You already got my favorites – but honestly, it’s the least favorite books that everyone always enjoys hearing about the most. There’s just a type of satisfaction you get from negative reviews and ranting about books that is hard to get from anything else. So that’s what I’m going to give you.
Just to clarify, I will be differentiating between my least favorite books, which I really did not like, and my most disappointing books, which I may still have enjoyed but which just didn’t live up to the expectations I had for them. In this case, the books are ranked: the closer they are to the top of my list, the bigger my disappointment. I would also like to say that unless I really hated them with an absolute passion, I usually forget a lot of details about the bad books I read – so don’t expect any in-depth reviews. And, obviously, all this is just my personal opinion.
Part One: Least Favorite Books of 2017
The Cosmic Race (La raza cósmica) by José Vasconcelos
This book is actually a long essay (first published in 1925) that describes Vasconcelos’ ideal version of a utopian future (basically, all people will mix with one another so that the superior human will be bred under the leadership of Latin Americans) and it was absolutely horrible, even putting the pretentious writing style aside. My poor roommate had to listen to me rant about its awfulness the entire time I was reading it and got to hear a whole bunch of its most “wonderful” quotes. Here is my absolute “favorite”, just to give you a little taste:
“In this way, in a very few generations, monstrosities will disappear; what today is normal will come to seem abominable. The lower types of the species will be absorbed by the superior type. In this manner, for example, the Black could be redeemed, and step by step, by voluntary extinction, the uglier stocks will give way to the more handsome. Inferior races, upon being educated, would become less prolific, and the better specimens would go on ascending a scale of ethnic improvement, whose maximum type is not precisely the White, but that new race to which the White himself will have to aspire with the object of conquering the synthesis. The Indian, by grafting onto the related race, would take the jump of millions of years that separate Atlantis from our times, and in a few decades of aesthetic eugenics, the Black may disappear, together with the types that a free instinct of beauty may go on signaling as fundamentally recessive and undeserving, for that reason, of perpetuation.” (Vasconcelos 32)
I think you get the picture… It was one of the most racist things I have ever read – I felt like I was back in history class, learning about World War II and reading old Nazi texts. And, perhaps even more infuriatingly, my edition of the book had a foreword praising Vasconcelos’ ideas and saying that anyone who thought they were racist hadn’t understood them properly. Maybe it’s just me, but somehow, I doubt it. I had to read this for a class and we basically spent the whole class period finding racist quotes and ranting about it, much to the amusement of our professor. How can anyone read passages like the one above and claim this isn’t racist?
Also, somehow no one seems to know the context of Vasconcelos’ raza cósmica. Obama even mentioned it in a speech as if it were some perfect modern human than harmonized different cultures. All I can say is: maybe you should read up on what you quote before you quote it.
Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes by Louis Sachar
Louis Sachar seems to be a hit or miss author for me. I love There’s A Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, and I really enjoyed Holes and Pig City, too. I detested Someday Angeline. And here is another one that I did not like at all. This is actually a companion to Someday Angeline, but I didn’t realize that until several pages in (so I really did go into this open-minded!). This book is about a boy called Gary Boone (“Goon”) who wants to be a comedian, but no one really takes him seriously. The problem was, nothing really changes towards the end of the book. No one takes him seriously then, either. This whole book, I was either extremely bored because nothing seemed to be going on, or I was cringing at the absolutely awful jokes Goon told. They were not funny. In fact, they were not even so bad that they were funny again. They were just … there. I got absolutely nothing out of this book at all and couldn’t really see what people would see in it. I guess this just wasn’t for me…
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
This is yet another book where I am at an absolute loss why so many people love it. I just did not see the appeal. The book follows a girl named Lennie, whose sister has just died. To tell you exactly why I hated it, there’ll have to be spoilers, so skip on to the next book if you don’t want to be spoiled. Before I go on to that, though, I do want to mention that I (very hesitantly) also picked up Jandy Nelson’s other book, I’ll Give You the Sun this year, and I was pleasantly surprised by that one. While it is also kind of tropey, in that case it worked, and I really enjoyed reading it.
