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Things I Like About Books I Don’t

I feel the need to be aggressively positive today; hence this post.

Spoiling its own ending: The Book Thief

I know it bothers some people that our friendly narrator Death is continually going, “Oh, and by the way, this person is going to die, tragically – but we’ve got at least two hundred pages to go till then, so let’s not focus on that for now!”  Personally, though, I loved it.

It calls to mind mythology. Like, for example, I’m currently trudging through the Iliad, and you know how every other line someone says something about how Achilles is not long for this world?  Or how Norse tales often have those little passing comments, “oh, and this is the very same beast that will KILL EVERYONE at Ragnarok!” “oh, yes, by the way, the reason this person is here is because he hasn’t been TRAGICALLY KILLED yet. because you haven’t got to that part yet. you know, the part where he’s TRAGICALLY KILLED.” Also I seem to remember a lot of dire foretellings being foretold when Cu Chulainn acquired his spear.

Anyway, the point is, mythology and heroic legend often spoil their major plot points as, sort of, a way of emphasizing their importance. At least I assume that’s why they do it. Maybe it’s also to make you savor what you’ve got while you’ve got it and to heighten your awareness of tragic irony.  It’s a very myth-like thing to do, is what I’m saying, and so The Book Thief doing it kind of gives the story that mythological feel that I think it’s going for. In a modern way.

So yeah, I think it’s cool Marcus Zusak did that.

Bryant + Anna: The Salzburg Connection

What’s this, you say? A Helen MacInnes novel that Sarah doesn’t like?

Yes, my friends, alas, it is so.

Perhaps the main reason I don’t like it is because Bryant and Anna get such…well, to keep it spoiler-free, they get such short shrift. Both of them. It’s not fair.

But I loved Bryant from page one.  And throughout the rest of the story, punctuating the dark stretches of boringness (because even suspense novels aren’t all that captivating if you don’t care if any of the characters die) like brief flashes of spring lightning, a hint here and a passing reference there, are moments that make me go, “Bryant, I love you.”  And other moments that make me go, “Anna, I love you.”

Bryant is this levelheaded (former?) British agent living in Austria. Anna is his (Viennese, I think) wife, who is very nice and very proud of her husband and not very good at keeping her house clean. They’re just both kind of darling, and I wish there was a book with them as the main characters.

King George III + Kell + Kell’s coat: A Darker Shade of Magic

I suppose it’s not really fair to say I didn’t like A Darker Shade of Magic. I’d probably give it three stars if I had to rate it?  It was fun. I liked it enough to read the sequel, which turned out to be a terrible decision. But the opening chapters gave me such high expectations, and they were…not met.


Kell wore a very peculiar coat.

It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.

The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.

See? You see why I was drawn in? What a delightful opening. (I vaguely remember Cait@PaperFury always saying that she shipped Kell with his coat? And this I can support.)

So anyway, Kell, who’s a magical traveller between worlds, then goes on to visit the mad King of England, George III (before he visits the Prince Regent – take that, Prinny!) and feels sorry for him.

Kell paused. There was nothing more, save a signature. King George wrung his hands.

“Is that all it says?” he asked.

Kell hesitated.  “No,” he said, folding the letter. “That’s only the beginning.”

He cleared his throat and began to pace as he pulled his thoughts together and put them into the queen’s voice. “Thank you for asking after our family, she says.  The King and I are well. Prince Rhy, on the other hand, continues to impress and infuriate in equal measure, but has at least gone the month without breaking his neck or taking an unsuitable bride. Thanks be to Kell alone for keeping him from doing either, or both.”

V. E. Schwab was a smart, smart lady to start the book with this scene, I’m just saying.  From the moment he was as kind as he could be to a lonely, aging king, I was devoted to Kell.  I’m still devoted to Kell.

Kell is amazing.

Nancy: Oliver Twist

brb sobbing

The desert: The Blue Sword

I’ve never read a Willa Cather book, but I’ve heard it said the land itself is a huge part of her stories, almost the protagonist. And that makes me want to read one someday. Besides, recently, All the Crooked Saints (and, come to think of it, The Scorpio Races too…Maggie Stiefvater gets it), I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book where the land itself has as much…character, as much hold on people, as it does in real life. (Maybe The Home Ranch does, a little? Maybe that’s why I like it so much.)

