Books Read in 2020: Two-Star Reads

When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey: Synopsis from Goodreads: A moving, darkly funny novel about six teens whose magic goes wildly awry from Magic for Liars author Sarah Gailey, who Chuck Wendig calls an “author to watch.Keeping your magic a secret is hard. Being in love with your best friend is harder.Alexis has always been able to rely on two things: her best friends, and the magic powers they all share. Their secret is what brought them together, and their love for each other is unshakeable—even when that love is complicated. Complicated by problems like jealousy, or insecurity, or lust. Or love.That unshakeable, complicated love is one of the only things that doesn't change on prom night.When accidental magic goes sideways and a boy winds up dead, Alexis and her friends come together to try to right a terrible wrong. Their first attempt fails—and their second attempt fails even harder. Left with the remains of their failed spells and more consequences than anyone could have predicted, each of them must find a way to live with their part of the story.

This was quite disappointing, given that the description sounded really cool - Witches! Girl power! Queerness! I was a bit unsure how to review it, given that a lot of people really, really liked it. I didn't,  but I can see how it would be important and very welcome for some. I didn't like that the teenaged boy whose death - accidental, but wholly undeserved - begins the whole story was sort of an "oh well, so sad" addendum to the 'girl power' thing, but there are many books where women are killed off to advance a man's emotional development. I found the protagonist pretty annoying, but I was much like her at the same age. I felt like it was almost trying too hard to cover multiple angles of representation, but representation for many of those is long overdue, so.... yeah. I did love Alexis's relationship to her family. 

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough: Synopsis from Goodreads: Marriage can be murder…SOMETHING OLDMarcie’s affair with Jason Maddox catapulted her into the world of the elite. Old money, old ties, old secrets. Marcie may have married into this world — but she’ll never be part of it.SOMETHING NEWThen Jason’s boss brings back a new wife from his trip to London. Young, attractive, reckless — nobody can take their eyes off Keisha. Including Marcie’s husband.SOMETHING YOU CAN NEVER, EVER UNDO…Some people would kill for the life Marcie has—what will she do to keep it?

Nope. This is an author I keep trying to give one more chance, because she wrote some cool twisted stuff a long time ago and because I keep confusing her with another author I like more. This was fine for what it was, but I'm just not into the psychological thriller based on adultery and sex, and it went on for way too long and then the end was like, um, what? Done. Too many books in the world. 

Snap by Carol Snow: Synopsis from Goodreads: Madison Sabatini thought she knew who she was: an almost-sophomore with a bright future. The newest photographer on her school paper. A shopaholic with great hair and a fabulous wardrobe. Then, in a flash, everything changed.  Now she's stuck in Sandyland, a gloomy beach town in the middle of nowhere, living with her parents in a crappy hotel "suite." Instead of spending the summer with her friends at home, she's hanging out with pink-haired Delilah, an artist who works in a shop called Psychic Photo, and a skater boy named Duncan who's totally not her type. Except, maybe he is . . .Determined to make the best of things, Madison throws herself into her one passion: photography. But when strange figures start appearing in her pictures—people who weren't there when she snapped the shots, people who are later reported dead—she begins to question everything about who she is . . . and who she wishes she could be.

Interesting concept, but the fact is that there are so many really good tween and young adult books now that that's not enough. The characterization was sort of flat and obvious and nothing other than the supernatural plot thread was the least bit nuanced or surprising. It was a lunch-time library read from work, so no loss.

Wonderland by Zoje Stage: Synopsis from Goodreads: If Shirley Jackson wrote The Shining, it might look like this deliciously unsettling horror novel from the acclaimed author of Baby TeethA mother must protect her family from the unnatural forces threatening their new and improved life in a rural farmhouse.The Bennett family - artist parents and two precocious children - are leaving their familiar urban surroundings for a new home in far upstate New York. They're an hour from the nearest city, a mile from the nearest house, and everyone has their own room for the very first time. Shaw, the father, even gets his own painting studio, now that he and his wife Orla, a retired dancer, have agreed that it's his turn to pursue his passion.But none of the Bennetts expect what lies waiting in the lovely woods, where secrets run dark and deep. Orla must finally find a way to communicate with - not just resist - this unknown entity that is coming to her family, calling to them from the land, in the earth, beneath the trees... and in their minds.

Started out promisingly but then was slow and repetitious and then somehow both vague and over-explainy at the same time. I think I could sort of sense what she was going for, but the execution was sadly lacking. I'm glad I'm not the only one who was annoyed that the daughter was named Eleanor Queen - her explanation about Eleanor of Aquitaine was understandable if the middle name was just mentioned, but SHE CALLED HER THAT REGULARLY, EW, SO PRETENTIOUS.


The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht: Synopsis from Goodreads: The city of Elendhaven sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats. A monster who cannot die. His frail master sends him out on errands, twisting him with magic, crafting a plan too cruel to name, while the monster’s heart grows fonder and colder and more cunning. These monsters of Elendhaven will have their revenge on everyone who wronged the city, even if they have to burn the world to do it. 

This was a bitter disappointment, by which I mean I disappointed myself. It sounded SO COOL and I thought I was going to love it SO MUCH, and it was on hold as a library ebook and it came in JUST IN TIME to read in Spooky Season and then I just couldn't connect with it. It was absolutely creepy, and weird, and it should have been right up my alley. I can still call up the image of the city in my mind. And yet I did not like it. I did not want to pick it up and keep reading once it was put down. It was a struggle to finish it. I consider this a personal failure. 



Comments

Ernie said…
I've been reading whatever my book club has on the upcoming list. I've had good luck, mostly - but man . . . there's nothing like a book that doesn't measure up to expectations. I usually finish a book because I feel like maybe it'll get better but I've run into a few that I didn't even bother completing. Thanks for the overview.
Nicole said…
I am here for the annual book reviews!!
StephLove said…
I sometimes feel I'm not using the 5-star system very efficiently on GR, because I'm stingy with 5s, very rarely give 2s and I have yet to give anything a 1, so it's a sea of undifferentiated 3s and 4s. But on the other hand it makes sense because I select the books I read and I almost pick books I like. And I do like to save 5s for books that really rock my world.

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