In 2019, I decided to read for quality over quantity. Combined with the fact that I’ve started reading more adult books and have gotten better at picking out books I think I’ll like, this has made for a great reading year.
Unfortunately, there were still a few stinkers. The good news is there were far less duds than in the past. Due to this, I’ve decided to combine my worst and most disappointing books together on one list. I’m also going to be discussing the books I DNF’d.
I considered including The Vampire Diaries books I reread this year, but decided against it since they were rereads. Though I loved them 10 years ago and hate them now, I don’t want to include rereads on my year-end lists. You can check out my book talks here and here, though.
From the bad to the ugly, these are the books that let a stain on 2019 (in the order I read them).
Bonfire by Krysten Ritter
It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands. But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town's most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends— just before Kaycee disappeared for good. Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret— a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her. With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?
These characters are annoying and unbearable. Everything about their characterization feels so heavy-handed. Abby is constantly talking about how much she hates Barrens, but how she’s still in its grip anyway.
Abby reads like a teenager, despite the fact that she’s in her late twenties. You’d think she’d let some of these things go, but she’s still very bitter about how unpopular she was in high school. She views her years as a victim of bullying as fresh, rather than things that happened ten years ago. (And that’s without getting into the love triangle and Abby’s tendency to focus on the guy(s) she likes at the most inopportune of times.)
The suspects are pointedly suspicious. Abby never wastes a second before reminding us again how awful they were in high school and how shady they are now. They have no characterization outside Abby’s opinions of them.
And then there’s the mystery. The way everything comes together in the end is absolutely ridiculous. I lost my suspension of disbelief. I hate the twist so much. I hate seeing Abby vindicated. I hate everything.
I really wanted to love this book. Don’t Trust the B is one of my favorite shows. I also love Jessica Jones. Ritter is a fabulous actress. But alas, she is not multi-talented. Everyone is right— this book should be thrown into a bonfire.
Prince of Air and Darkness by M.A. Grant
Phineas Smith has been cursed with a power no one could control. Roark Lyne is his worst enemy and his only hope. The only human student at Mather’s School of Magick, Phineas Smith has a target on his back. Born with the rare ability to tap into unlimited magick, he finds both Faerie Courts want his allegiance— and will do anything to get it. They don’t realize he can’t levitate a feather, much less defend the Faerie Realm as it slips into civil war. Unseelie Prince Roark Lyne, Phineas’s roommate— and self-proclaimed arch nemesis— is beautiful and brave and a pain in the ass. Phineas can’t begin to sort through their six years of sexual tension masquerading as mutual dislike. But Roark is also the only one able to help Finn tame his magick. Trusting Roark’s mysterious motives may be foolish; not accepting his temporary protection would be deadly. Caught in the middle of the impending war, Phineas and Roark forge a dangerous alliance. And as the walls between them crumble, Phineas realizes that Roark isn’t the monster he’d imagined. But their growing intimacy threatens to expose a secret that could either turn the tide of the war…or destroy them both.
If I hadn’t felt honor-bound to finish this book, I would’ve DNF-ed it. According to Goodreads, it’s only 310 pages long. It should’ve only taken me 1-3 days to finish. It took me over a week because I hated it so much.
Prince of Air and Darkness is all tell and no show. Instead of building up the inner conflicts and characterizations naturally, we’re constantly told who we’re to believe they are and what problems they have. The romance is given basically no opportunity to develop on its own. Instead, they are forced together with little to no chemistry because that’s the story Grant wanted to tell. Why try to figure out a way to make their romance work organically when you can just have them tell you about it?
The plot is frustrating because a looming war between the Seelie and Unseelie could be really interesting. Too bad it doesn’t happen. In fact, anything resembling a faerie battle occurs off-page. Politics also happen off-page, unless there’s a chance for Roark to worry about his mother suspecting his disloyalty or for Phineas to misunderstand a situation.
On top of all that, the pacing is weird, the narrative contradicts itself, and the world-building is half-assed and nonsensical. I’d argue that this was the worst book I read in 2019. Check out my review!
