On my February reading

Wow!  This is embarrassing.  See, there isn’t any.  I did not finish a single book this month.  It’s not that I wasn’t reading, cause I was, but I kept picking up lemons.

The first book I really tried to read, but between typos galore, chapters of backstory, unrealistic dialogue, descriptions so detailed they read like technical manuals, and dialogue tags that were just plain weird, I couldn’t make it past the first few chapters.  And it wasn’t a self-published novel, so it can’t be blamed on a lack of editing.  This novel went the whole route of querying, editing and proofreading.  Come to think of it, maybe the problem lies with me.  In fact, all the reviews I’ve seen of the novel were praising its brilliance, leaving me somewhat confused because I just can’t see it.

For my second attempt I chose a James Patterson.  I’d never read anything of his before, but my dad’s a big fan and has all his books, so I plundered my dad’s bookcase.  Jester, which Patterson co-authored with Andrew Gross, is a historic novel about a French dude who goes to the Crusades and comes back to find his wife has been carried off by raiders.  Sounds fun, right?  Edge of your seat, sword battles, jumping castle walls with a catapult…wait, I think I’m describing a different story now.

Anyway, it starts off well enough.  [Spoiler Alert – next three paragraphs]  It’s established very early that Hugh (the French dude) joins the Crusade for the promise of freedom from fiefdom (their liege lord, Baldwin, is not what you’d call a nice guy).  There’s a very romantic scene with him and wifey, and then he’s off.  For fifty pages we read how he marches to the Holy Land.  We get introduced to a bunch of interesting characters and even start to like some of them.  Then it’s the siege of Antioch (their very first battle where he fights like a career soldier even though he’s an innkeeper who previously was an actor and we never see him actually get any military training in between all the marching), and Hugh decides he’s had enough of war (after one battle), deserts, goes home, and none of the characters we’ve gotten to know and like thus far is ever mentioned again.

Around page eighty the story finally starts.  Hugh finds out his wife has been kidnapped, runs blindly into the forest, get’s attacked by a wild boar which he kills with a pocket knife and a stick, and is rescued by a noblewoman who teaches him to become a jester(aka clown).  Under this new pretense he goes to Baldwin’s castle (as he believes that’s who kidnapped his wife), gets a job as a jester(aka clown), and kills Baldwin’s greatest knight in a swordfight (because it’s perfectly reasonable that an innkeep/actor/jester(aka clown) with minimal combat training (he’s been in exactly one battle thus far, not counting the wild boar) can defeat an experienced knight in a sword battle as long as the innkeep/actor/jester(aka clown) is the main character of a novel and equally reasonable that no one would be aware of the battle taking place in the middle of a castle in the middle of the night).

His wife isn’t at Baldwin’s and now he’s on the run, so he returns to the noblewoman who made him a Jester(aka clown) who lives at the court of some duchess.  There he eventually finds his wife, who dies minutes after he finds her, runs blindly into the duchess’s chambers where he kills a guard, and he’s on the run once more.  Where does he go?  Back to his village a stone’s throw from Baldwin’s castle, where he promptly organises the villagers to rebel against Baldwin (because again it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that a village consisting of a few farmers, a blacksmith, a baker, a tailor, a miller and a priest (what 10th century French village would even have ALL those occupations represented?) with their families, led by an innkeep/actor/jester(aka clown) will be able to stand against a garrisoned army of trained soldiers and knights with castle-forged armour and weapons as long as the innkeep/actor/jester(aka clown) who leads them is the main character of a novel).  When the noblewoman who turned Hugh into a jester(aka clown) shows up to show her support (making me think instantly of the one scene from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) I decided enough is enough.  Especially since at that point the novel was not quite halfway yet.

Again, it might just be me.  Mr Patterson has many fans, after all and has written many more books than me (in fact, in the average year he writes more books than most authors do in their entire careers).  You don’t become that successful without knowing what you’re doing, do you?  But successful or not, this novel pushed my suspension of disbelief until it broke.

Now I’m on my third novel for the month.  I was in the mood for something different from my usual fare (explaining the other two failed attempts) and am now reading John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.  I only started it this week, so I’m not anywhere near finished, but thus far it seems promising.  We’ll see how it goes.

And February wasn’t a total waste.  I’m making good progress with my academic reading, though I don’t count those toward my reading tally for the year.  Here’s hoping March will be better.

8 thoughts on “On my February reading

  1. I’ve never really dipped into Patterson… not that I do a great deal of reading anyway, really. For this I am more or less horribly ashamed of myself. Just remember that my February was probably rather less productive than yours 🙂

    1. Haha! Thanks for reminding me there are worse people than me 😉 But your shame is easy to get rid of. Just start reading more.

      Yeah, this is my first foray into Patterson’s fiction. I think I’ll give him one more chance, but I don’t see myself becoming one of his dedicated fans. For one thing, my bank balance will never survive buying all his books!

  2. I’d still love to know how a book like the first could ever have been published. Was it published some kind of indie press, or what? I suppose I should find it reassuring that a boook like that could still find a publisher, but…

    And I highly doubt it’s “just you”. I’ve read two Patterson books, and liked one while really hating the other. I get the impression that his earlier work was a lot better than his more recent material; since his name has long been established, people continue to buy his books regardless.

    Are you after any recommendations? If so, I could certainly make a few.

    1. The book in question was published by a small press, but one would think they’d at least appoint a decent in-house editor, if nothing else.

      I think Patterson is just writing too much. You can’t possibly churn out 1.08 books a month and have high quality at the same time. Unless you’re some kind of genius, and as he’s never won a Nobel Prize for literature… Anyway, I think I’ll give him one more chance. Maybe one of the Alex Cross novels. Or perhaps one of his fantasy novels.

      I’m always open to recommendations, though I have plenty unread books on my shelf and many more on my wishlist.

      1. Have you ever read When The Wind Blows? That’s the Patterson book I like, though admittedly I was still fairly young when I read it. The other book I’ve read The Lake House, which is the former book’s (in my opinion, terrible) sequel.

        I also started reading You’ve Been Warned, come to think of it, but I stopped reading that one about twenty pages in. It was just…awful. Really, truly awful.

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