Shit Books I Unapologetically Hate

It’s time to get salty.

Inspired by LilyCReads’ ‘Shit Books That I Hate’ that came out quite a while a go, I decided it was time for a little collection of my 1-2 star ratings of books that I hated. As a disclaimer (#1), I have read all these, and won’t be going into books I haven’t read but know are problematic, they’re just, in my opinion, terrible. And I’m not going to be speaking constructively like a normal review so, if you’re not into me saying ‘this books sucks’ then this post probably isn’t for you.

DISCLAIMER #2: Just because I hate them, this does not mean that you cannot. I would never tell anyone that they should hate a book just because I do and if you love any of the books mentioned then great! I’m sure there are books that you loathe and I love too.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

27883214This book was so hyped. So fucking hyped. People were clambering over themselves at YALC 2016 to get the one proof they were giving away. Everyone was talking about it. Comparing it to The Night Circus, and how fucking dare you.

This was the one book I received for my birthday. It was every word synonymous with beautiful but oh my god, it’s innards were bladdy awful. Not only did the plot make absolutely no sense, there was no heart to the book? It was literally slapped together, and I feel really sorry for Stephanie Garber if she worked so hard on the world building because where was it? All the characters are unlikable and stupid as fuck, the main character was just dragged from one place to the next and could’ve been swapped from a human to a doll and you wouldn’t have had to make many changes to the text. Characters just threw information at her and then when she had questions, they would just say “it doesn’t matter” or “never mind about that” and we just had to move on. Who cares about that thing? I certainly don’t. What utter shit.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

rrcoverTurns out even your ‘handsome’ face can’t help you write a good book.

I didn’t even finish this nonsense because it wasn’t science fiction at all. It was a book about the perfect man being perfect and having sex with women and then them dying except it happens on Mars. Nowadays I just expect shitty female characters from male authors; if it’s sci-fi/fantasy, they’re sexually promiscuous with giant breasts and have no personality, or the opposite, an innocent virgin maiden, then if it’s gen-fic, they’re a bitch who cheats on the main male character. In most situations, she’s raped or killed or both. Without spoiling anything, Red Rising ticks a lot of these boxes in the first 100 pages. I couldn’t be asked to read the rest. Do one.

 

 

The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

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This was a lot more disappointing than most. #Ownvoices LGBT rep, how could I say no? I bought this the day it came out and read it in about two days. But what I read was just shite. It was just a poorly written story, but then again the concept itself was a bit odd. I get why; it’s meant to be a bit of a piss-take of spy movies and also a commentary on heteronormative stories. It could have been interesting…sort of. What it actually was a description of things happening, it was dire to read. I wrote a scathing review about it including some examples taken right out of the book. Read them out loud and you’ll see what I mean. Did anyone actually read this book before they published it? It’s just notes, it ain’t even a first draft.

This is a novel from a debut author too, which makes me a little guilty for saying all these things. But the work and the grind and the passion that has to be put in a debut novel just to get your foot in the door of an agent is so mighty that many just give up after a billion rejections. So to see this be taken on and published is such a shock and there, the guilt has gone.

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

the_hostThis book was just generic Stephenie Meyer forumla. Take a special girl and make two guys fight over her. It’s not flattering, because the guys are also mean to the girl, who just moves from one room to the next to receive a few info dumps before nothing happens. And this is a thick book. Ughhhh. I can’t believe I read the whole thing, what’s wrong with me?

I didn’t put the Twilight series on here because, despite giving the books 1-2 stars on Goodreads, when I read them as a teen I adored them, so I don’t think lil’ Hollie would appreciate me trashing them now at 24. So I’ll do her a favour and just diss this nonsense.

 

 

 

 

Please, don’t take any of these to heart. I would never hate a person for loving a book I dislike. The freedom have a difference of opinion is a beautiful thing and hey, if there are any books that you hate but think/know I love, then tell me in the comments and we can all be salty together!

