You know, 2018 was actually a really good reading year for me. I didn’t read quite as many books as I have in previous years, but the quality was much better overall. I feel like I really did a good job of sticking to my reading resolutions. They were very effective in ensuring mostly positive reading experiences.
Of course, no plan is foolproof. I still managed to read a few real stinkers this year. Most books I didn’t enjoy, I DNF-ed (and, believe me, we’ll get to those). But I read the entirety of these four books. Sometimes it was out of loyalty, others because I had nothing else to read. Maybe the concept was interesting enough to keep me reading. Perhaps it was just that terrible car wreck you don’t want to see, but can’t look away from.
Whatever the reason, these books just did not do it for me in any capacity. They’re simply the first books I’ll burn for warmth when the apocalypse comes. Huh, that’s kind of a weird thing to say. Does my subconscious know something I don’t? Is Google Docs using this document to send me a message? Eerie.
As weird as that last paragraph was, it’s still a better story than my Top 4 Worst Books of 2018 (what a seamless transition):
- City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (Released November 27, 2012)
Even though I always do my year-end lists in release date order and don’t rank them, I still know this book would be number one either way. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst book I’ve ever read. Like a former drug user on an assembly tour, I use every opportunity I can to urge people to not make the same mistake that I did. Please, if anything from this post leaves an impact on you, let it be this: do not, under any circumstances, read this book.
The story follows Sarah Weston, a doctorate student pursuing a degree in music. After the death of her beloved mentor, she receives an offer to spend the summer at Prague Castle cataloging Beethoven’s manuscripts. Sarah accepts the job, hoping to follow in her mentor’s footsteps and find out what really happened to him.
But Sarah soon finds herself caught in a dangerous web of secrets. There’s a mysterious time-warping drug, one her mentor may have been murdered to protect. As Sarah delves more into the mysteries of Beethoven and Prague Castle, she discovers a conspiracy that could rock the world. With the help of the handsome Prince Max and a four hundred-year-old dwarf named Nico, Sarah just may be able to find the answers— and have a little kinky fun along the way.
Sounds super weird, right? But, like, a good kind of weird. I assure you that it is not. This book will have you saying “WTF” at every twist, every action, every piece of dialogue. Nothing about this book makes sense. Flyte (a pseudonym for Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey) includes baffling details and makes altogether strange choices in both characterization and plot development.
I read this entire book convinced it was written by a man because, surely, no woman would write a female character like Sarah or think the sex in this book is, well, sexy. Evidently, I was wrong. The women behind Magnus Flyte believe in this book whole-heartedly. They fill it with homophobic stereotypes and “comedic” rape scenes.
Flyte keeps most of the action off-page, reducing Sarah to a passive pawn in her own story. Max makes all the decisions and Nico makes all the discoveries. It isn’t until the last third of the book that Sarah has any agency in her story. But by this point, it’s too little, too late. I already hated everyone but the villain. Whoops.
I don’t want to keep going on and on about this atrocious excuse for a novel. If you’d like more details, check out my review or my Twitter thread with actual text from the book. But don’t pursue it any further than that. This book isn’t fit to wipe your ass, let alone for actual reading. Don’t even hate-read it. It’s not funny, just baffling and infuriating. The only joke here is the writers themselves.
Did you know that Magnus Flyte reviewed a book by Meg Howrey on Goodreads and gave it five stars? Authors are free do this for their own books, but Howrey is clearly pretending Flyte is an unrelated writer who just happened to read her book. That’s just sad and despicable.
So yeah, if you ever see this book in the store, run. Or, better yet, burn the whole store down. Everything’s already been tainted anyway. That’s the real dark magic of this book.
- Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger (Released June 7, 2016)
I really thought I was going to like this book, but alas I did not. In the simplest of terms, this book is The Mortal Instruments for adults. However, unlike TMI, this book was a massive letdown.
The story follows college graduate Bailey Chen, who is having trouble finding a job in her field. She takes a job with her childhood best friend at his family’s bar. However, she soon discovers that things aren’t all that they seem. It turns out bartenders use special drinks in order to hunt and fight demons. It’s the kind of premise that sounds so ludicrous, it’s amazing.