Apt Pupil by Stephen King
Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher: Mr. Dussander. Todd knows all about Dussander's dark past. The torture. The death. The decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn't want to turn him in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to learn the real meaning of power— and the seductive lure of evil.
The story itself isn’t bad, but there was so much in this book that really brought it down. First of all, it’s incredibly sexist. It’s not just the characters who are supposed to be bad people who espouse misogyny— it permeates the entire book. Todd sexualizes his own mother when he’s 13. Every marriage is unhealthy, every wife a nagging nuisance.
And the slurs! It’s one thing when Todd and Dussander use them. Again, they’re bigoted, horrible people. But other characters will use slurs for seemingly no reason. The f-slur is used at least ten times on one page. In an off-hand quote, Todd’s baseball coach uses the n-word. What did that add to the story? Nothing whatsoever.
I also felt really uncomfortable reading graphic sexual fantasies and sex scenes involving a teenager. I get what the point was, but did King really have to describe it in that much detail?
I didn’t know this going in, but there’s a graphic scene in which Dussander kills a cat. Yes, this is a horror novel and so horror is to be expected. I just feel like it’s fair to warn people when animals are killed.
I know this book was written in the 80s and takes place in the 70s, so it may be a little unfair to judge it by today’s standards. And yet, I can’t help but do it anyway.
The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá
In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-seven extraordinary children were spontaneously born to women who'd previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, "To save the world." These seven children form the Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again.
I love the Netflix adaptation, but it’s clear the show took more time to develop the characters and plot than Way did here. None of these characters are likable and conflicts are resolved way too easily. I also really hate the art style, but that’s a personal preference. This is definitely one of those rare occasions where the adaptation is better than the source material. The only reason I gave it more than one star is because of what I already liked from the show.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
It's 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood. Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history--but only if they can stay alive.
I had a lot of trouble in growing to love these characters. I can’t help but see them as cheap imitations of the Six of Crows characters. Maybe that’s just a me thing and I’m bringing my own baggage to the table. I just couldn’t shake that feeling.
Even worse, these characters each had one or two traits and weren’t really fleshed out. I felt like I was reading about archetypes and not actual characters those archetypes were meant to build. Check out my review!
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six: The band's album Aurora came to define the rock 'n' roll era of the late seventies, and an entire generation of girls wanted to grow up to be Daisy. But no one knows the reason behind the group's split on the night of their final concert at Chicago Stadium on July 12, 1979... until now. Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock 'n' roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.
This book did not live up to expectations. There was just something missing somehow. It was interesting, but I don’t love the characters the way I did in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
I liked how it was written in transcript format. I was picturing it like a documentary the whole time. Therefore, I really don’t like the twist at the end, which threw everything for a loop.
I hated Billy and eventually couldn’t stand Daisy either. They’re self-centered assholes. And I got real How I Met Your Mother vibes from their story (not in a good way).
Nothing felt like it had emotional impact, not in the way it would’ve if this had been written like a regular book. So… not exactly what I was hoping for. It’s decent, but nothing special. Check out my review!
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her. It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything. But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.
I wanted to love this book so bad, but alas it’s just okay. There are parts I really like, namely Byatt’s POV and the F/F romance (though, admittedly, I’d have liked more of it). I found Hetty to be quite hypocritical and difficult to root for at times. I would’ve preferred the entire book be in Byatt’s perspective were it not for all the gay being in Hetty’s. This book has strong hints of the Southern Reach trilogy, which is super cool. I just didn’t love this book. I’m also unsure if it’s going to be a series, as the ending was way too open and seemingly unfinished. All in all, this book was fine but it’s not a new favorite. Check out my review!
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will. Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla. Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.
This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and honestly? I feel kind of let down. This book isn’t bad, it’s just a very basic YA fantasy story. I was hoping for something new with such a unique mythology. The only thing that made this novel refreshing is the F/F relationship.
That said, the relationship isn’t very well developed. Crier’s obvious crush on Ayla is adorable and relatable, but Ayla’s reciprocation isn’t built up as well. What could’ve been the saving grace of this novel is actually another hindrance.
