Top 5 Wednesdays: Most Disappointing Books of 2020

I think this is the first time I’ve ever decided to completely skip the “assigned” topic for the week and pick one of my own. There were two main reasons for this. The first, and biggest, reason was that I was surprised that none of my groups had included a prompt for the worst most disappointing books of the year, which seems like a fairly standard topic to come up toward the end of the year. The second reason is that the assigned topic felt a bit repetitive to me. This week, the prompt was called Masterchef and it was meant to talk about food mentioned in books. Not only is that a topic that I tend to really struggle with since I don’t find most food in books particularly memorable, but it’s also one that I felt like I had done several times in the past few months already.

Instead, I decided to pick my own prompt and mention some of my most disappointing books this year. For me, there is a big difference between “most disappointing” and “worst.” A disappointing book is not necessarily one that I hated, but it is one that I had expected to really love, and ended up struggling to get into. To be fair, there can be some overlap with books I’d consider the worst, but to be fair, I also haven’t read anything that I’ve outright hated this year. Many of the books I’ve chosen were books that I had been meaning to read for such a long time, so it was especially disappointing not to love them as much as I’d expected.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

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I’ve had this book on my TBR since 2016, and it was among the first batches of books I ever bought from Book Outlet because I wanted to give myself an extra push to read it. I was excited to try this one because I’d seen it compared to The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is one of my favourites. It is about a teenage girl named Natalie who receives a visit from a figure she refers to as Grandmother who warns her that she has “three months to save him.” Shortly afterwards, Natalie meets a boy named Beau and quickly bonds with him, and discovers he may have a connection to all the flashes of “wrong things” she sees around her town. I liked both of the main characters, but found the relationship between them happened much too quickly for me to really get invested in. I was also very disappointed to find that the time travel element was not as prominent as I expected, and I found the pacing a bit too slow. I enjoyed the inclusion of various stories and creation myths and the connections made to Natalie’s Native American heritage, but struggled to really get into the book overall. I ultimately rated it 3.5 and rounded it up to 4 because I really liked the writing style, but I’ve been debating ever since whether to lower it to a 3 instead, which I think is a pretty good indication that it disappointed me.

2) The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson


This was a book I bought completely on a whim from Book Outlet a couple of years ago because I’d remembered that it had been on my TBR for a while. I think I had the vague idea that it was going to be similar to The Thirteenth Tale, but it is nothing like that one, nor is it advertised as such. It is about a woman named Kitty who works in a struggling bookstore, but at night, she dreams of an alternate life one year in the future, where she is married with children, and she begins to question which life she really wants. I loved the overall concept of the book but I didn’t like the author’s writing style, which was a lot of “tell” and not enough “show.” I also found some parts incredibly awkward to read, including Kitty’s inner monologue while at a party about how “the help” is treated, and the heavy-handed references to the 1960s setting in the beginning. I also wasn’t a fan of the autism representation for Kitty’s song, which seemed to be thrown in just to give her some kind of challenge in her otherwise ideal life. I liked the ultimate explanation for why the time travel element was happening to her and also enjoyed the relationship between Kitty and her husband. The one thing I did really appreciate was the brief storyline about Kitty trying to find age-appropriate and interesting reading material for a young neighbour, since this is a huge gap in teaching resources! This was another book that I gave 3.5 stars and ultimately rounded down to 3 because as much as I enjoyed the premise, I found the writing off-putting.

3) Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

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I was so disappointed not to love this one, especially because Mary Kubica was one of my top priority authors to try this year! It is about a woman named Heidi who decides to take in a homeless girl, Willow, whom she sees out in the rain with her baby. I thought it was very interesting to see a main character in a thriller who was so focused on charitable work and thought it was a great motivation for her, and definitely set her apart from many other thrillers that I’ve read. I especially enjoyed the chapters narrated by Heidi’s husband Chris, and his skepticism about Willow’s motives, and also loved that the book did not go in the usual direction with him. I also found Willow’s backstory very interesting and I enjoyed finding out what brought her to Heidi with the baby, and also liked how her story touched on so many of the gaps in the foster system. I thought Heidi’s actions toward the end of the book made sense given her background, but also happened a little too suddenly to really make sense. I also would have loved a bit more development of Willow’s foster brothers, although there was one particular plot point involving them that I didn’t really care for. I thought this book was a solid 4-star read, but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed given how much hype I had seen around the author.

4) Creepy & Maud by Dianne Touchell


I think this book was my biggest disappointment of all, especially because this was the book that had been on my TBR the longest. I’ve had this one on my TBR since July 2015, after discovering it while browsing Goodreads not too long after joining the site. I was drawn to this book immediately because it seemed so different from other YA books, and hadn’t been able to read it until now because I had a lot of trouble finding a copy. It is about two teenage neighbours, known only as Creepy and Maud, who eventually bond through notes shared through their windows. I liked many of the observations that both characters made throughout the book and how both of them had such a unique perspective on their lives and other people around them, and I love the premise of the two of them connecting through notes. Unfortunately, there was not too much else that I really enjoyed. I found it odd that Creepy would insist he was in love with Maud when he didn’t really know her or make much of an effort to really get to know her. I really liked the writing style in the beginning but soon got bored of the story since there wasn’t really much plot, and I also hadn’t connected strongly enough with either character to really care. I was so disappointed that I didn’t love this one after waiting so long to give it a try!

5) Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok


I strongly debated saving this one for next week when I do my 5 Star Prediction Wrap-Up, since it will be on that list as well, but it didn’t quite feel right to make a post about disappointments without mentioning this book. To be clear, I did not hate this one by any means, but it exemplifies what I mentioned above about a book being disappointing because it did not live up to my expectations. I loved Girl in Translation and assumed this would be another easy 5 stars. It got off to a great start, and I absolutely loved the first third or so of the book and the set up the Amy searching for her sister Sylvie, but there was one key storyline that threw me off immediately and I just couldn’t get past it. I can’t really go into detail since it could be considered a spoiler, but there was something that I caught initially as subtext, and hoped I was wrong or that it would at least be a minor part. Unfortunately for me, it ended up being a huge plot point and drew me completely out of the story. I didn’t really care for the middle of the book, but thought it picked back up again toward the end. I especially enjoyed the brief segments of texts, e-mails or phone calls between characters that were scattered throughout, and would have loved a bit more of that. I also loved the commentary throughout about racism and sexism, although it sometimes felt a little shoehorned in. Ultimately, I think what was most frustrating about the book was that I might have really loved it if there had been a very minor change made to that one plot point that I didn’t like, which would have essentially had the same function and removed the off-putting side to it. I’m hoping to enjoy this author’s next book more given how much I loved the previous one.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton – This one may be my fault because I think I rushed it a bit since I’d wanted to read it around Halloween. I found the characters and especially the relationship between them a bit underdeveloped, and had a lot more trouble getting into the story than I expected.
  • Natalie Tan’s Book of Love & Fortunes by Roselle Lim – I didn’t expect too much from this one, since it was for a prompt I was dreading and it was a book I had only mild interest in. I liked the overall idea behind the story and Natalie’s use of food to help her neighbours, but I found it very repetitive and also didn’t really care for the romance or the main character
  • The German House by Annette Hess – I suspect it was the translation that I didn’t really like, but I expected this book to be an easy 5 star read, and I found it a bit disjointed and harder to connect with than I expected, especially given the focus on multiple subplots for other characters that drew me out of the main story
  • Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney – May be a bit of a stretch to call it a disappointment since I didn’t expect much, but I didn’t love the writing style and thought this book was way too long (at around 600 pages!) for what it was


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