But maybe I have. Maybe that’s The Blue Sword. In one of the beginning chapters, Harry had a conversation with the nice old colonel man. Most of the soldiers stationed at this fort complained about the heat and monotony of the desert and couldn’t wait to be transferred to a more topographically interesting post. But the colonel loved the desert. He didn’t want to leave. He’d fallen reluctantly in love with the very bleakness and bareness and harshness and red-yellow sand of it. And Harry was the same. Not that she didn’t miss her old wooded home – but the desert had got ahold of her, some way, without her suspecting.

That was when I started grinning ear to ear because I just knew it was going to be a wonderful book. (Which it wasn’t. But for the moment I was thrilled.) A book that understood how deeply some people’s feet have sunk in their soil, how home is more than people and even a little more than family – it’s roots you put down into the very bedrock of a place, twined with the roots of everything in that place, un-pull-up-able, always reaching out to touch the untouchable center, the elusive heart. Of…of this place. This land.

I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I felt like the book almost managed to explain it, and I still cherish some really amicable feelings toward it (despite my disappointments with, like, every other aspect of it) because of that.

Alrighty, that’s all the positivity I can muster. What are your opinions on these books and these elements? What are books you’ve read where you really like one element, but the book overall is a disappointment? Tell me in the comments below! Like and subscribe and don’t forget to hit the notification bell if you want to be notified every time I post a new video!

Author: Sarah Seele

A Christian, cat owner, amateur-historian-who-also-really-likes-rocks, wannabe sheep farmer, and writer. Fond of stories. Fond of rain.

34 thoughts on “Things I Like About Books I Don’t”

  1. Oliver Twist destroyed me. I cried so hard with Nancy. I even had seen several movie versions before I read it and I’d cried then so I thought that I was prepared. Nope. I like that book besides that.

    This is an awesome post idea! I might borrow it…


    1. I KNOW. It destroyed me too (though unlike you I had no idea what was coming)! I read it a long time ago and that mayyy be the main reason I dislike the book? Because HOW DARE DICKENS.

      Oh, please do! I’d be so interested to see what you come up with!


  2. I know, I love it when myths talk about which character is going to die sometime in the future, too! I’m just curious, how come you didn’t like The Book Thief? I’ve never read it all the way through.

    And that scene with Kell really does sound compelling. It’s a shame the rest of the book didn’t hold up. I remember hearing bad things about the trilogy? I never picked it up.

    I love this post idea so much, and I feel tempted to steal it. If you don’t mind, of course.


    1. The Book Thief, hmmm…lame ending that feel flat, so it resorted to melodrama to try and save it, which only made it flatter. Kind of ruined the book for me. Also, I kind of liked the narration style but also sometimes it was so MUCH, I would be like, okay, but can anyone ever just SAY stuff or must their words ALWAYS cartwheel out of their mouths and float around the room and turn a few somersaults in the corner before coming to rest at the addressed person’s feet? If you know what I mean.
      Idk. Why did you stop reading it? Were you not enjoying it or was it just one of those things that happens?

      Huh, I wish I had your sources. I’ve only ever heard great things about the trilogy lol. (Also nobody raves about Kell either? And I don’t get it? Why would you rave about Lila, she’s horrid. While Kell is over here just being FABULOUS.)

      Please please steal it! I feel like it would be such a fun thing to see your opinions about!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I stopped reading it because I found a copy at someone else’s house and didn’t get to finish it! It’s too bad the ending didn’t work for you. I hate it when that happens. I was pretty young when I read (half of) it, so I don’t really remember the writing style, but I can see how that could get annoying really fast! XD

        I remember people saying that Lila was really ‘not like other girls’ and kind of a jerk, from what I remember? I mainly remember someone sharing a quote of something she said that made me think it was probably not worth my time. Something about how she liked knives instead of dresses and that made her…special or something?? Girl, I like knives AND dresses. And you know what? Neither of those things give me a personality!!