**BEWARE OF SPOILERS IN THIS NEXT PART!**
Basically, my issue with this was that it had a bunch of tropes I absolutely detest. First of all, there was one of the most cringe-worthy love triangles I’ve ever read about. Basically, this cute, rich boy who is absolutely perfect moves to town, and Lennie immediately falls for him, but then whenever she sees her dead sister’s boyfriend, they are both so overcome by grief that they start tearing their clothes off. Of course, this causes problems. Then, no one in this book communicates about their problems (yes, Lennie writes poems, but she drops them in weird places where she doesn’t expect anyone to find them). Also, while Lennie is grieving particularly bad, we find out that her dead sister was also pregnant at the time of her death. (When that was revealed, I just snorted. I know that sounds kind of insensitive, but the writing made that reveal so overly dramatic that it just seemed like the author wanted to make the book even more heart wrenching. Sadly, that failed spectacularly for me.) Another thing I really didn’t like was that Lennie was continually described as a talented clarinet player and a band geek, but other than mentioning that she went to practice, there was hardly any mention of what music meant to her and how it influenced her healing process. If you keep telling me how much music means to this girl, you better show me, and not just use band as a plot device to meet the super cute guy so that she can then forget about band altogether in favor of love. I love music in books, but in this case, I felt cheated out of it.
**END OF SPOILERS**
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
I am honestly not quite sure why I detested this as much as I did. I enjoyed Red Rising (though I didn’t love it), so I was actually excited going into this. However, it took me forever to read and the whole time, I was just extremely bored and counting the pages I had left. I somehow felt no attachment to any of the characters anymore, and even the action sequences didn’t manage to grasp my attention. It felt like they were just there to say: “Look at Darrow – he’s so awesome! He can do everything! No one can beat him because he always has a plan! And everyone is really loyal to him, even though they don’t have a really substantial reason to!” I am now dreading reading Morning Star (it’s been lying on my bedside table for almost a year now), but I always finish series that I own and I do kind of want to see what the hype is about. Like I said, I have no idea why it had this effect on me. Everyone else seems to love it, though, so I’m clearly in the minority here.
King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard
I honestly don’t remember very much about this, except that I was extremely bored reading it, that it was very tropey and love-trianglely and that its bland writing was sometimes punctured by these overly dramatic sentences that were probably supposed to be quote-worthy but just annoyed me to no end. I know many people already hated Red Queen, but while I did think it was filled with tropes I had seen before, I also thought the series showed potential. However, now that I’m three books in, I can say with certainty that that potential has, in my opinion, been squandered. There is nothing really original about this, and no real depth to the story. Since there is only one more book in this series, I will probably still be reading it (like I mentioned before, I absolutely hate DNFing things, even if I don’t like them), but I wouldn’t recommend this series.
The 100 by Kass Morgan
I could also mention this on my list of most disappointing reads, but since this book was absolutely terrible, I decided to put it on this one. I absolute love the TV show The 100, so this year I finally got around to reading the book it was based on (I only read the first one and will probably not continue on with the series. Shocking, right? But since I don’t own the book and it was so bad, it’s easier to stop 😉 ). However, this is one of those rare times when the adaptation is better than the original. This book was full of stereotypes, insta-love (I can’t believe I finally got the ship I’ve been rooting for since the beginning of the TV show and couldn’t even appreciate it because it was done so badly!), and the characters had absolutely no depth at all, but were walking stereotypes. While the TV show really shows character growth, realistically portrays choices people make to survive, and has amazing morally gray characters, this book had flat idiots as characters who just did the first thing that jumped into their minds or were willing to sacrifice all of humanity for someone they loved (and had known for maybe a few months…). I am sorry to say it, but this book fell very short of my expectations.
Fabian: Die Geschichte eines Moralisten (English title: Fabian: The Story of a Moralist) by Erich Kästner
This is the only book on this list where I think it’s really just me and I totally understand why some people would love this. The writing was good, just as I would expect from one of my favorite children’s books authors of all time, and the story is an extremely interesting portrayal of Berlin in the early 1930s, at the end of the Weimar Republic. In this case, though, the story just wasn’t my type of thing and I didn’t really enjoy reading it. I found the main character Jakob Fabian, who works as an advertising copywriter but then gets fired, to be extremely unlikeable and lacking any kind of motivation. I guess that was sort of the point, since this book describes the moral decay and stagnation of society that eerily sets the mood for what is about to come in German history. However, because I didn’t like the main character and most of his activities were either boring or repulsive, I just didn’t end up liking the book. If it sounds interesting to you, though, I would recommend giving it a try because objectively, this wasn’t a bad book at all.