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‘I’m Going To Read It Anyway & See What I Think’

As a blogger, I read book reviews almost daily. Whether it be here on WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram, or Goodreads, I use them as a guide to find out whether a book I’m thinking of reading is really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to use them, and I’ve often dived into a book without knowing what it’s about or what people have said about it (it’s one of my favourite things to do), but hey, reviews are useful!

As a book blogger, I also write them, and while I don’t write reviews of books that I just stopped reading after a short while for no particular reason, I do write reviews of books that I did not like and also include, if necessary, warnings about scenes or chapters that some may find triggering and/or upsetting. I want my reviews to, if positive, entice readers into picking up the book and sharing the joy that I felt. But I review the books that I did not enjoy to make aware to my readers and others who are browsing the reviews on goodreads of why I don’t think said book is worth your time.

However, at the end of the day, I cannot decide for you whether or not you read a book; my opinion may contribute to that decision, but reading tastes are reading tastes and my opinion will not be the same as yours. And that’s ok!

Whether or not a reviewer likes the book or not is very different to a reviewer stating the problematic issues in a book.

Vocal debates on this topic have been surfacing around once a month about these two definitions and how they’ve been overlapping. While the same issues happen with disabled bloggers, LGBT+ bloggers and Muslim bloggers, it’s specifically POC bloggers who are constantly being harassed online for their reviews of books that they have stated have racist content and therefore should be at least called out on to make others aware.

The problem does not lie in bloggers making readers aware of racist content, what is worrying are the many (white) people who respond to these criticisms with ‘I’m going to read it anyway and see what I think’.

In my scenario, where I give a book two stars because I didn’t enjoy it, that’s where a statement like that would be ok. Books are subjective, and ‘the writing style is poor’ is an opinion that another reader may not share. However, when POC review a book and say it’s racist, a white person cannot then decide to ‘see what they think’, because here are your two outcomes:

Outcome 1: You read the book and agree yes, it is racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if there’s does not mean anything unless you’ve waved in on it.

Outcome 2: You read the book and disagree, it is not racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if you can decide what does and does not clarify as racism.

I think the crux of the matter is people don’t like it when they are told not to read a book. Of course, when someone tells you not to do something, you kind of wanna do it, right? But here’s the thing, racism is not an opinion. That book, whether you read it or not, dislike it or not, has racist content. So, you cannot ‘read it and see what you think’. And when these bloggers/reviewers are asking you not to support these books, they are not trying to restrict your reading, they are trying to let publishers know that books like these cannot slide, that they are problematic and should not be getting published in the first place. Institutional racism is deep and ingrained and small justices can make large waves. Read the books if you want, but keep aware, and support the voices who are hurt by racist, homophobic, and ableist content.

You see a person stepping on another person’s foot without realising. They walk away. The person whose foot has been stepped on is hurt and rubbing their foot. They come up to you. “Did you see that? That really hurt.” Would you then question if that actually hurt them? Or would you have to find out for yourself and step on their foot too?

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Intense Publicity How It Affects Reading

I wanted to talk a little bit about hype.

Hype, by my own definition, is the feeling you build inside of people as they await for something. In this context, books.

It’s a very important part of marketing and publicity that there is hype surrounding a book. Sometimes it’s easy; the genre is a popular one, a trendy story line that always hits and never misses with it’s target demographic. Sometimes it’s even easier; the author is well known, award-winning, maybe even world-renowned. And sometimes it’s hard; it’s a debut author, niche subject matter, a risk, but nevertheless a risk the publisher is willing to take.

Hype sells. Hype gets things noticed.

But for me, and fairly often; Hype kills.

I’ve been struggling with this for a long time and I’ve never really known how to put it into words. But, since being very disappointed by a very highly anticipated book recently, I thought it would be time to discuss it.

A lot of the books, shows, movies that I have fallen in love with are often ones that I’ve found on my own. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo was still only circulating in the U.S. where I saw someone on Youtube mention it. I’d never heard of it, nor were people constantly talking about it. I found a hardback online for so cheap that I bought it and read it straight away. Que my love. But I often wonder if that would be different if people would not stop recommending it, if it was talked about in every Twitter chat and was announced on everyone’s TBR, if there were giveaways and competitions left, right, and centre. It’s a beautifully written story by a now auto-buy author for me, but would I enjoy it if I say, picked it up now?