        Thanks!! I definitely want to try to write up a blog post!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha, that is something that has happened to me too many times. If you were enjoying it I hope you get a chance to finish someday! 😁

        Well, both are true. Except that “kind of a jerk” does not state the case in nearly full force. Lila is SUCH a jerk. An entitled jerk who thinks she can do no wrong but gets mad at other people for…doing…exactly what…she herself did? Because it’s strong and self-sufficient and Feminist when she does it? But when someone else does it it’s a horrible thing and how dare you and excuses ain’t gonna cut it? Like? Just? AAAARGJFJHHH. (Pardon me. I really hated Lila.)
        I don’t remember that quote specifically, but it sounds exactly like her, yes. And oh my gosh I knowww. You can like dresses or knives or both or neither and it’s all fine and just? Can we stop looking down on people who are Different Than Us? We are not better than them, they are not better than us, and in the end I don’t really care if you like knives or dresses, I care if you’re a kind and decent human being. /rant (sorry. I hated Lila so much. πŸ˜²πŸ˜‚)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I know, right?? Protagonist-centered morality and dunking on every other girl is sooo feminist, according to YA. Fake feminism in YA can honestly be so frustrating sometimes 😀 I’ve said this before, but hating other women is not the same thing as being feminist, heroines!
        Also, protagonist-centered morality is just the worst and is one of the writing flaws I hate most in any story. There’s no faster way to get me to root for your villains! πŸ˜€ (Oh no, it’s fine, I love hearing people rant about books XD It’d be pretty unfair for me to complain since I do it so much, besides!)
        I know! And the implication that certain types of girls are ‘lesser’ for having different tastes is just…ew. It’s okay if you like fashion and embroidery or what not rather than fighting, and it’s okay if your tastes don’t tend to run in the ‘taking down kingdoms/armies’ direction! (Also, speaking from experience, embroidery is hard and I have mad respect for the people who do it.) Heroines like that ALWAYS annoy me.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. “Protagonist-centred morality” – I like that. I’ve never heard that way of putting it before. It’s good. I mean – IT’S not good. It’s the actual worst, but that way of putting it is good. XD
        Yeah, like…I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but sometimes I get second-hand embarrassment at these characters and the people who shout about how feminist they are… is putting other women down for being different than you feminist???? How is being a complete jerk to everyone in your life feminist????

        YES. That implication IS ew and I don’t care who makes it, enlightened liberal feminists or self-righteous conservative traditionalists, girls having different tastes than the tastes YOU deem acceptable for a girl to have…is…ARGH. IT MAKES ME MAD. Or sad. Mostly it makes me sad. (Also, yes. I embroidered a little when I was younger. It was so fun, but yes, it’s hard and I never had the patience to do much. People who do that are super cool to me. I think half of why I loved The Two Princesses of Bamarre so much was because the protagonist loved embroidering and it was even part of the plot! XD Embroidery is very cool.)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, a The Blue Sword fan! (I want to ask why you like it but that’s a weirdly broad question and it’s hard to explain specifically what I’m curious about without, like, complaining about a book you love, so I WILL REFRAIN, but have you read The Hero and the Crown?? And do you like it?)

      Thank you! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (*sighs* Yyesss, I liked it. But the romance stuff… weirded me out a little. Have you read it?
        As for The Blue Sword… it’s the aesthetic and the writing style and the characters and relationships and worldbuilding and… pretty much everything. There you go, a broad answer for a broad question.
        I’m down for hearing what you specifically don’t like if you want to share, though. I doubt you’ll change my mind but it could be a fun discussion.
        I pretty much love all of McKinley’s writing.)

