Front Page, Musings

Weekly Musing: Regrettable Reads of 2016

As we come to the close of another year, my thoughts turn to reflections of the year that was. The words I’ve written and books I’ve read dominate my thoughts. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll reveal my lists of best and worst books I read in 2016. Today the focus is on the worst books I read.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: A first contact sci-fi novel from China, it started off okay opening with the events of the China’s Cultural Revolution before fast forwarding to the present. A selection for the book club I’m in, I was excited to read a novel written by a non-American and the novel is well-regarded. But as the book went along and more characters and layers were added, I found myself having a lot of difficulty finishing it. If I wasn’t reading it for book club I would have honestly stopped reading it because it started putting me to sleep.

There are many reasons why I didn’t like The Three-Body Problem. The story is told view several characters’ point of view, but none of these characters are fully developed. It was as if Liu was too focused on making sure the physics and engineering worked that he didn’t have the opportunity to develop the characters. None of them change and are incredibly wooden and one-dimensional.

While the plot itself is intriguing, the way it’s executed is dull. Heavily loaded with a lot of engineering and physics, the author himself is an engineer, much of the book reads more like a textbook rather than a novel. I appreciate Liu’s attention to such details and wanting to put the science into science fiction, but it’s that failure of the fiction component which lost me. Perhaps in the book’s original language the story grabs the reader and some of the magic of was lost in translation. Or perhaps for a liberal arts major this isn’t the book for me.

Data Bank by Tonya Sharp Hyche: Since I’ve previous reviewed this book I’ll not reiterate my reasons why I disliked the book.

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy: *INSERT LINKS* Another pick by my book club, this book was one of several post-apocalyptic dystopian novels we read this year. This book, along with the others we read convinced me the post-apocalyptic genre is one I cannot get into at all.

Set approximately 150 to 200 years after an illness and subsequent war wipes out most of the American population, the story primarily follows two characters named after Lewis and Clark. In fact Percy uses Lewis and Clark’s expedition to move our Lewis and Clark from St. Louis to the Pacific Northwest to meet with Aaron Burr (the character’s actual name) in the hopes of reuniting the country. The Lewis and Clarke influence is seen not only in the main two character’s names, but also in a Sacajawea type character who is the catalyst for the journey.

But besides clunky puns on famous names and sorta following the famous route, The Dead Lands is as depressing as you can get. The biggest reason why I disliked this book was just how much Percy reminds the reader of how bad everything is. While his prose is strong, the constant reminders become very grating. A little goes a long way. He spends so much time on the physical setting of the world it significantly detracts from the story itself. It takes forever for the Lewis and Clark led group to get to their destination. Once they do, the last quarter of the book is a nonsensical rush job which introduces new characters and a new setting giving the impression the story we’ve been reading for several hundred pages isn’t what this world is about.

The characters, with the exception of a protégé of Lewis and a mechanical owl (don’t ask), are annoying and difficult to like. While I’m the first to admit I’m a giant pessimist, even I had a hard time believing that every single person in the book can be so jaded and hard. Nothing good or positive in this world and all the characters were too cutthroat or weak for my tastes.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway: Another book I reviewed this year so instead of re-posting what I’ve said, here’s the link to the review.


Out of the fifty plus books I read this year, having a list of four books I couldn’t stand isn’t a bad percentage. The theme I noticed looking over this list for the biggest reason why I didn’t like a book came down to the characters. Again, for me if the characters aren’t interesting then it’s difficult for me to get involved in the story. As a reader I need some kind of emotional attachment to at least one character to make the novel worthwhile.

Book Reviews

Scribbling Scrivener Reads: Data Bank by Tonya Sharp Hyche

Data Bank by Tonya Sharp Hyche is a modern day crime thriller set in Forest, TX. A suburb of Dallas this seemingly quiet and crime-free oasis comprises of upper middle class, white collar families. All of that is quickly shattered when a mysterious woman and man kidnap a doctor and her daughter. They force the doctor to perform covert, emergency surgery on a little boy. This sets off a string of events and more crimes culminating in several deaths. From the beginning it’s made clear to the reader, but not the cops investigating, this is connected to something called Data Bank. Data Bank is a software program of data compiled by various residents and service providers in the area. In exchange for the information, these people get money deposited into an off-shore bank account. The common denominator of the data gatherers being they are all gambling addicts. However, this is not what the book is about. Rather it focuses on Willow Bradley who manages to gain access to Data Bank in order to find a doctor to perform the emergency surgery on her son.