Switch to a few days ago, where I had to write a two star review about a book that I’ve been excited for since July last year and have been greatly disappointed by. The plot, the setting, the concept all sounded so promising when I first heard of it. In my review I go into detail about how much the hype ruined the book for me, about how I may have enjoyed it more without the anticipation. It’s probably true; I wouldn’t have scrutinized it so much. My expectations were through the roof from the reviews and the talk around it. But at the same time, would I have? Like I said, I’d heard it once and was initially interested. Imagine, if that was all I heard about it; people didn’t talk about it as much and it wasn’t the subject of every fourth tweet on my Twitter timeline. Does the amount of hype really decide if I like a book or not?

It’s the same with shows too. I tend to enjoy them a lot more when I haven’t been either forced to watch them or pestered by everyone. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I didn’t watch Breaking Bad, Stranger Things etc because people wouldn’t shut up about them. They’re probably great, but the expectations I now have are so high that I’m not ready to experience the disappointment.

But then am I a part of the hype machine? I do not stop banging on about certain books that I’ve fallen in love with, particularly Jandy Nelson’s books and Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. I mention them in almost every chat, bring them up in every conversation about book recommendations. Do I contribute? I suppose, it’s always about the writing; many live up to the hype and many don’t. It depends on the hype too; I remember when Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season was being compared to Harry Potter, and when I read it I couldn’t believe that it had been compared to one of the best selling series of all time. But the second one? When the hype had died down and I’d decided to give it a second chance? Much better! Had the writing improved? Were my expectations way low? Probably a bit of both.

How does hype effect what you read? Are you seduced by the excitement and anticipation, or are you more of a finding a diamond in the rough kind of reader? Are there any hyped books you didn’t enjoy? Let’s talk!

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The Four Star Crisis

I did not realise that the star rating system was something I used so much in my life.

I use it for books, films, restaurants, hotels, years (2016 got 0 stars obviously), nightclubs, makeup, I could go on. But recently I’ve been having trouble try to explain myself as to why I’ve given a book a certain number of stars.

Goodreads doesn’t exactly force you to use their star rating system, but enough people still complain about it, one of the biggest complaints being that there aren’t half star ratings. I get it; you’ve signed up to a website where you want better explain yourself as to why you loved/hated a book. You want to be a little more precise, and sometimes a star rating system doesn’t really do it justice.

And while I haven’t really had a problem using it before, I’ve noticed a trend in the books I’ve been rating.

I bloody love to use four stars.

A lot of people on their blogs have a set of guidelines as to what they mean when they give a book a certain amount of stars, but I’ve never done that. I didn’t want to be so rigid in my rating, but it now comes across as slightly confusing, especially to myself. The only star ratings that seem to explain enough are one star (fucking awful) and five stars (fucking incredible), and while I rarely use two stars because I might as well just knock it down to one and only use three if the book was average, I use four stars to the point where the books rated do not have the same opinion from me anymore.

Four stars, for me, has been the ‘could have been five stars, but wasn’t just quite there’, which is a good enough explanation. But recently, the lines have blurred. The books aren’t mediocre, but they’re probably not something I’d read again. Some are strong four stars and some are weak four stars, but does that mean I’m using four stars too liberally? Is a four star a watered down five star or a heavily concentrated three star?

Why must you torture me this way, four stars??

Am I being too nice? Too cruel? Looking at my Goodreads, there’s far too many four star books; some I read the sequels eagerly, and some I have given away almost instantly. I turned my back on those books.

Maybe it’s time for something different. Maybe the star rating system is not good enough to explain how I feel about a book. Not all the books I read can be four stars. Otherwise, what’s the point in rating them if they all have the same rating?

How do you go about rating books, if at all? What do you think about when deciding how many stars to give a book? What makes a book receive a half star, or even lose one? What’s your opinion on the dreaded four star dilemma?

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La La Land & The Way I’m Consuming Entertainment

There is really something about going to the cinema on your own.

