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Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (1999): Cornwell’s Dope

John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (Viking, 1999)

[originally posted 14Nov2001]

Pius XII heads for a meeting with Der Führer on the book's cover.

“Don’t you think a red carpet was a bit…tactless, boys?”
photo credit: Wikipedia

I feel guilty abandoning this book. The subject matter is tailor made to suit my tastes, and so many reviews of the book have focused, incorrectly, on Cornwell’s seeming obsession with attacking the Roman Catholic Church and his methods of research, that I couldn’t imagine not liking it when I picked it up. But quite simply, Hitler’s Pope is an unmitigated disaster.
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The Flounder (1977): Truth in Advertising

Günter Grass, The Flounder (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977)

[originally posted 5Apr2001]

A flounder whispers into a man's ear on the book's cover.

“You wanna see the fillets? That’ll cost you extra…”
photo credit: sexualfables.com

I just couldn’t get through it. I can’t really put my finger on why, but there it is. The Flounder contains all the things I revere about Grass—a strong sense of history, scurrilous sense of humor, strong characters put into wonderfully unrealistic situations. But this novel, Grass’ weightiest (literally), never seems to come together in all the little ways that made similarly large tomes like The Tin Drum and Dog Years such wonderful reads.
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Speaker for the Dead (1994): Shouldn’t Have used a Bullhorn

Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead (Tor, 1994)

 

And no, I still have no idea what that is on the cover of the book.

The “Author’s Definitive Edition”, complete with boring, if informative, preface almost as long as the book.
photo credit: Amazon

I read Ender’s Game roughly a decade ago and liked it a great deal. In his preface to Speaker for the Dead, Card reveals that this was the book he was originally intending to write; Ender’s Game started off as backstory, but his publisher convinced him it needed to be a novel. An excellent idea, because Ender’s Game is orders of magnitude better than Speaker for the Dead, which I finally ended up abandoning at page fifty after three months of trying to get through it. One of the truly amazing things about Ender’s Game is that while it is, for obvious reasons, an overtly political novel, Card never allows the politics of the thing to get in the way of the story. Here, on the other hand, we don’t even get to story before we start on politics. I’m not sure whether Card felt that he needed to go into a long dissertation on the culture of the piggies with only the thinnest veneer of story overtop it because their culture is alien to ours or because he couldn’t find a better way of working it into the book, but either way, the end result is the same—fifty pages of unreadable dreck. For all I know, it really takes off at page fifty-one, but I wasn’t about to expend any more time figuring that out; I have far too many other books on my shelves demanding my attention, and I’d be willing to lay down big money that 99% of them will be better than this. By far the biggest disappointment of the year for me—perhaps the biggest of the decade. (zero)

Blood and Roses (2013): In Wintertime the Roses Died

A. K. Alexander, Blood and Roses (Thomas and Mercer, 2013)

Full disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.

photo credit: Brilliance Audio

It was yesterday. Doesn’t feel like nearly long ago enough.

There are some books about which you just know. By the end of page two of Blood and Roses, I was absolutely certain that this would be the first book I’d attempted to read in 2013 upon which I would be invoking the fifty-page rule. And the closer I got to page fifty, the more the book fulfilled my expectations. This is terrible in ways I’m not even sure people have names for yet.

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