But it was not to be. No amount of cool concept or diversity could save this novel. Krueger just doesn’t give it enough room to breathe. It would’ve benefited from some more length. This would allow for the conflicts to be better developed and for the relationships to actually form and become complex. Instead, all the characters are flat and nothing— no character development or plot twist— feels earned.
Krueger opts to rely on stereotypes to develop his characters. If not stereotypes, then Krueger just writes some good, old-fashioned unnecessary girl hate. This is pretty much always done in the name of making Bailey, our illustrious heroine, look better. You know what else would make her more likable? Actually developing her character. But I imagine that would be too much work.
The dialogue is incredibly wonky. Occasionally it’s decent, but most of the time it is laughably awkward. In fact, ditto for the writing in general. There’s no craft here, unless you count craft beer.
Initially after I read this book, I gave it 2.5 stars. But I think I was being generous because I liked the concept and the characters are diverse. All I remember about this novel now is how bad it is. The only reason I still have it is because it includes drink recipes. But, let’s be real, I’m never going to open this book again. It’s last call for Paul Krueger and the demonic world of Bailey Chen.
- The Spawn of Lilith by Dana Fredsti (Released June 27, 2017)
Reading this book was a lot of fun, but it also left a lot to be desired. Maybe urban fantasy just isn’t my genre because I have had absolutely no luck with it. I mean, what am I even supposed to make of this book? Please tell me, because I have no idea.
The story follows Lee Striga, a stuntwoman in Hollywood. Though human, Lee is part of the world of supernatural creatures that work in show business. After an accident on the job, Lee is trying her best to break back into the business. But between mysterious murders and some brand new senses, this is not going to be as easy as Lee thought.
Like I said, I had fun reading this book, though I still hesitated in giving it my original 3.5 star rating. It just felt too high. About a month after I finished it, I lowered that rating to 2.5 stars. Now I’m thinking it really belongs in the 1.5-2 star range. But what is it about this book that keeps making me lower my rating?
First off, the plot doesn’t even start until the last third of the book. The official summary promises murder and intrigue on the set of Lee’s latest movie, which we do get… eventually. Most of the book is spent on Lee dealing with an aggravating boss and making new friends. She doesn’t even get cast in the movie all the action happens on the set of until that last third. This is a very boring book.
Lee is somehow both a Mary Sue and a direct response to the “I’m not like other girls” trope. She’s an incredible stunt double, on par with her supernatural co-workers. Every man she meets falls in love with her. It’s even implied that Lee’s cousin (with whom she was raised) is mean to her because he likes her. I don’t know why Fredsti felt incest was necessary for this story, but there you go.
Over the course of the novel, Lee starts to develop mysterious powers. Naturally, it turns out she’s this powerful, important being (I literally cannot remember what). Her uncle never told her in order to protect her. Or something. This is treated as a huge plot twist, even though the book is literally called The Spawn of Lilith.
Also her last name is Striga, which is Italian for ‘witch.’ The Shtriga is also a creature from Albanian folklore, a vampiric witch that sucks the blood from sleeping infants. You can’t be that heavy-handed with your foreshadowing and then act like you’d pulled the wool over the reader’s eyes. Besides, we know the Mary Sue is always special.
And yet, Lee’s character actively fights against the “I’m not like other girls” trope. Lee appreciates other women for their differences and similarities, rather than acting like she’s superior for being a fighter. The story consistently promotes female friendships. If anything in this book is admirable, it’s this.
Because, naturally, the rest is hot garbage. Lee is the only character who is fleshed out. The rest are flat as a board, coming and going at random to serve Lee’s story. Most of the twists are predictable, though occasionally fun to watch come to fruition. It depends on how far you are into the book.
Some things are just flat out cringy, whether dialogue, a scene, or a bit of Lee’s internal monologue. The epilogue serves no purpose whatsoever, only there to introduce a character that could just as easily be introduced in the next book.