There is no quarrel with what you’re going to see, nor what food you’re going to eat. You can choose exactly where you’re going to sit, and you are most definitely going to be on time. Everything works in your favor when going to see a film alone, with the only problem being that you can’t actually discuss the film with anyone afterwards. You’re left there, with your thoughts, until you go home and find someone to talk about it with, and this is probably someone who hasn’t seen the film anyway.

Seeing La La Land was my first experience seeing a film alone, and it wasn’t until half way through that I realised something was wrong.

I suffer from depression, and one of the main symptoms is lack of focus/interest. Sometimes I do struggle to watch a whole film or I take a long time to read a whole book, but in this scenario I was entirely focused; I had no other stimuli to distract me from what was on screen, and I nearly teared up right there in the cinema because I thought my mental health was destroying this lovely experience I was supposed to be having.

But, this is ridiculous! I’ve been to the cinema before, watched a film before, and been disappointed with the film. It wasn’t my lack of interest to blame, it was the film in those instances. So why was it different now?

I realised I knew exactly what it was, and I was a mixture of both grateful and sad.

La La Land should be a film that I fall in love with. Not only is it about artists who struggle to do what they love while understanding that ‘doing what you love’ doesn’t always pay the bills, it’s musical, colourful, and has stunning cinematography. I’m known to be a fan of this kind of film-making. Films like Moulin Rouge! Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and Her. Shows like Pushing Daisies, The Get Down, and Sherlock. Visually stunning media is my jam, and La La Land should have been a perfect addition.

It had a love story, music, dancing, heart-breaking moments. But this thing that I’d realised about the way I was now consuming media had upset me so much because I had thought it had ruined my enjoyment of the things I love. But it hadn’t. What it had actually done is brought me more awareness about the issues regarding who wins and who doesn’t when it comes to the film industry.

(La La Land spoilers ahead)

La La Land does not actually have a plot. Like many films that are just made to win awards, the film has a basic premise with the distractions of fun musical numbers and pretty colours. But, because of what I’d learned through listening to people discuss the racism in certain books, I could only see Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) obsess over Jazz and how it should be played/listened to while everyone else around him (the people in the band, in the jazz clubs) was black. Jazz is a genre of music derived from the black communities of New Orleans. It was played in speak-easies and in clubs and at parties and has grown into a whole genre that can be enjoyed and played by everyone. But it irked me so much that, this large part of black culture was so prevalent in this movie…and we still focused on the one white guy in the room. The only speaking role a black character had was John Legend’s character, and he was painted as a little bit like an antagonist who wanted to ‘ruin the jazz sound’. It was Sebastian who we were supposed to be rooting for; that one white guy who we’re supposed to consider a visionary when actually he’s just doing what all the black extras are doing, but also throwing hissy fits because things aren’t going his way.

I’ll watch things and the first thing I’ll notice is ‘everyone is white’, and you don’t realise how prevalent it is when you can do it with almost all films and shows. Sherlock is set in London, where 40% of the British Muslim population lives, but according to Sherlock’s London, they just do not exist. HBO’s Girls is set in Brooklyn, where half the population is POC, and all the main girls are white.

Race is not just the issue, but sexuality too. I can watch a show, a film, or read a book and the first thing I will notice is ‘everyone is straight’. Everyone. No matter how many couples you throw in there (I’m looking at you, Sarah J. Maas and Stephenie Meyer), every single one of those couples is straight, and it’s so frustrating because I’m disappointed. How can you thoughtfully write a book, a show, a film, and just completely disregard a whole group of people so easily?

I think, when you grow, and your tastes change, and what you look for in entertainment changes, you always get a little bit annoyed. If you re-read a book that you loved in the past but then realise it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, or watch a film that looks right up your street but it’s just not the same, I think you do feel a sense of loss. But, to think that this awareness has ruined my taste is a very ignorant way to think. In fact, I want to see it positively, because it’s enlightening. I feel like the blinkers have finally come off, and I’m now seeing the screen in wider definition.

