It’s time for Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly feature hosted by the blog, The Broke and the Bookish – http://brokeandbookish.blogspot.co.uk/
Each week they ask people to write a top ten list of something on a literary theme. This week it’s books that were better or worse than expected.
I don’t actually find that this is something that happens to me very often. I try to carefully pick out books I think I’m genuinely going to enjoy, and my radar tends to be quite accurate. I expect most books I read to be roughly three or four stars. In this list, however, I’ve got some that were better than expected and some that were worse. Almost all of them, in both categories, can be blamed on either recommendations by friends or having previously read something by the same author – and ultimately, on me massively judging books by their covers.
Note that better doesn’t necessarily mean “amazing” nor does “worse” mean awful. These are all based on my pre-conceptions versus my actual verdict. To make this clearer I’ve tried to give a rough estimation of what star rating I was expecting to give the book and what I actually gave it/would have given it if I’d written a review.
1)The Book of the New Sun – Gene Wolfe (read 2008 – expected 2 stars, verdict 5 stars) and A Song of Ice and Fire – George RR Martin (read 2010 – expected 3 stars, verdict 5 stars) – my then new boyfriend (now fiancé) said Urth of the New Sun was his favourite series of books. I like a touch of fantasy but from the cover and the blurb this looked like the proper hardcore variety – at best dull, at worst ultra-trashy (or should that be the otherway round?) Nonetheless, I decided to read all four books in an effort to impress him AND ABSOLUTELY LOVED THEM. Absolute undoubted five stars. They have a fascinatingly complex plot, are written in beautiful language and are undoubtedly the most literary and post-modern genre novel I’ve ever read.
Dear man in sinister cape with massive sword – you are not filling me with confidence about the contents of this book
Despite this revelation I was unconvinced about the merits of my boyfriend’s second favourite series, ASoIaF, but decided to give them a whirl and devoured the whole series back to back. Needless to say, I now unquestioningly listen to all his book recommendations.
2)Anno Dracula – Kim Newman (read 2012 – expected 2/3 stars, verdict 5 stars)- I had a conversation with a friend at work that basically went, “you write vampire books. You have to read this.” From the eighties front cover it looked like pulpy horror and it took me ages to actually get around to reading it, but it turned out to be a brilliantly researched piece of Victoriana by an expert in pop culture and vampire lore.
Seriously, this does not look like a good book
This is the new cover, which would have left me much more enthusiastic from the outset
3)Sparkles – Louise Bagshawe (read 2008 -expected 1 star, verdict 4 stars) – I don’t really do “Chick-lit.” I read this for one reason and one reason only – when I was on the Oxford Union committee, its author, Louise Bagshawe (Mensch) was coming to participate in a debate we were holding about Tory women. I’d mainly invited her because she’d been selected as a ministerial candidate, but thought it would be rude not to read one of her books.
I picked up the book, with its pink sparkly cover, through gritted teeth, to the amusement of everyone who saw me with it. But it was actually great fun – obviously not great literature, but surprisingly well-plotted, with some wild twists and turns , and above all, absolutely addictive. When no one was looking, I read most of her other books in quick succession.
4) The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (read 2011 – expected 1/2 stars, verdict 4 stars) – the more hyped-up this series became, the more I determined to avoid it. The premise didn’t really appeal and I generally find that supposed “must-read” books don’t live up to expectations. I finally cracked after a friend persuaded me. I’m not saying it became an all-time favourite or anything, just that I was expecting it to be awful and it was actually quite engaging.
5) Vampire Diaries 1 – LJ Smith (read 2000-ish – expected 2/3 stars, verdict 5 stars)- As a young teenager, I read LJ Smith’s Secret Circle. It was about witches and Greek mythology, two things that hugely appealed to me and I predictably loved it. I read the whole trilogy back to back and then desperately went looking for any other books by the same author. The only other series was described as “vampire romance.” I distinctly remember the way that neither term appealed – one sounded too scary, the other too sappy. But I’d love the Secret Circle so much that I forced myself to read them – and to this day I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading something to quite the extent I experienced that weekend. Other books quickly replaced them in my favourites list and there are a lot of books I’d regard as objectively better, but for sheer love at the time there’s little competition. I spent most of the next two years reading any vampire romance I could get my hands on, but nothing ever quite hit the spot in the same way. It’s probably the only time a book hasn’t just changed my preconception of itself, but of an entire genre.
1) Vampire Diaries 5-7 – LJ Smith(read 2011 – expected 4 stars, verdict 2 stars) Following on from the above, I was excited (if slightly nervous) to hear there was going to be a new trilogy, about twenty years after the first were published and ten years after I read them. The first was disappointing, the second was actually quite good but still massively below expectations and the third was a train wreck. If they’d been a different series by a different author, I could have dismissed them as a diverting but disappointing read, as it was I was actually left slightly traumatised. Perhaps the saddest thing was that there were the odd splashes of the old brilliance here and there.
2) Number 9 Dream – David Mitchell ( read 2006 – expected 5 stars, verdict 3 stars) This wasn’t terrible, it’s just that I’ve loved ever other book by David Mitchell and this one just didn’t work for me. There were some good bits, but lots that was surreal, lots that was a bit dull and lots of extremely odd plot devices.
Not being as good as Cloud Atlas does not make you a bad book but I’m going to resent you for it anyway
3)Anita Blake -Laurell K Hamilton (read 2009 – expected 4/5 stars, verdict 2 stars) Ever since I expressed an interest in vampire novels as a teenage and more so since I started writing them myself, everyone on the internet was telling me I should read these (albeit with some warning that they go rapidly downhill as the series goes on). They sounded great – vampires that were attractive and scary in equal measure, a strong heroine and lots of sexy scenes. And when I finally read the first book all of that was there, but somehow it just didn’t work for me at all. You know how sometimes you meet someone who is attractive and nice and you have loads in common with them but there’s just no chemistry – well, it was a bit like that.
4) A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (read 2010 – expected 5 stars, verdict 3 star) – with a Pulitzer Prize win and just the sort of multiple-perspectives and non-chronological narrative I like in a literary novel, plus a rock music theme, I was expecting to love this. Instead I just read it, vaguely enjoyed it and instantly forgot about it. Which is almost worse than hating a book.
5)The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie (2011, exp. 4/5, verdict DNF) and The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch (2012, exp 4/5, verdict 3)- I’m clubbing these together partly because I’m rapidly running out of entries, partly because everyone seems to mention them in the same breath and partly because I had a similar problem with both books. Basically, I’d seen lots of people say “If you like Game of Thrones and/or Kingkiller Chronicles, you’ve got to read these.” I was expecting clever, modern, epic fantasy, but I found both of them quite predictable and clichéd.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with a bit of clichéd genre writing (says the girl who unashamedly has a vampire love triangle all over her books) but I couldn’t understand why everyone was claiming these books redefined the genre or were anything like the favourites they were being compared with.
The man with the big sword would have put me off had the other book not lulled me into a false sense of security