One-Minute Book Reviews

December 26, 2007

Entertainment Weekly Names 5 Worst Books of 2007

Entertainment Weekly named Mitch Albom’s For One More Day one of the five worst books of 2006, but that novel almost looks like a neglected masterwork next to some of the titles on this year’s list. They are:

  1. If I Did It (O.J. Simpson’s name was removed from the cover of this one.)
  2. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
  3. The Mickey Mantle Novel by Peter Golenbock
  4. Celebrity Detox by Rosie O’Donnell
  5. Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell

 Jennifer Reese, the book critic for EW, tells why each book is so bad in an article on the site for the magazine that you can read here,,20167009_3,00.html.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 18, 2007

Novels by Junot Díaz and Alice Sebold Rank Among the Best and Worst of 2007, the Editors of New York Magazine Say in Year-End Wrap-Up

What’s the best novel of 2007? It’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz‘s tale of “a monstrously fat, occasionally suicidal Dominican-American ‘ghetto nerd,'” the editors of New York magazine say in a Dec. 17 article written by Sam Anderson. I haven’t read the novel, but there’s room for a bit of caution here: Last year the editors’ choices included Claire Messud‘s The Emperor’s Children, second runner-up in the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. But New York got it right that Alice Sebold‘s The Almost Moon stands out for badness even in a year in which “lots of big names underwhelmed us … Amis, DeLillo, Roth, Rowling.” Anderson faults the novel’s voice, pacing and characterization. He didn’t mention the fourth-grade reading level and almost comically off-key lines like: “This was not the first time I’d been face-to-face with my mother’s genitalia”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 3, 2007

Alice Sebold’s Ghastly Scenes, Written at a Fourth-Grade Reading Level, Infest ‘The Almost Moon’

A woman with “control issues” murders her mother fantasizes about stuffing her in a freezer — “I should have stayed in therapy,” she admits – And you thought you had “control issues” because you alphabetize your CDs

The Almost Moon: A Novel. By Alice Sebold. Little, Brown, 291 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Novelist Charlotte Moore eviscerated The Almost Moon in a review I recently quoted at length and agree with in most particulars. Yet even that review — brilliant as it was – didn’t suggest all the distasteful aspects of this novel about a 49-year-old woman who murders her mother and fantasizes about stuffing her in a freezer.

Moore rightly warned that “nasty revelations occur about once every ten pages, like the sex scenes in the Harold Robbins novels we used to pass round at boarding school.” But “nasty” may be a euphemism for the thoughts Helen Knightly has while cleaning her mother’s excrement-smeared corpse: “And there it was, the hole that had given birth to me.… This was not the first time I’d been face-to-face with my mother’s genitalia.” “Face-to-face” doesn’t seem quite the right phrase for those body parts, does it?

The Almost Moon reads like a Mitch Albom novel in reverse. Albom writes a third-grade reading level and Sebold at a fourth-grade level, according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word. The difference is that The Almost Moon serves up grim pseudoprofundities instead of the saccharine ones in For One More Day. “It was a bitter truth – my discovery – that daughters were not made in cookie-cutter patterns from the genes of their mothers alone,” Sebold writes. Apart from the clunky phrasing and clichés in that line, it is hardly news that daughters differ from their mothers. Such observations are what pass for wisdom or originality in The Almost Moon.

Novels infested with ghastly scenes can succeed in either of two ways: by entertaining you, as good mystery and horror novelists do, or by offering insights that make the ghoulishness worthwhile. The Almost Moon brims instead with banalities like this one from last chapter: “There are secret rooms inside us.” Close the door, please.

Best Line: None.

Worst line: The “worsts” fall into several categories. First, the cringe-inducing, like that line about being “face-to-face” with “genitalia.” Second, the pop-psychological. After murdering her mother, Helen explains that she has “control issues” and that “I should have stayed in therapy.” Third, the padded, redundant or clichéd: “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.” “I had prepacked a bag for the hospital before Sarah was born.” “I like to think, when I think about it, that by that time she was busy taking in the scent of her garden, feeling the late-afternoon sun on her face, and that somehow in the moments that had elapsed since she’d last spoken, she’d forgotten that she ever had a child and that, for so many years now, she’d had to pretend she loved it.”

