Brief Reviews From The DNF Pile

Some readers feel compelled to finish everything they read - and I applaud them for that - but life is too short to waste on books you're not enjoying. I give everything a fair shot, both in terms of time and pages, waiting to see if one might fit a changing mood but, eventually, you just have to say farewell and move onto the next book on the shelf.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I seem to be in a serious reading funk lately. I've taken some chances on new material and it simply hasn't paid off.


Marah Chase and the Conqueror's Tomb: A Novel by Jay Stringer
On the surface, this seemed to have everything going for it - archaeology, spies, adventure, and even a queer romance. Unfortunately, it didn't have much beneath the surface. I liked that it raced from adventure to adventure, and I enjoyed the implausibility of it all. Joanna Mason, the MI6 operative trapped in a fallen house of political cards, was far-and-away the best thing about the book, and I would have gladly read more about her. The heroine (Marah), however, just fell flat for me, and her ex-girlfriend (Zoe) felt like unnecessary baggage. I just lost interest at some point and never found my way back into the story.


Grey Skies by William Becker
This started out amazing. The opening scene is dark, twisted, and humorous in a way that has you feeling both dirty and guilty for enjoying it. I was hooked. I felt for this poor guy, and I wanted to know what the hell was going on, what it was that put him in such a horrible situation. As the story grew into darker twists and turns, however . . . as it began exploring more psychology and family drama . . . as it transformed that feeling of empathy into one of annoyance . . . well, I found myself enjoying it less and less. I skimmed a lot to see how it ended, then skimmed backward a bit to understand why it ended that way, and I have to give William Becker full credit for what he's constructed. It is by no means a bad book - in fact, I would urge readers to give it a chance - it's just didn't connect with me.


One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence 
Maybe I should have listened to myself and stopped at the "Ready Player One meets Stranger Things" tagline. I only enjoyed the former because of its overwhelming 1980's nostalgia, and I've had no desire whatsoever to watch the latter, but this is Mark Lawrence - even if I struggled with Red Sister (and I fully intend to give that a second shot and finish the trilogy), he's an author I trust. I thought it opened well, with some compelling scenes in both the cancer ward and at school, and I found myself immediately invested in Nick's tale. The first deja-vu vision was a nice touch, and the menacing stranger in the dark was great. Had the story kept with that spooky, creepy, mysterious vibe of uncertainty, this could have made for a fantastic short story but . . . well, time travel. Ugh. The more contrived and complicated that aspect of the plot became, the more I seemed to be aware of the flatness of the characters and the fact that their maturity seemed to fluctuate to fit the moment. At some point I just wondered why I was still reading and resorted to Power Word Delete.


This Body's Not Big Enough for Both of Us: A Novel by Edgar Cantero
I would like to think there's some creative vision here I missed, some cleverly disguised attempt at social commentary, but what I read was just a mess. To start with, the narrative structure is awkward and contrived. It's self-referential, breaks the fourth wall to address the reader, uses pop culture as metaphors, and even embeds flashbacks within flashbacks. Just a mess. Then there's the gender/sexuality element. I wasn't expecting some deeply nuanced examination of sexual identity and gender expression here. I mean, it opens with a white male scolding and a diatribe against "PC bullshit," so I fully expected things like body-sharing to be played for laughs, but the repeated ladyboy jokes were just tasteless and lazy, and having the three lesbian characters be a drugged-out nympho, an inappropriate child-crush, and a psychotic maniac . . . well, that brings me back to my desperate hope that some blindingly clever social commentary went over my head, as opposed to what it felt like, which is just oozing lazily into the sewer.

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