BookBrowse is a guide to exceptional books. As such, we only feature those that our reviewers hand on heart believe to be best in class. Because the books we select go through a rigorous selection process before we even assign them for review, the majority do make the grade - but some, despite good reviews elsewhere, just don't resonate with our reviewers' and get turned down. In these cases we usually post a short review on the book's page on BookBrowse but do not feature it as a lead book.
For all our readers, but especially any who think that because we only feature positive reviews we've never met a book we don't love, here are a handful of the recently published books that our reviewers felt did not make the grade for BookBrowse recommendation. If you would like to express your own opinion on any of these books, please do write your own review by clicking on the reader reviews link on the book's page.
The Zhivago Affair The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn
I zipped through the first part in one evening and read with interest about Stalin's murderous ways but, sadly, the details of CIA involvement and the crux of the book are much less engrossing.
The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner
Woody and his three daughters allow for references to King Lear, which seem forced after a while. Just as he did in his debut, Touch, Alexi Zentner works ample touches of magical realism in this novel as well. Unfortunately these little inspired flashes are not enough to rescue the story that borders on melodrama.
Snow in May by Kseniya Melnik
I had high hopes for Melnik's debut, not least because the back cover compares this collection of linked short stories to Chekhov. After reading the entire book, I'm sorry to say I can't recommend it. Some of the stories are compelling but, overall, in too many places the writing is disjointed and makes for a frustrating read.
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Maggie Shipstead is a solid writer but Astonish Me lacks the juiciness the story of a ballerina's love affair would require in order to be interesting. It's difficult to care about any of the characters. Seating Arrangements was delightfully juicy, as well as deftly crafted and well written. This one's just...well written.
John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire by Kim Heacox
I found John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire to be quite a disappointment. It was too disorganized and incomplete to be a biography; the travel sections were too sketchy for a book about exploration; it contained far too little information on the nature of glaciers for a scientific work; it relayed some information about the history of the conservation movement, but not enough to satisfy someone interested in the subject; and finally it touched upon how Muir shaped North America's natural places and the country's appreciation of nature, but again, without painting anything close to a full picture. Because the author tried to cover so much territory in so few pages, I felt he never fully explored any of the subjects he mentions, with the end result that those interested in the topics presented here will find it lacking critical detail, while those knowing little about them will find the book too dull and haphazard to finish.
The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones
Wilfred Price is a cute story but I feel like I've read it too many times before. Sadly, it is derivative, even bordering on trite.
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
Though there are strong points in the novel's favor - language, atmosphere, evocative portrayals of shell shock, character description - it is not a convincing, enjoyable read... Though Dunmore's portrayal of a man recovering from the traumas of war is occasionally vibrant and evocative, the novel does not function as a believable, cohesive whole. Other critics have described the novel as "elegantly plotted" and "exceptionally good," but these observations read like throwaway lines in reviews that appear more interested in Dunmore's exploration of shell shock than whether her novel works as an organized unit. There are certainly (a few) elements here to recommend this novel, but I wasn't overwhelmed by them, and the novel just simply does not hold together enough in my opinion.