Top Ten Tuesday (or, ahem, Wednesday. Sorry) is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week, it’s all about books that were pleasant surprises or sad disappointments.
There are books you look forward to forever. Books you hear nothing but great things about. Books that you’re told you’ll love by people you trust. Books that – for whatever reason – just don’t live up to your expectations. They’re not even bad, necessarily (that’s a whole different top ten) – they’re just not what you hoped. We tend to talk about our opinions of them as being controversial – but you know what? It’s okay not to like a book as much as everyone else.
Fellside – M R Carey
The problem with Fellside – for me, at least – is that it wasn’t The Girl With All The Gifts. If it hadn’t been written by Carey, I wouldn’t have picked it up – I have zero interest in prison settings – and sadly, I found nothing to like about it. Lesson learnt (but let’s not get started on how high the bar is set for The Boy On The Bridge).
The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin
I was always going to read this because I was curious, but oh my I hated it. No, I’m being unfair. I was bored. Frustrated. Desiccated (yes, it’s that dry). It has its moments and I’m glad it won the Hugo (because I’m glad to see international writing gain prominence), but I struggled with it.
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
I found this an odd mess of a book, less than the sum of its parts (which I’m not convinced hang together). While the characters are convincing (or at least familiar) they’re not very appealing, although I might have more patience with Quentin now than when I read it. Maybe. Fillory felt like a cop out, and the final act left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Passage – Justin Cronin
I love a good apocalypse and after Station Eleven accidentally spoilt me on a detail, I knew I wanted to read The Passage. Lots of people I like like it a lot – but I found it very frustrating. There’s a really good 500-page post-apocalyptic monster-dodging story in the middle; but I’d happily lose the backstory and the coda.
The Martian – Andy Weir
Unfortunately, I don’t like Mark Watney or his sense of humour. It’s a serious problem when you’re trapped in his diaries listening to him snark. In the end, I even got bored of his MacGuyvering – although I was invested enough to want to know if he survived. For me, Watney needed to be Matt Damon (yes, I enjoyed the film).
Thankfully, there’s also books that sneak up on you and take you by surprise. Books you were convinced wouldn’t be your sort of thing. Books that can’t possibly live up to the hype. These are my favourite surprises, and often go on to be in my top ten books of the year.
Europe in Autumn – Dave Hutchinson
Almost the opposite of The Magicians – far more than the sum of its parts (not least because I’m usually lukewarm on those parts). Now you can get me out of bed with news of protagonist Rudi. This is clever, scathing, sly, painfully current and unexpectedly charming.
Discount Armageddon – Seanan McGuire
I don’t like urban fantasy or paranormal romance as a rule. That cover is enough to put me off – let’s explore some stereotypes. Sexualised blonde being perky with weapons? GAH. And then I giggled the whole way through, delighted, and have devoured the sequels. I blame the Aeslin mice.
World War Z – Max Brooks
The problem was that the zombie apocalypse had become so common. So I ignored the hype – only to be bowled over when I eventually picked it up. It’s the format that is clever, personal accounts of survival told after the fact; that and Brooks’s ruthlessness in ‘solving’ the problem. I’m looking forward to a reread for The Book was Better.
A Darker Shade of Magic – V E Schwab
I pigeon-holed ADSOM (for no reason I recall) as ‘just another YA fantasy’, dropping it in to my I Don’t Read Sarah J Maas Et Al bucket. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. World-hopping, blood magic, possession, princes, OTT villains, and NO ROMANCE. Obviously it’s my new favourite thing. DELILAH BARD I WANT MY HEART BACK.
Deep Sea and Foreign Going – Rose George
I was utterly absorbed in George’s account of sailing on Maersk container ships and exploring what life is like for those who work them. Most of our goods still come in by sea – this book looks at what that really means. And it’s fascinating.
What’s your biggest reading surprise – or disappointment?