It is time… for my most controversial post of the year, my most disappointing reads of 2020. This is not my least favorite reads – I don’t actually do a post about those because I don’t enjoy hating on books – this are the books that just didn’t meet my expectations. So there are actually still some good books on this list, and even one I gave four stars (I was just expecting it to blow me away, and it didn’t).
These are the ten books that, unfortunately, disappointed me the most this year:
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
One of my favorite books of last year was Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger. So I had pretty high hopes going into this one. And, while I did enjoy it, it just didn’t capture me quite as much as The Night Tiger did. Which was really disappointing, because this book had such an intriguing premise. I’m not exactly sure what it was, but I just didn’t connect to it as much as I wanted to. This might just be one of those books I revisit in a few years to see if I change my mind, because it’s quite possible I just picked this up at the wrong time.
Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
I was so looking forward to this one. Both Bill Gates and Barack Obama have recommended it, and I nearly always love their recommendations. This book proved to be the exception to that rule. Honestly, I think my expectations were overly high, just because of the sheer number of books Bill Gates has recommended and I loved. But I think the reason I didn’t love this one is because I’ve already read a few other memoirs set in Appalachia. And quite frankly, this just didn’t hold a candle to The Glass Castle or Educated. Those two just had a lot more substance to them. I think if I’d read this one first, I might have enjoyed it a lot more.
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
I really like Margaret Atwood. I think this is the third book of hers that I’ve read. The first was, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale, which is fantastic. And I also really enjoyed The Heart Goes Last, which is kind of an underrated book. I picked this up for the post where I read retellings of my favorite Shakespeare plays. Based on the premise, I can’t say my hopes were super high for this one, but it’s Atwood based on The Tempest, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? Wrong. I didn’t enjoy this at all. It was actually the second retelling of The Tempest I’ve read, and I’m starting to think it’s just not a great play for retellings. Neither of them worked particularly well as retellings, and I also just didn’t like them.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
The hype totally got me on this one. I feel like everyone was talking about this last year. And I was kind of convinced I was really going to enjoy it (so much so I also bought another Ann Patchett book, too). I was also pretty excited about the audiobook, because it’s read by Tom Hanks. But even Tom Hanks could not keep my attention on this book. I didn’t dislike it, but I was bored. Which really isn’t what I was hoping for. I was definitely disappointed, because I did really want to like this. But it is what it is, I guess.
The Marriage Game by Sara Desai
Last year, I got really into reading romance. This year, I wanted to read more diverse romance. So I was curious about this one, which is a retelling of one of my favorite books of all time: Pride and Prejudice. If I’m being honest, I didn’t have very high hopes for this one, but I was hoping for a fun, diverse romance that I could share with all of you. And it was fine, not my favorite, but not the worst thing I’ve read. Until I got to the end. Because then the author used a pretty icky plot device that completely turned me off. As much as I hate to say it, I just didn’t enjoy this one. And months later, the cringe-y thing at the end is literally all I can remember about it.
The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
This sounded so fun! Like a mash-up of Gone Girl and Crazy Rich Asians. I was super into the premise. But I also had an early copy of this, so there weren’t very many reviews to go off of. Which means I didn’t know that this supposed thriller was so boring. I struggled to get through this, and I was honestly kind of annoyed about it. I really wanted to like this, but it just felt so long. By the time I got to the end, I didn’t really care who the murderer was, I just wanted to be done.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Oh, this book. I had such high hopes for this book. It was one of my five-star predictions for this year (my wrap up for that will be up soon). And the first third of it was some of the most beautiful writing I have read all year. I loved it so, so much. It was gorgeous and wonderful and made me want to go sit under a tree and savor it. And then… it got weird. It turned from a beautiful ode to trees into a message about environmental activism. Which I didn’t hate, I just didn’t think they fit together very well. I just wanted more of the first part instead of being tossed into what felt like a completely different book. And I was sad when I didn’t get that.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
I was excited about this one, because I’d heard good things and was looking forward to reading a new-to-me diverse author. But this book was extra disappointing because there wasn’t a single thing I disliked about it. I just didn’t connect to it at all. This was totally a me issue, though; I struggle with stories about mother-child relationships because I have a bad relationship with mine. I don’t identify with them and they tend to trigger my anxiety. Not every time, which is why I still read them occasionally. But this was definitely not one of the exceptions, unfortunately.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
I know this is apparently one of the best books of the year, but I didn’t get it. At all. I was so excited for what everyone was saying was a thriller with racial commentary. And the entire time I was reading, I waiting for those things. Which never happened. I even had a discussion afterwards with an author friend and both of us had the same impression of this book. Which was basically, “WTF did I just read?” I kept waiting for something to happen, and it never did. Which was so frustrating because it got so close to something happening. There were quite a few times I thought this would turn into magical realism, and then the weird thing was literally never mentioned again. Like, it had no impact on the story at all. There was a lot I didn’t like, and I was mostly just confused. Probably my most disappointing read of the year, if I’m being honest.
The Stand by Stephen King
This is probably the most controversial book on this list. But let me preface this by saying I still gave this book four stars. I was just expecting to absolutely love it. I loved IT last year, and a friend who always recommends what turn out to be my favorite books suggested this one. So I went into this absolutely expecting a five-star read. But it was just so long. Which I’m fine with, but it didn’t draw my attention the same way IT did to keep me invested in the story for fourteen-hundred pages. Towards the end, I was just ready to finish it. I may someday give this a second chance, but this year, it was definitely disappointing.
That’s it for my most disappointing reads of this year. There are only a few on this list that I gave less than three stars, so I don’t really think any of these are terrible books. They’re just the ones that didn’t meet my expectations.
Did any books disappoint you this year?