The OF Blog: Best (Worst?) of 2013: Five Disappointing Releases

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best (Worst?) of 2013: Five Disappointing Releases

In writing a series of posts regarding the "best" of this passing year in a variety of categories, I debated for some days whether or not to write a post dedicated to those new releases that I read which were either execrable reads or were so flawed in some form or fashion that they did not live up to my modest expectation of entertaining me.  Some of these works others will find to be good or even excellent reads.  Others likely will gender a response of "why the hell did you read that dreck in the first place?"  But a "failure rate" of roughly 5% (5 out of slightly over 100 2013 US releases read, with another 25-50 being a mass of decent to solidly good tales that left only fleeting impressions and nothing truly indelible on my memory) is not too bad, I suppose.  Anyway, here are the five whose stories not only failed to capture my attention, but which left me feeling at least wistful about the time lost to reading/reflecting upon them:

5.  Wendy Lower, Hitler's Furies:  German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields 

See the link above for the original review, but this excerpt summarizes many of my disappointments with the study:

The sources included in the endnotes is impressive.  Although I haven't kept up with the literature since late 1997, there are a wealth of studies on the issues of women in the Third Reich and roles of women in the Holocaust that appear to be promising reads.  Yet within the body of her study, Lower rarely mentions any of these other historians and their contributions to the field.  Perhaps this is due to Hitler's Furies being marketed more to a general audience than toward an academic one, but ultimately this leads to the sense that Lower's narrative is detached too much from the debates that historians have had on this subject over the past six decades.  While it may be understandable that Lower wants to avoid the old Intentionalist/Functionalist debate regarding the level of intent that the decision-makers had in beginning the Final Solution, the book suffers because there is insufficient grounding of her arguments within the context of larger discussions of the Holocaust's beginning, mechanics, and how its perpetrators justified their actions.  Even the women involved seem at times acting within a narrative vacuum; there is not enough explanation to cover their myriad actions.
Yet despite these serious issues that I have with Hitler's Furies, it is a book that at the very least presents vividly-described actresses and whose discussions at least point the way to possible future paths of exploration within the field.  It is a flawed work, but for non-historian readers curious about the time period, it certainly is a work that will appeal to them.  For many historians of the period, however, Lower's work may be frustrating in the sense that it seems that with just more focus on placing her work within the context of current historiography, her work could have been as important as those of Ian Kershaw and Browning in discussing the mindsets of those involved in the Shoah.  The arguments on complicity and the forms in which it took here will continue to rage on.
 4.  Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds

I bought Lord's second novel on the basis of her strong debut novel, Redemption in Indigo.  Yet when I read it soon after its February 2013 release, I found myself being distracted too frequently while reading the narrative.  There just was no "spark," nothing that interested me, as the setting had too many parallels with prior SF landscapes, the characters were earnest yet lacking in vitality, and while the prose wasn't horrendous, neither did it sparkle with wit, verve, or anything that might have given me a reason to pay closer attention.  The result was a narrative that didn't appeal to me, leaving me then (and now,  months after I traded the book in at the local used bookstore for others) so disinclined to think about its themes that I chose not to write a formal review about how disappointed I was with Lord's sophomore effort.

3.  Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice 

I reviewed this earlier this month and there is little that I would add to that review other than to note that my disappointment stems from the rare case where I tried a book despite my misgivings about the book's premise due to the enthusiastic praise of others.  I suppose in her presumed desire to write a "gender-positive" account that Leckie just failed to make her debut novel a "prose-positive" or "dynamic character-positive" one as well, as the blandness of virtually everything but her underdeveloped theme of the artificiality of gender divisions just left me cold to the pedestrian narrative.

2.  Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, A Memory of Light 

I wrote a detailed review as to why this bloated concluding volume was a major disappointment to me, considering that at one point (well, back in the late 1990s) I enjoyed reading the WoT novels, that any more commentary would just rehash what was stated earlier.  Although I will admit that livetweeting this book back in January (using the hashtag "#WoTTF") did give birth to one of my better literary putdowns:  "non-erotic pornography."

1.  Terry Goodkind, The Third Kingdom 

This is the most disappointing 2013 release read, not because I had any hopes that it would be good, but because I lost a trusted Serbian reading squirrel due to this crap.  Damn good one, Stefan was.  He still is missed, as I have yet to attempt reading another epic fantasy until I can find a suitable replacement.

So there we have it, five disappointing releases, each for different reasons (5:  professional wish for more analysis of sources; 4:  weaker sophomore effort; 3:  too high of expectations based on others' proclamations; 2:  disappointed nostalgia of a former perhaps-fan; 1:  the toil caused by reading the book).  Any thoughts on these five books or any disappointing 2013 releases that you have read this year?

1 comment:

Liviu said...

I did not like Ancillary Justice either as I found the writing bad; I am curious if the 2nd book will get the same attention or not as that will separate the ideological/professional reasons for hyping the book from true interest.

I actually liked Best of all Possible worlds a lot, while K. Lord's debut had no interest for me and I am looking forward to her new book in early 2014 which is also sf - liked the writing, heroine and cultures, though I agree the book could have done with a little tightening

Not a fan of R. Jordan series - tried a few times for the fame and never could read more than 50 pages as I found the writing mediocre at best, while i think that reading cereal box labels or even 100 pages of the same repeated sentence a much more profitable experience than reading Terry Goodkind

Took a look at the Hitler book but thought it weak and written more for sensation than anything else...

The most disappointing releases of the year for me, were Republic of Thieves and Luminous Chaos (the sort of sequel to the superb Aurorarama), while I found the acclaimed Goldfinch addictive but kind of disappointing in the end

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