This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m sometimes too nice in my initial reviews of books. As many books as you’ve seen me rip to shreds, I’m rarely that savage when I first put the book down. Case in point: my commentary on this book. I keep reiterating how fun this book is throughout my critiques. That’s a pretty good sign that this book has no substance.
And so I lowered my rating for The Spawn of Lilith. Maybe there’s something in me that wants to find something good in every book I read. That sure would explain my tendency to go soft on bad books, at least at first. I even said I might continue the series, knowing I never will. Maybe, all along, the spawn of Lilith… was me, lying my way through one book review at a time.
- Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi (Released March 6, 2018)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Shatter Me is one of the most polarizing series in YA. People either love it or hate it. I used to be one of those people that loved this series. But, like many people who’ve experienced trauma, my life is now divided into two periods: Before Restore Me and After.
Have you ever read a book that completely ruined your perception of an entire series? If so, you know what I’m talking about. It’s especially difficult when most fans of the series seem to love said book. I just don’t get it. What could you possibly see in this book? Why on earth would anyone regard this as a necessary continuation of the story?
Sure, the ending of the original trilogy is ambiguous. But it has just enough of a hopeful note that readers are able to assume Juliette and her army will win in the end. It’s not something that needs to be rectified. But rectify it Mafi does— or, at least, she tries to. Instead, she weakens the entire series.
Everything about this book fails, from the characters to the world-building to plot to the writing style. This is, without a shred of a doubt, Tahereh Mafi’s worst piece yet. It stems from a lack of planning, something that’s always been apparent in this series. Mafi made things up as she went along, contradicting herself at every turn.
But there was still enough that was interesting about the first three books that made this issue fairly easy to ignore. Adding a new book and suddenly being stuck cleaning up the mess you made with the original series? Well, that made it impossible.
The most egregious level on which this book fails is characterization. Juliette and Warner have such beautiful character development in the original trilogy. In this book, they stall and even regress. They’re stuck in an infinite loop, constantly flipping between self-confidence and self-doubt. Some of it is legitimate, but most of it is just bad writing. I was infuriated with both of them the entire novel. I’d be just as mad about the characterization of the other characters in this book, except they were never that well-developed to begin with.
The world-building is also a huge issue in this book. The lack of world-building has always been a weak point for Shatter Me, but the fourth book is not the place to start. It feels more like a response to criticism than a genuine attempt at fleshing out the world by Mafi. Though she tries to explain it, prior canon just doesn’t support this turn of events.
Regarding the plot, well, there is none. Not even a character-driven plot. For the first half of the book, nothing happens. Then Juliette is attacked and a bunch of revelations are made. And then nothing happens for the rest of the book.
Furthermore (no pun intended), said revelations were obvious as can be! I couldn’t fathom why Mafi was dragging it all out. It’s clear her only “plot” concept revolved around these revelations, so she just added filler around them. If that’s all you have for a book idea, you need to not write that book.
Perhaps I only liked the original series for the writing style. It’s so lyrical and flowery, right up my alley. It also gives you a more direct insight into Juliette’s psyche. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking glimpse into the head of a broken girl putting herself back together. This book, for the most part, lacks that. It’s just straightforward prose. That’s not what I’ve signed up to read when I pick up a Mafi book. Without that purple prose, it becomes painfully obvious how generic and paint-by-numbers this series actually is.
As cruel as it sounds, this book is a gross waste of paper. Imagine all the trees that would still be alive had this pointless series addition not been written. The characterization is terrible, the world-building jarring, the plot nonexistent, and the writing bland. There is nothing about this book that compels me to want to read the next book. It’s only saving grace is the diversity. If only the characters were interesting enough that I actually cared about them.
All right, I’ve lambasted this book enough. If you want more, check out my review. I need to go read a better book to restore my faith in YA.
What were some of the worst books you read in 2018? Tell me about them in the comments! Trust me, it feels good.
No Goodreads links were harmed in the making of this post. Because I didn’t include them. Why would I? I absolutely do not recommend you read these books.
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