The Most Disappointing Titles of 2020

Or should I say the books that I felt summed up 2020 the best? Is that more flattering?

Either way, along with the good comes the bad. Every year there are books we enjoy, and those that we were so disappointed in, sometimes not even the good ones can make up for them. So prepare for a bevvy of low ratings, DNFs, and rants about this or that. Therefore, I scheduled this for one of the most disappointing days of the year—December 28th, the Monday after Christmas, aka the day that I have to go back to work.

8

A Longer Fall – by Charlaine Harris

While I didn’t have a high opinion of its predecessor, I still had hopes that the 2nd Gunnie Rose would deliver where the first failed. It started off well but the action quickly overwhelmed all else so much so that when the pace slowed later on, there was no suspense or mystery or romance to keep the story moving. The ending I had a major problem with. It was as if all the character development and growth went out the window at the 75% mark.

2 / 5

7

Liquid Crystal Nightingale – by Eeleen Lee

A title you may not have heard of, I had high hopes that LCN would be my gem of the year. Alas, this scifi tale of… aliens? did not meet my expectations. With deep politics and complex narratives and so much advancement and subtlety this text felt stuffed to the gills with content. And a plot that I could just not manage to wrap my head around as the story constantly shifted back and forth in time. This is one of those that throws you in the deep end and lets you sink or swim. I sunk.

DNFed at 37%

6

Highfire – by Eoin Colfer

When the master of children’s adventure makes the move to contemporary adult fantasy, lock the doors and shutter the windows. Really. I found this book about a bayou dragon, a troublemaker, and a crooked sheriff to be crude for the sake of crudity, or because that’s what adults are? I also found the characters shallow, the world unfleshed out, the plot lacking depth, the humor over-the-top, and swearing for the sake of swearing. Absolutely not for me.

DNFed at 24%

5

By Force Alone – by Lavie Tildar

A reimagining of the KIng Arthur legend, I read this less than a month after one of my favorite new books of the year, Seven Endless Forests. To say that they were both technically reimaginings of Arthurian legend would be accurate. To say that they had much else in common would not. I found By Force Alone to be a horrible book with awful, wretched characters that I hated. But that may’ve been because of my idealization of Arthurian legend and the fact that this book was more of a grimdark modification of it.

DNFed at 22%

4

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows – by John August

The blurb of Kingdom of Shadows has Arlo undertaking the arduous, dangerous task of rescuing his father from exile in China via the Long Woods—kinda a magical shortcut through the shadows. The problem—the main problem—is that this adventure wraps up in the first third of the book, and after that, well… we try something else. Something that kinda fizzles instead of killing it. The adventure and exploration aspects are out the window, and everything that’s defined the series thus far goes with it. The rest of the story is mildly enjoyable right up to the end, which is… abrupt. If this is the end of Arlo Finch, it sucks. If this is another step on the road, it’ll definitely put a hitch in his giddyup.

3 / 5

3

Battle Ground – by Jim Butcher

Now I know you’re surprised with this one. Dresden Files #17 was actually a decent book. But it was so OUT THERE, both with respect to the series and with respect to Peace Talks that I had to include it. There’s also no detective element to it. It’s just a war, but with the same pacing as the detective books. Which… doesn’t work. It’s like an epic boss battle the entire time, which I grew quite sick of quite quickly. Luckily the ending helps assuage some of this disgust, which gives me hope for the future. For a book, Battle Ground was decent. For a Dresden Files novel, it was awful.

3.5 / 5

2

The Adventures of Rockford T. Honeypot – by Josh Gottsegen

From the blurb, look and feel of this book, I expected it to be the return to Redwall that I’d been hoping for ever since the untimely death of Brian Jacques. Alas, if that’s what the author was going for too, they missed by a mile. Nothing made sense in the world. Trees are regular size except when they’re not, except that they’re still treated as regular sized even though they fit inside tiny greenhouses and grow fruit the size of chipmunk paws. All of the animals can talk to one another, except when they can’t. There’s a huge amount of law in this book. Like, A LOT. Are children now fascinated with lawyers and suing people nowadays? Because this is supposed to be a children’s book, and if so I’m pretty sure our society’s headed in the wrong direction.

2 / 5

1

The Ranger of Marzanna – by Jon Skovron

I was a big fan of Skovron’s Empire of Storms trilogy, so when I saw the announcement of a new series about a brother and sister on either side of a civil war, I was automatically in love. Bearing a similar tag-line to Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler, Ranger of Marzanna begins with a murder, a kidnapping, and a rescue attempt. And then the plot goes stale. In two weeks I made it little more than a quarter through this tome (it’s 530 pages), and it felt like I was rereading Bleak House. It was dry, dusty, and painful. Sonya was by far the more interesting of the two siblings—as her chapters were just plain boring. Sebastian, her brother’s, were borderline unreadably dull. I’m unlikely to ever come back to this, but if I do, my expectations are only a fraction of what they were.

DNFed on page 160

Well that was quite something, eh? Were there any books that you were super hyped about only to be smashed in the face with a frying pan? Let me know what I should (or should not) be reading! And stay tuned for another list, coming soon!

Books I couldn’t finish in 2019

I DNF a fair amount of books, whether I’m not in the right mood, or not sleeping well, or they don’t speak to me. Or maybe they just suck. In 2019 I started and failed to finish 21 books, though I’d read 1 of them before. Of these, 9 were by authors I’d previously read, and 2 were by Yoon Ha Lee. I hope to give 9 of them another shot, but for sure will get back to 4 of them. In addition to 10 books that began new series, I failed to get through one Book #2, two #3’s, and one #4.