Again, this isn’t a bad book. It’s a decent debut. But it also makes some real rookie mistakes. The world-building is skeletal at best. It’s unclear how Automae are Made. There are some scenes that are meant to be devastating, but the characters and relationships aren’t explored enough to have any impact. The climax feels remarkably tame after all the promises of peril. And, of course, there’s a lot that’s told instead of shown.
I see why readers who haven’t read as much fantasy as I have love this book. I’m glad they do, especially since support for Sapphic stories begets more Sapphic stories. It just isn’t solid enough for me. Check out my review!
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself. A prince in danger must decide who to trust. A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war. In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light.
I made it about sixty pages into this book before I had to quit. It’s thinly veiled Alarkling (Aline and the Darkling) fanfiction with Kylo Ren thrown in for good measure (and yes, the author is a fan of both). Moreover, the novel opens with Nadya’s home getting attacked and her best friend potentially dying. The problem is we don’t know any of these characters, so it has no emotional impact. As soon as I saw the sun goddess’ name is Alena, I was out. This book is not remotely for me and really could’ve used some objective beta readers. I only hope I can get my money back.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King. To win a place at the Court, she must defy him— and face the consequences. As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.
This is a book about an annoying protagonist who is bullied and almost drowned by her supposed love interest. And his reasons for doing so? Because her brother doesn’t beat her, her adoptive father loves her, and he has feelings for her that he doesn’t want to have. I mean, what the fuck?
However, I also just didn’t see anything special about the rest of the story. The writing is average, the plot is average, and the characters are average. This book is just another generic young adult fantasy.
I flipped ahead in the book and read future scenes (including the infamous knife-to-the-throat kissing scene) and nothing about it made me want to read to find out how things got to that point. I read an entire plot summary for this book and the sequel and didn’t find any of the events interesting at all.
So yeah, I still don’t get the hype. This book is just yet another disappointing novel about the fae. But someday I’ll find a quality fae story… someday.
Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins
Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. And because Millie cannot stand the thought of confronting her ex every day, she decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools… the farther from Houston the better. Millie can't believe her luck when she's accepted into one of the world's most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Everything about Scotland is different: the country is misty and green; the school is gorgeous, and the students think Americans are cute. The only problem: Mille's roommate Flora is a total princess. She's also an actual princess. Of Scotland. At first, the girls can barely stand each other— Flora is both high-class and high-key— but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Even though Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, Millie knows the chances of happily ever afters are slim… after all, real life isn't a fairy tale… or is it?
Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with this book. It’s just so vastly far beneath my reading level, I found it difficult to get into. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book— and really, it should be right up my alley— but it just wasn’t for me.
And this is really dumb but… I really hated the characters’ names. No offense if your name is Millie or Flora, but like… they’re not good names. And it was really throwing me off that the Scottish princess had such an un-Scottish name.
Some reviewers on Goodreads— namely, Scottish reviewers— pointed out that Hawkins’ Scotland isn’t very Scottish at all. Maybe I was picking up on that. Or maybe it was just the name thing.
However, unlike other books I’ve DNF’d, I won’t advise you against reading this story. Like I said, I’m in the minority here. Plus, I want publishing companies to know that we want more F/F romance stories. So give it a chance. I really do think this is a case of “It’s not the book, it’s me.”
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara's friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn't know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn't help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend and best friend since childhood, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.
This is another case of “It’s not the book, it’s me.” I simply didn’t vibe with the writing style. It’s definitely an important story, I just can’t get behind the way it’s told.
What were your worst and/or most disappointing books in 2019? What books did you DNF? Tell me about them in the comments!
2 thoughts on “The Worst & Most Disappointing Books of 2019”
I couldn’t get on board with The Gilded Wolves either, it also felt very much a Six of Crows copy and I haven’t even read Six of Crows and could tell! I wasn’t massively invested in all the characters either which is a shame.
I did enjoy The Cruel Prince and Daisy Jones though, I have a tendency to be fond of asshole characters though!
I’m not bothered by reading Wicked Saints, I actually think the author herself has put me off but I’ve also read reviews that aren’t enamored and I keep thinking life is just too short to try…
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I usually love asshole characters too, but I just didn’t like how Holly Black or TJR wrote them in these cases.
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