Three Books That Didn’t Work for Me

Michelle of Galleysmith has a phrase she uses to describe some of the books she reviews: “Michelle is from Mars, this book is from Venus.” I think that’s a great way to describe some of the books we read. In each of the books I discuss here, I address exactly why I didn’t care for the book, but I acknowledge that it will certainly hold appeal for another audience. Sometimes that audience will be a small one, or it will be a large audience that is much more forgiving of bad writing and sloppy plotting.

That said, some of the books I discuss in these sort of posts are bad (or mediocre) books, and some are just not to my taste. I think that’s an important distinction to make, and I’ll indicate it in my individual reviews.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
What it’s about: Mara Dyer wakes up in the hospital with no memory of how she got there. She eventually learns that she and two of her friends were in an old building that collapsed. Her friends died, but Mara survived without a scratch. If you thought that the rest of the book would be dedicated to Mara’s investigation into what happened in the building, you’d only be half right. After Mara is released from the hospital, Mara and her family move to a new town, so Mara starts a new school and meets a new boy named Noah Shaw. Noah is good-looking, has an English accent and ridiculous amounts of money, and has slept with almost every other girl in the school. Naturally, he and Mara begin a relationship.

Why it didn’t work for me: The execution. I feel like this could have been a compelling novel with more judicious editing. The pacing is all off, a prominent character is written out of the book partway through for what seems like pure convenience’s sake, and the book has a prologue that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story at all. The plot jumps all over the place and certain threads are dropped and never picked up again. Despite that, the book could have succeeded as a romance, but I found Noah Shaw so repellent I kept crossing my fingers and hoping for the scene where Mara would publicly tell him off. (It never came.) Example: Noah pursues Mara, who has told him to leave her alone, into the girls’ restroom at the school and tells the other girls in there to leave. They do, of course. I have many, many more examples, but I’ll stop there.

Who might enjoy it: Readers who can overlook messy writing (mostly the plotting) and who are drawn to the type of character that Noah is. I can’t see anyone primarily enjoying the paranormal storyline, but I can see someone enjoying it for the relationship between Mara and Noah. Many girls like to read about a bad boy every now and then, but Noah takes it way past my comfort level.

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
What it’s about: Stephen lives in a world post-Collapse. The US fought a war against China, and the US lost, partly due to the fact that China released a terrible plague upon the Americans (hence the title). Slavers roam freely, violence is rampant, and it’s a daily fight to stay alive. Stephen, his father, and his grandfather are scavengers, trading for what they need and keeping to themselves. Then his grandfather dies and his father is in an accident. Stephen is taken in by a community that calls themselves Settler’s Landing. The people in this community are attempting to rebuild some sort of civilization, complete with school for the children and a form of government. Not everyone in Settler’s Landing is OK with Stephen coming to stay, and Stephen forms a bond with another outcast, Chinese-born Jenny. Then a prank that Stephen and Jenny play upon the residents of Settler’s Landing has unexpected consequences, and violence erupts in the previously peaceful settlement.

Why it didn’t work for me: Oh, dystopias. I know so many of you are terribly mediocre, but I can’t resist your siren call. The main problem I had with the book is that Hirsch had the whole world of horrible (and by that I mean awesome) dystopian tropes at his fingertips, but he chose to tell this particular story. While Hirsch does describe how awful the world is, the book is mostly a story about two teens’ prank gone wrong. The prank has terrible repercussions, but I never felt its magnitude, and I wanted a story on a larger scale. The prank (which is alluded to on the flap copy) also doesn’t occur until about 2/3rds of the way through the book, so there’s too much time spent on Stephen’s acclimation to Settler’s Landing. Additionally, Stephen and Jenny are fairly well-drawn, but the ancillary characters are flat and mostly interchangeable.

Who might enjoy it: There’s definitely an audience for this book. Readers who get tired of dystopias’ fixation on giant wars or major rebellions may enjoy the smaller story recounted here. It’s more about creating community and fitting in than overthrowing corrupt governments. There’s also a dearth of dystopias told from a boy’s perspective, so this fills a gap.

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
What it’s about: Lexi lives in Near, a small, secluded town whose inhabitants distrust strangers. Then one night, a stranger – a boy Lexi’s age – appears on the moor. His appearance coincides with the disappearance of Near’s children, and the townsfolk are quick to blame the stranger boy, who has been taken in by two old women who live near the outskirts of Near. Lexi doesn’t believe the boy is responsible, and, with his help, she sets out to determine who is actually taking the children. If not the boy, could it be the Near Witch, whom the townsfolk supposedly destroyed years ago?

Why it didn’t work for me: The plot was a bit dull. I thought it was overly predictable and moved at a rather slow pace. Schwab’s writing is gorgeous and atmospheric, but I’ve always been the type of reader who needs a strong plot to stay interested. My ideal book would have both great writing and great plotting, so The Near Witch only partially satisfied me. This is one of those books that was more not to my taste than actually bad.

Who might enjoy it: Readers who value beautiful writing and don’t mind when it’s accompanied by a slow or predictable plot. I do want to emphasize how gorgeous Schwab’s writing is, so if you’re the kind of person who digs that, you might want to give this a shot.

First two books were review copies received from the publisher. Last book checked out from my local library. All books are available now.

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  1. says

    I love this thoughtful recap of books that didn't work for you. I have another category: books I couldn't put down, books I was even obsessed about and liked very much, but was ultimately disappointed in–wanting them to reach the heights they promised or were capable of. (The entire Hunger Games trilogy, The Queen of Attolia…) Maybe you should do a post on books that disappointed you because of their near-greatness!

  2. says

    I like this recap as well! I like how you explain why the book didn't work, and yet who may in fact enjoy it. I have quite a few to add to this list as well. Ones I really wanted to enjoy, and know people did, but just couldn't ever get into them.

  3. says

    I really did love The Near Witch but the points you've mentioned (slow plot in particular and for me, the terrible romance which should not have been) didn't disappoint me enough to mar the rest of the reading experience. Though with Mara Dyer, I found the entire book awful.

  4. says

    Uh-oh. I just picked up Mara Dyer, and it looks like we have very similar taste. I thought EP was a rip off of The Road, and NW was too worried about a romance that didn't work to actually offer a good story. Don't ya feel weird when people are raving over something and you realize- I just don't like this? Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one…thanks for this post.

  5. says

    Here here! It may not be a book for me but that doesn't mean it's not a book for someone! That said, I don't see why we can't be honest and talk about why the book didn't work for us.

    I really do need to get to Mara Dyer. I see mixed reviews on it and I am genuinely curious to know where I fall on the scale. I enjoyed Eleventh Plague but agree, the "action" didn't get started in the book until way too late in the book.

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