How to find the reading level of a text: Enter the text into a computer and run the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. If you have Word 2004, you will see the words “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level” at the bottom of the window that opens when the check is finished. This tells you reading level. [If you don’t see a list of “Readability Statistics” after you complete a spell check, search Word Help for “readbility statistics,” then choose “Display Readability Statistics” from the list of options you see.] The first six pages of The Almost Moon had a reading level of Grade 5.5. To see if this was too low, I entered three 300-word passages from pages 23–24, 123–124 and 223–224. The reading levels for these passages averaged out to Grade 4.3. If you average 5.5 and 4.3, you get an overall fourth-grade level, 4.7, for all the passages. The text of this review (from the word “Novelist” through “please”) has a reading level of Grade 10.8.

Published: October 2007

Furthermore: I quoted from Charlotte Moore’s review in the Spectator in a Nov. 14 post and wrote about the first four chapters of The Almost Moon Nov. 23 Sebold, who lives in California, also wrote the novel The Lovely Bones and the memoir, Lucky

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 2, 2007

You Thought the Writing of the ‘Bad Sex Award’ Finalists Was Bad? Coming Monday, a Review of Alice Sebold’s ‘The Almost Moon’

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:37 pm
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Did the writing of the Bad Sex Award finalists make you cringe (“Read All the Passages Shortlisted for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award Here” The nominees get competition after the fact from Alice Sebold’s novel The Almost Moon, which will be reviewed tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 23, 2007

Five Things I Learned About Alice Sebold’s Novel ‘The Almost Moon’ From the First Four Chapters

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:04 am
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… or why you may not want to read this one over lunch at Taco Bell

Yesterday I read the first 61 pages of Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon on a train full holiday travelers. I’ll review it soon and, until then, here are five things I learned about the novel from four chapters:

1. Helen Knightly, the narrator, kills her mother in the first chapter. After the murder, Helen reflects, “For some reason I felt disloyal to her.”

2. Helen thinks while wrapping her mother’s corpse in blankets, “Super Giant Mother Burrito.”

3. Helen also imagines herself as a bronze statue, Middle-Aged Woman Ripping Underpants Off Dead Mother: “One could commission it for a schoolyard …”

4. Helen shares a surname with the hero of Emma, Mr. Knightley (sometimes spelled “Knightly”). I have no idea why. You don’t really think of “Jane Austen” and “Super Giant Mother Burrito” in the same breath, do you?

5. Helen describes herself as 49 years old and in “midlife.” So before the possibility of a nasty death sentence arose, she was planning to live to be about 98.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 14, 2007

Is Alice Sebold Turning Into the Howard Stern of Popular Fiction?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:33 am
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Charlotte Moore says that the first line of The Almost Moon is there “purely to grab attention,” and she doesn’t think much of what follows, either

By Janice Harayda

Alice Sebold’s first novel, The Lovely Bones, sold million of copies, but I read only a few pages before being put off partly by the tabloid-worthy premise: MURDERED CHILD TELLS STORY FROM HEAVEN! And I haven’t been able to get her second, The Almost Moon (Little, Brown, $24.95), from the library, because a lot of people here are reading it for one of those one-size-fits-all programs designed to get everybody in town to read the same book.

Until I can track down a copy, you might like to read the comments of a critic for a British weekly who raised points that I haven’t seen mentioned in the American reviews. Charlotte Moore wrote of The Almost Moon (“Deadened by Shock”) in the Oct. 31 issue of The Spectator:

“Its essential flaw is contained in its opening sentence: ‘When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.’ This is eye-catching … But like the rest of the novel it doesn’t withstand scrutiny.

“‘When all is said and done’ evokes a folksy storytelling style, but does it mean anything? Who is ‘saying and doing’, exactly? It’s just padding; the second half of the sentence could stand alone. Except it couldn’t because, unpadded, we might notice that the opening is contradicted by what actually happens. The narrator, Helen Knightly, takes ages to decide what to do with her demented, incontinent mother; when at last she smothers her with towels, it’s not easy at all. It’s a struggle, as you’d expect. And the remaining 277 pages go into minute detail about just how difficult it is to know what to do with yourself while you’re waiting for the cops to discover that you have murdered your mother. Nothing easy about it.

“The justification of that opening sentence, then, is purely to grab attention. This speciousness infects the prose throughout. Nasty revelations occur about once every ten pages, like the sex scenes in the Harold Robbins novels we used to pass round at boarding school.”

I don’t know if I’ll agree with these comments. But I love the force and clarity of Moore’s writing in this review — especially in contrast to how so many American critics have danced around the flaws they saw in the novel. Awfully persuasive in just a few paragraphs, isn’t it?

You can read the rest of the review at

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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