finding unexpected treasures on my 2017 booklist.

Tell me, what is on your 2016 Stinkers list? Do you agree or disagree of any of these?

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