Every year I do this post. And every year it ranks as one of my top posts of the year. So I am here to give the people what they want and talk about all of the books that disappointed me most in 2021. Now, just to clarify, these are not necessarily my least favorite books of the year (that post will be up later this week). And while there are definitely a few overlaps, almost all of the books on this list did not make my least favorites list. In fact, I didn’t dislike very many of these, I was just expecting more from them.
Now, I generally try not to approach books with very high expectations. But when an author writes one of my favorite books of all time, it’s really hard not to when reading something else by them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always end well. Which is the case for about half the books on this list. Others on this list started out really strong and were five-star reads for like a hundred pages and then completely lost momentum and flopped. But regardless of the reason, all ten of these books thoroughly disappointed me this year.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
I was really excited to read this. It’s set in Hawaii and centers around the family of a boy who, when he was two, falls overboard a boat into the ocean. He is returned – unharmed – to the arms of his mother in the jaws of a shark. There’s all of these mythical stories surrounding him, and he is treated like he’s somewhat of a god. And it reminded me so much of The Bone People by Keri Hulme, which I loved.
And I did really enjoy the beginning of this book. There was a bit of Hawaiian mythology and legend, the writing was really beautiful, and it just felt like something I was going to love. But then it became a completely different book. It ended up being a lot more about this family and their struggles, especially in relation to this “golden boy”. Which honestly wasn’t bad. It just was not the book I was set up to expect. And I wasn’t as interested in it as I was in the book this started out as.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Prior to picking this book up, I had only ever read short fiction by Hemingway. And I really enjoyed it, so I’d been wanting to read more. I got the opportunity this year for a reading experiment. (Not that I hadn’t had the opportunity before, I was just not making it a priority.) I don’t think this would be the Hemingway book I would have picked up if I’d had the option, because this as absolutely not the book for me.
I always approach unfamiliar classics with a little skepticism. I mean, I know what I’m getting with Jane Austen or Anne Brontë. But I still wasn’t quite prepared for what I was getting into with this book. It is a war story, which is already not my thing. But I can get past that (some of my favorite books have been about wars). The thing that really turned me off with this book is that the main conflict of the story is about something painful a woman goes through. And then the main character, who is a man, does not consider her feelings at all and makes it all about him. I did not appreciate that the story was forwarded along at the expense of one of the very few female characters. It just rubbed me the wrong way. I do kind of want to give Hemingway another shot – recommendations welcome – but I thin it will be a while.
For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing
It’s been a few years since I read My Lovely Wife, and I really liked that book. It is a good thriller. I haven’t gotten around to Samantha Downing’s second book – He Started It – but got the opportunity to read and review her newest book this year. So I was looking forward to a really fun thriller. But I did not get this one at all.
It just kind of felt like the adults in a high school were getting way too into the stupid teenage drama. If any of you have watched the new Gossip Girl reboot (I tried, but couldn’t make it through) and were annoyed by how the teachers were causing all the drama, that’s how I felt reading this book. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m in my thirties or that I’ve had a lot of trauma caused by adults being immature when I was a kid, but I cannot handle adults not acting like adults. And I actually felt bad about not liking this one because the author seems so nice! I know a lot of people have liked this, but it just didn’t work for me.
Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I absolutely loved Gods of Jade and Shadow when I read it a few years ago. Then I read Mexican Gothic when that was released and liked it, but didn’t love it. But this book was so not my cup of tea. I was willing to give it a chance because I enjoyed Gods so much. I think it’s great when authors can branch out and try different genres. And the three books I’ve read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia have been from very different genres. But it’s also nice to know what I’m getting into when I pick up a book by an author I’m familiar with.
Unfortunately, this is the book that made me realize that seventies noir is really not my thing. I didn’t enjoy really anything about this book. The characters bugged me, the writing felt so different than what I loved about Gods, and the story just did not work for me at all.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
I am so sad about this one! I loved Red, White, & Royal Blue and have been looking forward to this book for years. It reminded me of Kate & Leopold (which is a reference that probably ages me, but whatever). And I loved that it was a time-traveling, lesbian romance. And I did still like this book. However, I just couldn’t fully get into it. It literally took me months to get through it, and I wasn’t really all that excited to pick it back up whenever I put it down.