Part Two: Most Disappointing Books of 2017
The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
If you had a look at my favorite books of 2017 list, you will know that I absolutely adored The Queen of the Tearling. I loved this book so much that I immediately went and bought the rest of the trilogy. Just like the first book, I loved The Invasion of the Tearling and, up until the ending, I also loved The Fate of the Tearling. These books had everything that I really enjoy in a good fantasy story: excellent writing, a unique plot, flawed characters, unexpected twists… The ending, however, turned out to be too much of an unexpected twist for me and tainted my whole view of this series. Here’s why:
**BEWARE OF SPOILERS IN THIS NEXT PART!**
This type of ending, which I like to call the “everything was just a dream” ending, is one of my most hated ways to conclude anything. Although this was a bit of a variation from the character realizing everything they had experienced was just a dream, it was basically still that same plotline. Kelsea realizes that she has no way out of her situation and thus uses her magic to pick a different past for the Tearling, erasing her entire history. She wakes up in a completely different world and is the only one with any memory of the events that happened in the trilogy. I really hated this for several reasons. First of all, I think it negated everything that had previously happened in this series. None of these events seemed to matter, none of the character sacrifices, relationships, and so forth, still existed. However, I guess that point could be seen as adding to the tragedy of the whole story and, while I don’t like it, I could maybe deal with it. Still, this was not my only issue with this ending. We were in the middle of an epic battle scene and the final showdown of this novel, and instead of giving us some smart character choices and action, and bringing all the storylines to a developed close, the novel cuts short and says, “oops, none of this ever happened now, so I guess we don’t have to resolve this situation”. To me, it just felt kind of like Erika Johansen had written herself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to realistically get her characters out of this situation, so instead of figuring it out, she used the cheapest cop-out available and changed history. Finally, my disappointment was made all the greater by the fact that we were promised something different. From the first novel on, the chapters are prefaced by excerpts from a fictional history book written centuries after Kelsea became queen, which relays some of the events happening in the book from a historical perspective and mentions what a pivotal queen the “Glynn Queen” was. However, due to the ending of The Fate of the Tearling, this makes no sense at all anymore. Kelsea was never queen. The past this historian related never happened. Why add these super-interesting snippets of history book if you’re just going to take that history away from me? No, this ending definitely did not convince me at all and almost a year after reading it I am still extremely bitter.
**END OF SPOILERS**
Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
This was my most anticipated book of last year because Kristin Cashore’s Graceling trilogy is one of my favorite series of all time (I especially love Bitterblue. It is one of my favorite books ever and I tend to reread it every year, which is an honor that few books not in the Harry Potter series get). It was probably because my expectations were so high that I was disappointed by this. It is by no means a bad book. The writing was beautiful, just like in all of Kristin Cashore’s books, and the story was intricately woven and very unique. The book follows our protagonist Jane, who gets invited to an old friend’s private island shortly after her Aunt Magnolia, who was Jane’s guardian, has passed away. Once at the island, Jane is in a situation where she has to make a seemingly insignificant choice, but that choice will send Jane into completely different futures, or, in this case, genres. The book was very atmospheric, I loved the island, the characters (and their relationships), Jane’s obsession with umbrellas, and the plot was a really cool concept. Unfortunately, though, I was left missing something. As the novel essentially splits into five different stories depending on what choice Jane makes, each of the stories was rather short and I often felt that we were rushing through them, rather than getting a deep and slow-moving plot like the one I so love in Bitterblue. If each story had been a full-length novel, I think I would have adored all of them, especially the horror, fantasy, and spy stories. However, because they were so short, I didn’t really get enough time with them to start loving them. Also, while the stories are interconnected through clues in one story that help the reader better understand the other stories, they don’t really come together at the end, which is something I would have found very cool. Instead, this is just a book with five different endings that were too short for me to get very invested. It was interesting and a nice concept, but after the expectations I had coming from the Graceling trilogy, I was a bit let down.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Everyone who has read this seems to love it and recommend this as one of the best science fiction stories ever. I, however, was mostly bored reading this. Sure, the characters and unique relationships they had were kind of interesting, but ultimately, I found this novel to be very bland. There was hardly any conflict – only minor skirmishes that were all easily resolved and never actually seemed to threaten the characters. The main character Rosemary was also hinted to have this horrible past, but when it was revealed what it was, I was very underwhelmed. On the whole, this was just didn’t have enough conflict or depth to keep me interested, even though I did think that the characters showed potential (the crew was very diverse and different, but again, there was too little conflict between the different members to keep me very interested). Maybe I just didn’t fall for this because I tend to prefer hard sci-fi, but I don’t think that’s it. I have read other soft science fiction that I liked much more than this. If you’re looking for space opera type novels with more depth to them that still have very diverse characters and an interesting world, I would recommend reading something by Samuel Delany instead (Or watch Star Trek!). Still, everyone else seems to love this, so I’m clearly in the minority here.
