Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review (DNF): The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

Title: The Hollow Ground
Author: Natalie S. Harnett
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source: ARC received from publicist for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

"We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet."

The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the Black Lung stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades' old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet. Inspired by real-life events in now-infamous Centralia and the equally devastated town of Carbondale,  The Hollow Ground  is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place.

My Review:

As you all know, I'm not really accepting ARCs for review other than for TLC Book Tours (and even that got scaled way back).  However, when I was approached with an offer to read The Hollow Ground, I jumped on it.  Mostly, it was the setting that did it for me--I have been rather fascinated by the history of the coal fires in Centralia, PA (a literal ghost town--Google that shizzle), and my mom's family is from northeastern Pennsylvania, not far from Carbondale.  My grandfather was a coal miner.  So I thought for sure this would be a match made in heaven for me.  But alas, it was not to be.

This is going to be a short review because, yes...I DNF'd this book.  (Did Not Finish, for the layperson.)  And I hardly ever do that (in fact, it's only the third time ever).  But I worked my way through 46% of this novel, and I just could not connect with it, no matter how hard I tried.  And I tried...OH MY GOD did I tryyyyy (a little early-90's rock for you right there...anyone?  You can thank me later).

I think there were two issues for me here.  First was the main character, Brigid.  She was so static.  I felt like a lot of things were happening TO her, but she was rarely ever making things happen.  She was very passive, and thus came off as a weak protagonist.  I didn't build any emotion for or against her, which is rarely a good sign.

The second issue was that there wasn't much plot movement.  I made it to nearly the 50% mark, and didn't feel like I had reached any level of anticipation for these "decades' old secrets" that were mentioned in the book's summary.  Perhaps that anticipation would have come later, but by the halfway point, I found myself unwilling to wait for it any longer.

Hopefully others will have a better experience with this one (there are quite a lot of excellent reviews on Goodreads!), but The Hollow Ground was a miss for me.

Readers, have you had to DNF any novels lately?


  1. Now that you mention it, yes I did. Mind of Winter. I don't have the author's name on hand but it is a fairly new release. I just couldn't connect to any of the main characters, and was very confused as to what the heck was going on. I read about 65 pages, then just stopped. Life is too short at my age to read books I don't enjoy! By the way, I have this book of yours on my wishlist; I'm glad I didn't pick it up! Thanks.

    1. I recently reviewed that one, and I'll admit it takes some time (a lot of time) to get into it. I was feeling very skeptical about it until maybe the last 25% of the book...then it really took a turn for me. But I know it's not always worth it to stick with a book for that long!

  2. Slow moving plots make me murdery. Drives me cra-zy. I actually had 2 DNF audiobooks just this week. Not sure about My Name is Memory, fascinating plot about reincarnation but I did not connect with the characters at all. The second was And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I LOVE Hosseini but this audiobook was not good. The 1st chapter was fine then it switched narrators to 2 Iranians with very thick accents and I could only understand every third word. I got lost and had to keep replaying tracks. I finally just chucked it and decided to get the print.

    1. I can see what you mean about My Name Is Memory. I listened to that on audio a few years ago and the characters were a little tough for me as well. Interesting about the Hosseini though!

  3. Oh blerg :( Aren't DNFs the worst? I'm glad that they rarely happen for you! (Ditto for me, I think we're pretty good at knowing what will work for us. So you know, kudos for you and I!)

    I hope whatever you're reading now is fab!

    1. Currently Gone with the Wind, and even though it's taking ages I am loving it!

  4. Passive protagonists are one of the things most likely to make me dislike a book, I think because I find their lack of initiative frustrating. I liked the description of this book, but ended up not picking it up and your review makes me happy it worked out that way. I'm sorry you had a bad experience reading it though!

    1. I really can't remember the last time I read one this passive, it was nuts. Sounds like I steered several people away from this

  5. Can I just high five you for the 4 Non Blondes reference? Every time I think I can't love you more, you go and do something like that! I said heeeey ayyyyy ayyyyyyy aaaaaaay, what's going on?

    1. Hahaha and kudos to you for being the one commenter who high fived me on it!

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