Here are a few notable ones:

1. Ghosts of Gotham – by Craig Schaefer

What began as a thriller with supernatural elements took a hard turn into fantasy and it was so abrupt that I… lost it. The story. Or the plot. Or the… whatever. I tried to continue, but everything was completely different. It was like beginning a totally new story at the halfway mark. It was really weird. DNF on page 213

2. The Dark Blood – by A.J. Smith

After I was fairly critical of the Black Guard, A.J. Smith reached out to me saying he was sorry I didn’t like it, but hoped I’d be willing to give his world another go in the future. The world-building was actually really good in book #1—not my problem with it at all, so I acquiesced. Book #2 was actually a lot more enjoyable. Until I got to the end of the first part and just kind of drifted away from it. Eventually it got shelved, and I’m not really sure why. Hopefully I’ll get back to it soon, but we’ll see. DNF at page 111

3. An Easy Death – by Charlaine Harris

After trying to force my way through this for 1.5 months, I finally admitted it wasn’t working. Thing is, I can’t for the life of me tell you why. It’s only a 300 page book, after all. I’m really gutted by this because I’ve heard such great things about it! I just couldn’t get into it. Recently I’ve had issues with losing focus on books, so I’m hoping to revisit it later. Maybe I’m feeling a bit burned out this year. DNF on page 132

4. The Quantum Thief – by Hannu Rajaniemi

I’ve always wanted to read the Jean le Flambeur series, but that’s not likely to happen anymore. Truth is, I found The Quantum Thief boring, unfocused and disjointed. After the first tenth I couldn’t’ve even told you what was happening, or what HAD happened. DNF at 11%

5. The Buried Giant – by Kazuo Ishiguro

I got this as a library book and was intrigued by some much of it. The description, the cover, the first chapter…. then we got to the actual story. I think. It was… dry, to say the least. Very little happened. I lost interest and eventually the loan expired. Doubt I’ll ever get back to it. DNF at 14%

6. Nation – by Terry Pratchett

I love Terry Pratchett’s work! From Discworld to the Carpet People, Dodger and more, I love his humor, wit, adventurous writing and creativity. Ergo, Nation was quite the surprise. I wasn’t in love with the beginning, nor the middle, but I powered through because… well, because it was by Terry Pratchett! I was certain that the story would get better, and I’d start having fun. Except I never did. DNF at 74%

7. Magebane – by Stephen Aryan

This is another one I’ll give multiple more attempts. I’ve loved everything Aryan’s offered thus far and the end of his second trilogy should’ve been a no-brainer. But after my third attempt to get past page 50 failed… I shelved it. For now. DNF at page 43

8. Brief Cases – by Jim Butcher

I’m in Dresden Files withdrawal. That must be it. That’s the only reason I can think of to have a Dresden-themed, Jim Butcher book on this list. The only solving it has got to be a full-length new adventure. The short stories are good, interesting and all but… they’re just not doing it. Plus, I’d read the Bigfoot ones before. DNF at 28%

Review: Ghosts of Gotham – by Craig Schaefer

Standalone

Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural

47North; April 9, 2019

427 pages

DNF (No rating)

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Ghosts of Gotham was described to me as a “mystery-thriller with supernatural elements”, something like the early Preston & Child books before they got all… well, bad. So I was completely unprepared when the story went sideways, entering a realm of witchcraft, demigods and immortals. What it really should’ve been described as was a novel of conflicting genres. The first third doesn’t mention any kind of supernatural forces, beyond saying that they’re a hoax. When the “supernatural” element of the supernatural-thriller shows up—it’s all at once. No build. Then we have to deal with it as any first sequence magic book introduces us to its magic system. I thought this slowed both the story and lost the mystery while things were explained. Wasn’t particularly smooth, though also not the reason I stopped.

Actually, there were two elements that really killed my interest in this book.

First, the relationship of Maddie and Lionel. Honestly, I thought the story picked up when Maddie was introduced as a POV. We got to see things from a different perspective, travel the paths to an objective a different route, not to mention the limited interaction between the two was quite entertaining. I felt the story slowed when Maddie and Lionel hooked up, the disconnect between the two shrank, the paths they walked independent of one another withered away, and the book fell completely to the mystery. And it was quite the mystery, with unexpected twists and turns. It was not, however, enough to keep me invested in the plot.

The second was the supernatural itself—or, really, Lionel’s reaction to it. At some point he’s quoted as saying that the realm of magic is “something he’s been searching for his whole life”, which is why he’s made a living defrauding charlatans and fakes. The ease at which he takes to the supernatural world in Ghosts, however, is… out of character. At other points, he says things like that “he knew this time was different” because of all kinds of ridiculous things. The timbre of someone’s voice. The goosebumps he got from thinking about someone. The look in someone’s eyes. The… please don’t get me started on the love scene.

I made it to a little past that, but it really was the last straw. I wanted to like this, I saw so many good reviews of it, but I just couldn’t. And I don’t waste my time with books I can’t stand, just like how I don’t throw my kindle off the wall. Anymore. It’s old and fragile enough as it is.

Since this was a DNF (I made it to the 70% mark, but hey) I can’t rate it. I’d even hazard to recommend it. As far as I can tell, I’m one of the few people that didn’t enjoy Ghosts of Gotham.

Huh, sucks.

I DO LOVE the cover, though. So, there’s that.