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
I really liked Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – it was cute, funny, had a great family relationships and friendships and an adorable diverse cast of characters, so when I heard that she was writing a companion novel, I was interested. The synopsis also really resonated with me – a girl with tons of crushes who was too shy to ever initiate anything? It can’t really get much more relatable than that. However, while I did enjoy reading this book, I also didn’t think it was anything special. It read like basically any YA novel ever and I didn’t think that Molly’s insecurities proved to be very different from people’s in other books and much of a problem at all – she talks to her crush in a matter of weeks and is in a relationship while still in high school, isn’t she? Yet she kept going on and on about how she had never had a boyfriend. While I do understand her fears, I just think this could have worked so much better if it had been spaced out over more time and it did actually take Molly longer to act on her fears. Everyone also always praises how much diversity this book has – there are different religions, races, and sexualities represented. While I did think that was great, I also think that this book suffered from making the sexualities stick out too much, if that makes any sense. While I didn’t feel this way in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, in this book, I felt like a lot of characters were introduced just so there would be more diversity; like their character was there to say: “Oh look, here’s another gay character who continually talks about nothing but women’s rights and who seems to have little personality apart from their sexuality.” I love it when there are diverse characters, but their diversity should feel like a natural part of the book and not something that keeps getting shoved in my face. If you don’t continually point out a character’s straightness and make that the main part of who they are, then don’t do it with other characters, either. I also didn’t particularly enjoy the writing in this. It wasn’t bad, but it was extremely dialogue-heavy and included tons of pop culture references that seemed to serve no purpose other than to show how up to date the author was with what is popular now. Mind you, I love some well picked, subtle references in books, but here, this references where everywhere and they were also referencing things that had just become popular and that loads of people probably won’t even remember two years from now. Other than that, though, I did enjoy the story and think it was cute. I just didn’t think it was anything special, either.
The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
I picked this book up because 1) I saw its gorgeous cover, and 2) I read the synopsis and it sounded really interesting. A thief travelling back in time to New York in the 1900s, magicians trapped on Manhattan by a force called the brink, intrigue, betrayal, and secrecy – it sounded like this book was written exactly for me. And it was fun. It also has a nice slow-burn hate to love romance that I really liked. However, other than the romance, I did not feel like the plot was developed to its full potential. There was a lot of pointless wandering about and very little action in the first half of this book – in my opinion, this was a clear case where the beginning of the book helped the author get a feel for her world and characters but didn’t add anything to the story and could easily have been cut in the final draft. Also, I thought the foreshadowing in this book could have used a bit more subtlety. I was able to predict all the plot twists way before they happened and while I do think it is good when clues are there, they should be so subtle that you only notice when the plot twists happens and get that wonderful aha-moment where you wonder how on Earth you didn’t see this coming. However, this didn’t happen here and instead I felt that the characters were being a little stupid not figuring out something that I thought was pretty much obvious. Otherwise, this book was good – it just wasn’t great, which is a pity because with more editing and cutting and a bit more subtlety, it easily could have been.