I am tired of seeing/reading the stories that are constantly being told about the same groups of people, written and created by the same groups of people. And this is from me, a cis, able-bodied white person where most of western entertainment is about me.  I cannot even imagine being a young child and consuming so much media and never seeing yourself represented, never seeing the black actress in the main role, never reading about a girl in a Hijab saving the world, or never watching a boy fall in love with another boy. Entertainment plays a large part in forming opinions and views of the outside world, and while the film industry is changing and progressing into something more inclusive, it baffles me that films with the same plots still take all the awards for being revolutionary.

La La Land has won a lot of awards, and I can definitely see why. While the storytelling is a little different and is definitely a homage to the golden age of cinema, it is still the same story being told. It is still two white, straight people falling in love. It is still a story of struggle where there is no struggle, just handouts and connections.

Go see La La Land. Go and enjoy yourself. Laugh and cry and sing a long with it; I am not saying it cannot be enjoyed (clearly, it can be), but for me, this film has definitely been a turning point in the way I am going to enjoy books and films and shows from now on.

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Mental Health in YA

I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts for a very long time, but it hasn’t been up until recently that it has actually become a lot more personal.

I’ve probably said this a million times in other discussion posts, but representation in fiction, especially YA, is important. Young adult is an in between phase where you’re not really a kid anymore but you still don’t feel like a full blown adult yet (Pro tip: No one feels like a full blown adult, even full blown adult). I feel YA novels should have a responsibility to at least make young adults voices matter. This is what they read and therefore they should be able to see themselves, even just a little bit, within the writing.

I’m not saying you need to find every character and situation relatable. But the idea that you can pick up a YA novel and find yourself within it, is such a big step for representation.

Which leads me onto today’s topic; mental health.

In comparison to my sexuality, I don’t really talk about my mental health much. While I consider my sexuality to be something I am unashamed and confident enough to talk about, my mental health isn’t another one of those somethings, and until recently, I didn’t think there was anything to even talk about.

It only really hit me that there maybe something wrong when I read Solitaire by Alice Oseman. I had read Radio Silence, her latest novel, beforehand and had fallen in love. And while RS characters also deal with symptoms of depression, it wasn’t as relatable and as real as Tori Spring in Solitaire.

See, Tori suffers in silence, she finds it strenuous and tiring to be around other people, let alone be nice to them, and often struggles to enjoy hobbies and past times, even the ones she liked in the past. It was strange to see someone like me in a story, one where the character isn’t a crazy serial killer who needs to be locked away, but as someone who is still considered a normal human being suffering from something that is common and treatable.

It baffles me that mental health is still stigmatized, that people still do not understand it. I’m not asking for everyone to have an obscene amount of knowledge on each individual mental illness, but to understand a person when they bring it up; to support, and to care.

When you’re a young adult, if you’re 18, or 23 (like me), or 27, there will be moments in your life where you don’t really understand what’s going on. There are so many gaps in our information of the world because society and peers have either deemed it unimportant or it’s just slipped through the cracks. I had never been taught about mental health properly apart from one Psychology module on Schizophrenia, which made sufferers sound like they all needed straight jackets and were to be locked away in a ‘lunatic asylum’.

It’s important for young people and teenagers to truly get a grasp on mental health so that they can identify it in themselves and in others. To know when it’s time to speak up, to know when something isn’t right. But also to know that what they’re feeling is valid, happens to others, and that there is support out there.

It helped me, imagine how many others it can help too.

Recommendation time! These are books that I’ve read and books I haven’t, but all have the the theme of mental health running through:

Recommend in the comments too! I haven’t read enough books concerning mental health and I love them!

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There’s Your Representation! Diversity & Responsibility

Earlier in the week, #JKRowlingisoverparty began trending on Twitter.

It seems that Twitter loves having parties celebrating the ending of a famous person’s relevancy. Which is ironic in itself, considering they’re partying to celebrate said person. But anyway.

Rowling (haha) my eyes and clicking on the hashtag, I wasn’t too sure what the topic was. I found myself liking a few conflicting tweets, and it wasn’t until some time later I realised what the reason for the hashtag actually was.