On the surface this sounded like a great idea. I picked it up because it was different from what I normally associate with crime thrillers. Instead of being about Data Bank, its reluctant creator, users, data gathers, and the morality of it, Hyche instead chooses to focus on Willow Bradley, Dr. Keri Daniels, and Detective Hudson Bray.

Unfortunately none of these main characters or any of the supporting ones is interesting. Most act and talk wooden and felt more like mannequins positioned to act rather than anything resembling a real person the reader could connect with. The main characters are one dimensional and change very little. Somehow it’s easy for people to shake off traumatic events to find time to date each other. By the end of the story all involved are vacationing on some tropical island. As a reader I got the impression Hyche wanted me to feel for them simply based upon on past history rather than on who these people are currently.

It was particularly difficult for me to care about Willow Bradley, the person who sets off this series of events. A former stripper who worked her way toward a degree in architecture, she is trying to leave her abusive marriage with her young son. Somehow two of her husband’s henchmen find her and accidently shoot the child, rather than Willow. Instead of going to a hospital like any sane person would, she instead hacks into a former lover/wannabe lover’s (their exact relationship history was never clarified) email account and accesses Data Bank for the name of a doctor. Another former lover gets the email and somehow manages to arrange for the medical care to take place in a conveniently unoccupied home he knows about. Together they fly kidnap the doctor and fly her to where Willow’s son needs help. After the doctor does her job, the story doesn’t end there as Willow’s actions and missteps continue to impact Dr. Daniels’ life and others in Forest and beyond.

There are a lot of problems with Willow’s plan and the more I think about the timing of the initial events, the more the overall plot of Data Bank begins to weaken. First, Willow and her son, Noah, live in New Orleans. He is shot there yet is transported via private jet (Willow’s husband is loaded) to Miami. They kidnap Dr. Keri Daniels and her teenage daughter from their home in Forest, TX to fly them to Miami. I’m surprised Noah didn’t die on the plane let alone the several hours it had to take to arrange the safe house in Miami and for Willow’s accomplice to get his hands on all kinds of medical equipment. And that’s before the hours spent with Noah waiting for a doctor to show up.

The subplots in Data Bank are all very conveniently constructed to quickly lead Detective Hudson Bray back to Dr. Daniels’ kidnapping and thus to start looking at the people involved with Data Bank. There are other subplots that revolve around Willow and her seemingly inability to figure out which former boyfriend would be a better fit for her than her husband.

Another issue I had with Data Bank has less to do with the story itself rather it speaks to style preference. Personally, I found the prose to be stilted and Hyche uses too much space to catalogue mundane actions such as walking across a room, getting a plate out for food, or something else that doesn’t serve the character or the plot. If this had been done for one character, especially one that is very detail oriented or has OCD or something similar, it would make sense as a way of showing the reader how the person interacts with the world. But this is not the case. It’s just paragraph after paragraph, page after page of filler. The effect causes the story to drag and doesn’t allow the reader any sort of character development.

I found the dialogue to be generic and often unrealistic with everyone speaking in the same nice way. Even the supposed bad guys are relatively benevolent. I get this is set in the American South with a cast that is mostly Southern, but my goodness, no one is as polite and nice as these people. With so little variety it’s hard to distinguish one character from another. Perhaps that is why the reader is constantly reminded of who people are by being told the character’s full name each time he or she appears for the first time in a chapter. Also, internal dialogue was way overused and was applied to most of the characters.

The way people acted and reacted also felt unrealistic. Again, if one or two characters acted odd then I could overlook it as being part of their makeup. However, when everyone either overreacts or underreacts, it becomes noticeable. For example, one very minor character, who is one of Data Bank’s info gatherers, is exposed near the very end as having been involved with a bungled robbery attempt at her ex-husband’s house. When confronted by the police at her place of work, a bakery, she stabs herself in the heart with a knife rather than be arrested and face jail time. Doesn’t matter she’s now left her child motherless.

Overall, there wasn’t much I enjoyed about this book. The one-dimensional characters, plot, and abrupt, unearned ending disappointed me. On a scale of one to five pencils, I give Data Bank one and a quarter pencils.