I read…a lot. But I’ve come to realize that what is popular is not always good. And before you ask, no, I am not talking about Twilight. It gets a bad rap, but the first book was actually decent. Before everyone gets upset, I understand that everyone likes books for very different reasons. And some of the books on this list might be enjoyable to others. It is just that, as a writer, I value the qualities it takes to make a good book—pacing, characters, setting, description, etc. So when authors do not employ good workmanship into their writing, it vexes me.
Again, this is my opinion and books are highly subjective. Also, be aware that there may be spoilers for these books; you have been warned.
The Lake House by James Patterson
I’ve read of a few of James Patterson’s books, though I’m not really into thrillers. While I’m not a huge fan of any of his books, none was as horrible as this book. The story revolves around six children who are genetically modified to grow wings and fly. It is about the fight of these children to gain their freedom from the scientists who insist on using them for profit. The concept seemed interesting, so I read it…and I regret it.
There are a lot of things I didn’t like about this book. First, the pacing was very slow and standing at nearly four hundred pages, I thought the same story could have been told in half the time. Also two of the children—keep in mind the older boy is 14 and the girl is 1—engage in a sexual relationship which ends in the conception of winged twins. Not only that, but the book almost presents their relationship as a good, mature relationship despite their young age and maturity. And the ending felt contrived and absurd.
Personally, the concept was so good but the execution just left me feeling disappointed, despite it being extremely popular when it came out in 2005.
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Yes, I know, I lot of people have critiqued this particular book and following series much more eloquently than I could, so I will keep this review short. This series centers around Mia Thermopolis, a whinny Manhattan teen who discovers she is really a princess of the tiny European country of Genovia (fictional).
Not taking into account just how annoying Mia is, the pacing, characters, and action is all over the place. Due the author’s choice to write it as diary entries, there’s a lot of points where pointless entries are featured that detract from the story (a truly pointless story, but still). While this is realistic to a teenage girl’s diary, the fact is that this is novel, which is very different from an unpublished diary. Also, the plots just aren’t really interesting. There is no good rising action, clear main conflict, or any climax. Some of the books feature minor conflicts, mostly due to Mia’s own insecurity or stupidity, but nothing that really strikes me as a good conflict. Also, the characters are boring and one-dimensional; possibly due to them all being portrayed how Mia sees them instead of how they actually are.
Similar to my previous entry, this series had a really good concept—I mean, who wouldn’t want to find out they are secretly a princess—but the execution was just monstrous.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Let me just give a precursor that I actually really enjoyed the first two books of this series. However, this third and final book of the trilogy is unbearable at best. The Hunger Games series centers around a dystopian world in the future where every year, children from each district fight to the death on life TV. Katniss ends up in the Hunger Games after her sister’s name is drawn from the lottery and she takes her place. By the third book, Katniss has won two Hunger Games, and started a revolution against the corrupt capital.
Honestly, I’m not sure what happened with this book, as it is completely different from the previous two, both in quality and characters. Not only does the ending not make any sense, but Katniss’s inability to make any of her own choices—in love or in the rebellion—make the protagonist intolerable to read. And, like I mentioned with Mia, without a good protagonist the book falls apart. Even in the ending Katniss chooses to marry Peeta, but still doesn’t really love him that I can see, suffers from deep depression, and still years later wakes up screaming with nightmares. In a sense, the ending gives little hope for the future despite the battle being won, simply because Katniss does not choose to be happy.
In this case, the plot fell apart due to Katniss’s proclivity to inaction, making her a passive protagonist with little resemblance to the strong protagonist who was willing to die for her sister.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Back when I was a teen, this book and its sequels were massive. So I read the first book…and I still regret it. The story follows four female best friends who separate for the summer, but send one pair of pants around for them all to wear. It is both a coming-of-age story of friendship and love.
It sounded interesting to me, until I read it. The characters are extremely stereotyped, and act in a manner that feels more contrived then genuine, as does all the romance featured in this book. There are some parts that could have added such depth, like Tibby’s friendship with Bailey, who suffers with leukemia. But even those aspects are overshadowed with boring pacing and obvious symbolism that add no depth to an already lifeless story. Perhaps I am being too harsh, but that is because I really got excited by this book at the time.
Again, neat concept, but poor execution and lack of emphasis on the important themes.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
I may make a post later that states my least favorite books of 2017, but for now this is the only currently popular book on my list. It came out during March of this year—2017—and tells the story of Nadia and Saeed, a couple who meet as their country stands on the brink of civil war and eventually escape together through magical doors.