Sirius Black is not gay.

We’ve all done it; we’ve all had our fill of Harry Potter fanfiction. Whether it’s Dramione, Drarry, or Sirius/Lupin (Sirupin? Lupius?), we’ve all taken from the books we loved and shared our own little head canons together. I’ve always seen fanfiction as a celebration for works, and while many authors do not agree with that, it comes across that J.K. Rowling does agree.

A very common concept within fandoms is changing the sexuality of a character. There are many reasons why this may happen or why readers do this, but one glaringly obvious reason is the lack of LGBT representation within the majority of fiction. While I find YA in particular might be progressing towards a diverse community of characters, Harry Potter is still a hugely popular series with little to no diversity. It is literally a school of straight, white people. It’s not as if every character was described as white, but after almost all (bar 5, one of who was in one scene, and two who were hive mind love interests) characters in the films were cast as white, it hit the nail on the coffin.

Harry Potter is not diverse.

And so, Twitter. J.K. Rowling, in her Twitter bio, wrote an implicit answer to the question everyone was asking; is Sirius Black gay? It seemed the Twittersphere was split between praising an author for doing what she wants with HER characters, and the anger that an author, already with a series with little to no diversity, wants to deny even just a little bit of representation in her own works.

And it’s conflicted me too.

I read the books, watched the films, consumed every medium that had the words ‘Harry Potter’ in them. It wasn’t until I was older that I became disappointed that there were no Hogwarts students like me, or, in fact, like many other people apart from the obvious that dominates books and shows and movies. I still really enjoyed them, and that will not be taken away.

The outing of Dumbledore made it worse, because while people like to pipe on that there IS LGBT representation in HP, it was revealed that Dumbledore was gay after the series was over, in passing, during an interview. I’m sorry, but kids will not read that interview, and there is nothing in the text that says he is, or even hints at it. He obviously wasn’t gay when it was written, but maybe Rowling had been pressured to give representation, and instead of saying she would do better in the future, yelled “Here is your representation!” and gave us useless information that did nothing to contribute to the text.

As a reader, I am disappointed at all the opportunities that J.K. Rowling decided to side step for no reason.

As a writer, however, I pose a different argument.

Here you are, the writer. You are writing a story that is both epic and character driven. These characters are what you like to call ‘my babies’. They’re carefully crafted and you’ve thought of everything. Yes, many things are up to interpretation, such as skin colour maybe, or a character’s accent. You haven’t thought of each characters’ favourite types of cheese, but that’s OK.

You release said story into the world. People love it, and they create art and write stories and build a fandom surrounded by your work. The love is a gargantuan size and your so happy that people have found your work to be the grounding for how they connect and share. Your readers like to interpret the characters how they want; sometimes they make a straight character gay for their fanfiction, or draw a white character black.

But then, someone directly asks you if a certain character is gay. You’ve written the story, and you know they’re not, and that’s what you say; no, they’re not. Your readers get angry at your refusal to acknowledge their headcanons of your straight character. How dare you deny them the right of fair representation? And you’re there, stunned, because it’s not like you’ve refused them anything; they’re your characters as much as theirs…but the text. You’ve written the text, it’s done, that’s how you saw them. You appeal to them; the character is in a heterosexual relationship, maybe they’re bisexual instead? You talk about it, hoping they’ll get off your back for not including LGBT characters in your story.

It’s enough for some, but the rest are still disappointed.

You realise that you have to stick to your guns, because you can’t please everyone. This character is straight, you wrote them straight, and this is Word of God.

As a writer, I find representation is a given. I would not praise a writer for being diverse, but I do find it a bit weird when they’re not. While I wouldn’t do it to just make sure I’m inclusive and just for the sake of it, I would still feel a bit shitty if I made all my characters white and straight (and talk about boring too). But, at the same time, I can’t get too annoyed at a writer who has written a character a certain way. It is their character, and there are many other, more important reasons why you may dislike something in a book.

For example, the queerbaiting of Scorpius and Albus, which I’ll talk about in another post.

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