And let’s all be honest here: we read romance for the steamy scenes. But the ones in this book made me feel a little… cringy. Let me put it this way: one of the characters is literally unable to ever leave a subway car. I have never been to New York, but I have been on a subway (and have heard NY subways are dirtier), so that super skeeved me out and I could not get past it. The characters were cute and the romance was cute and the story was fine, but that was a hard nope from me.
Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore
So this one is the third book in the A League of Extraordinary Women series. And I really liked the first two! Feminist historical romance is kind of my jam (and I think the only kind of historical romance I’m interested in reading). What I am not a fan of is romance that involves deception. It’s really not cute. And it kind of made me not enjoy this book as much as the other two. It felt like this story was very different than the first two books, and not in a good way.
I also think this book dragged. There were things I did like about it, but I also kind of just wanted it to be over. I don’t know. This one just didn’t work for me at all. I read romance novels because they’re fun, and this one was not fun.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
This isn’t a book I feel like I can say I was enjoying, because the subject matter is really tough, but for about the first half, I was really into the story and the characters. It’s about a teacher who has a sexual relationship with one of his students at a boarding school. And I’m sure you can guess how I was hoping this would end. I kept turning pages just waiting for karma or justice or something. And then something happens in the middle of the book that makes any of that impossible.
After that moment, I was not as excited to keep reading this book. I lost all motivation to get to the end. And when I finally did, it was so anticlimactic and unsatisfying. While I do appreciate that this book went in a direction that most readers probably would expect, it made the book less enjoyable to read. With this particular story, I think the more predictable ending would have worked better, at least for me. If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear what you think.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
I had heard so many things about how amazing this book was. So I will totally take the blame here for jumping in mostly blind. Sometimes that is the best way to read thrillers, but not when they have triggers. For me, it’s any sort of animal in pain. I cannot handle it, and this book has a lot of that. I couldn’t get past it and even try to enjoy the story.
There were also a lot of other things in this book that were weird and just didn’t work for me. I think had I gone into this one having done more research, I wouldn’t have bad such high expectations. But I picked this up on a recommendation from someone who introduced me to some of my absolute favorite books. So it was definitely a little disappointing that this one wasn’t for me. Even though I don’t feel bad about not liking a book that contained what felt like animal abuse.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is one of my favorite books. I loved it so much, and was so excited about this one that I preordered a signed copy. Which just makes it that much more disappointing that I did not like this one. I know there is some moral or whatever, but it really just felt like a poor little rich kid, life is hard kind of story. And with everything I have been through in my life, I don’t have a ton of sympathy for people who have to deal with the consequences of their actions (or inactions), especially when nothing really terrible is happening to them.
This was obviously well-written and there were some interesting moments, but I felt basically nothing for any of the characters. Which is kind of something I need if I’m going to enjoy a book. This had me rethinking wanting to read more by Emily St. John Mandel because her other books seem a lot more similar to this one than to Station Eleven. But I may or may not have already preordered her 2022 release, so I think I’ll give her one more shot.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
This is possibly the most disappointing book of them all. Because Homegoing is one of my favorite books of all time. I read it years ago, and I still think about it regularly. It is such a brilliant, amazing novel. Genuinely a masterpiece. So I was kind of convinced that Yaa Gyasi would become a favorite author and was so excited that we finally got a second novel!
But she took such a huge departure with this one (again, I have nothing against authors branching out), that it did not really work for me. I honestly can’t believe the same person wrote both books. To be fair, if I’d read the same synopsis and wasn’t familiar with the author, I might not have picked it up. I pretty much only read this because Yaa Gyasi wrote it. And it just was not for me. Which is fine, it happens. But I can still be sad about it.
Okay, that’s it for my most disappointing books of 2021! I hope you enjoyed this post. And keep an eye out for my least favorite books of the year, which is coming very soon (followed by all my actual favorites).
What books disappointed you this year?
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