I’ve been reading a lot of wartime novels lately, so I was really excited to read this one. Sadly, it did not even come close to meeting my expectations. The beginning is quite interesting, but then the book slowly falls down a steep, fatal hill. The horrors of war and poverty are laid to the side of a completely sexualized, dysfunctional relationship. Nadia is a bitch at times—forgive my language—and Saeed is so passive that I’m surprised he even makes it out alive. And the ending left me disappointed, as after all their struggles—mostly inflicted by their own stupidity and not even the war—they both end up miserable. It felt like a book that could have been better, but the execution, pacing, and characters were all over the place.
I think the main aspect that destroyed this book was its love story. If you write a love story set in an interesting world, the interesting world does not save its horrible love story.
Hannibal by Thomas Harris
I am a massive fan of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. It is one of my favorite books of all time. However, its sequel Hannibal feels like a silly fanfiction of the first book. Set after the original, it centers around one of Dr. Lecter’s previous patients—whose face he gnawed off (good stuff)—who is seeking revenge against him, and Clarice is drawn into the madness.
It lacks all the brilliant writing of its predecessor. First off, the idea that Dr. Lecter and Clarice could ever have a romantic relationship is preposterous. Second, you cannot make a cannibal serial killer into a sympathetic, good character. You can try, it just won’t work. Clarice comes across as a weak girl following Dr. Lecter around, instead of the strong, independent FBI agent featured in the first book. The antagonist comes across as a whinny, petty teenager, and the ending does not solve any of the questions I had for the story in the beginning.
In this case, it felt as if Harris was writing a sequel more to make money and satisfy Clarice/Hannibal shippers and less to create a gritty sequel to the famous book.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
This was another huge teen series from the early 2000s that took high schools by storm. I read the first book, and I had absolutely no interest to read its sequels. It is set in a dystopian world where those inside the city have undergone a surgical operation to become stunningly beautiful with no responsibilities. Everyone else on the outside is known as Uglies. Tally, who is looking forward to the operation, suddenly is drawn into the world outside the city by two friends.
Again, the concept sounded really good, but, like so many teen books before it and afterwards, the characters were rift with improbabilities and one-dimensional ideals. It gets the point that the author is trying to make: that beauty does not bring happiness. However, she paints such a stark different between the personalities of the Uglies and the Pretties. Just because someone gets plastic surgery does not mean they change them personality completely. The idea of Tally discovering what life could be like outside the city should be deep, but it instead seems petty in this book. Most the pacing is slow and I really did not feel anything towards Tally—whether love or hate. She was just a so-so character.
Personally, I think the emphasis on how cool this world is got in the way of actual character development. What is a pity, because the world is very interesting.
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
I seriously cannot believe I read all four books in this series. I was just hoping beyond hope that maybe it would get better. But no, it did not. The story follows young socialite sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland at turn of the century New York and the drama and lust—not love, mind you, just lust—that ensues around their debut into society.
First of all, I read this when I was about fourteen—probably not a good idea considering it reads like a bad adult erotica with PG-13 sex instead of R sex. The characters are frequently jumping in bed with each other, and loyalty and goodness seems entirely devoid in these books. I wouldn’t have had a problem with this fact if all the stupid decisions that characters made had repercussions, but they did not. Not only did the author completely miss the ideals and mentality of people living a century ago, but she also did not seem to understand anything about love and sacrifice.
Again, interesting concept, but due to lack of character realism and historical context, this series was atrocious.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
In my defense, this book I did not choose to read. I was forced to read it in college for my Fantasy Literature class (yes that was a real class). And let me just say that I would not have read it had I not been forced. The plot centers around Marya, who by chance becomes Koschei the Deathless’s wife. The story is divided between the battle of life and death in the folklore world and the very real world of early twentieth century Russia. The concept is probably one of the best I have ever seen, but that is as far as I will compliment this novel.
The plot is all over the place. It takes place in different parts, but each part does not flow well into the others. Also, both Koschei—which is to be expected—and Marya are horrible human being—well, human in Marya’s case, but you get the point. Marya goes from being an actual decent human being to abandoning her neighboring starving for the cold embrace of Koschei. There is no goodness shown in this book. Everyone ends up dead or miserable. Koschei’s powers are all over the place and not clearly defined.
It is such a pity because, if the characters were better and the plot flowed well, this would be an amazing book.
What are some popular books that you dislike? Do you disagree with any mention on my list? If so, why? Let me know down in the comments and, as always,
Best wishes on your life filled with adventure,