        You’re welcome πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have read it! I actually adored most of it…but the romance stuff weirded me out also. xD and also, like, made me furious because HOW DARE YOU BE SO UNFAIR TO TOR. But yeah. I thought it was pretty gorgeous if it had ended differently…everything you said about The Blue Sword, basically, haha.
        Okay, if you really don’t mind, I’d love to share my Blue Sword thoughts and hear yours! Book discussions are fun, especially when it’s not about changing someone’s mind, just gaining a better appreciation for a different point of view, or at least I think so.
        McKinley’s characters are fantastic but it’s like she’s always interested in different ones than I am? I didn’t think there was enough Tor in THATC, and in Blue Sword it was even more pronounced…I loved that old colonel guy and that nice kid at the fort who liked Harry but then they…weren’t in it at all. And I didn’t care much for Corlath. (Even aside from the fact that he…habitually kidnaps and seduces young women? Apparently? That bothered me because it was like, first of all that’s not really okay behavior, and second of all how does Harry know he’ll be faithful to her? Harry wasn’t given a way to know that, and she also didn’t seem to care overly much, which, uh, that’s something you should care about, in my book anyway. But yeah. Not the kind of hero I’m into.)
        Also, I thought it had major pacing issues? We’d spend pages upon pages doing not much of anything, although there was a great deal of atmospheric loveliness going on – then Harry would learn stuff or something exciting would happen and it’d be GREAT but over so quickly. Which I found frustrating and disappointing.
        And I loved Harry at the beginning, but she seemed to get more and more…remote? as the book went on. Like, from the reader, not just a character quality she developed. I didn’t like that. I didn’t want her to lose ALL her awkwardness, all her abruptness, all her human qualities that so endeared her to me in the first few chapters.
        Yeah, idk, that’s what I remember not liking. If you have thoughts I’m all ears.

        Oh, and since you love McKinley, do you have opinions on Beauty and The Outlaws of Sherwood? I’ve been meaning to read them per Becky’s recommendation, because I also love McKinley’s writing style. 😁 So gorgeous.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah, I wished that more time had been spent with Tor too. He was my favorite Hero character. And Luthe (oh gosh, I can’t remember his name) was… weird.Β 

        I was also interested in Richard’s friend who likes Harry — too bad he wasn’t in the book more. He was a sweet guy. And Jack. But Jack was in it enough for me to really appreciate his character and not feel like I was deprived.

        As for Corlath, I didn’t get the impression that he was in the habit of seducing young women, more like he’d maybe done it once? But that could be faulty memory or me glossing over his faults because I really enjoyed his love story/happy ending.Β 

        But I would’ve liked Harry to care more about his past. Maybe she asked him in a scene that we don’t get to see.Β 

        There might have been issues with pacing, I guess, but I never really noticed because I was busy enjoying the story? It’s a captivating narrative and it didn’t bother me that it wasn’t all the same pace. Honestly, I was frustrated when some things were skipped over quickly, but I blamed that on my constant desire for books to be 600+ pages long and parts of mega-series. If I love characters, I never want to let them go. That’s just my personality.Β 

        Sure. Harry could’ve used more development later on. I guess all of your points are true, but I just love the story enough that I don’t care XD I like both of the Damar books a great deal and wish there were many more. Specifically, like, Aerin and Tor’sΒ adventures (and NEVER EVER MORE of that other guy, please), and maybe more of Harry and Richard? Corlath being more nice? Harry and Corlath’s early marriage? (Maybe I should tackle some fanfic…)Β 

        Beauty is a marvelous story! My personal favorite of McKinley’s (that I’ve read so far). Definitely read it in conjunction with Rose Daughter. The two read as a nice duology (even though their only connection is that they’re both Beauty and the Beast retellings). I also love Spindle’s End and Chalice. I haven’t tried The Outlaws of Sherwood yet but I’ve heard good things. Let me know what you think if you do!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Luthe was so weird. In both books. (That was him, the same guy, in The Blue Sword, right?)

        Come to think of it, I agree. Jack was awesome and I would’ve loved more of him, but there was enough of him to get a feel for his character, so that was nice. But I’m really sad about Richard’s friend. He did seem like SUCH a sweet guy.

        Haha. I get that. There are plenty of books I love and knowledge of their flaws abates my love NOT A JOT and, I mean, that’s great. Honestly, it’s a good thing people CAN love even flawed books, because every book has SOME flaws. (And I don’t remember well enough, either; I certainly got the impression Corlath was in the habit of seducing young women, but it could totally have been a one-time thing that I just interpreted wrongly. And ooh yes, I like the idea that Harry and Corlath had a conversation about it offscreen. I hope so.)
        Oh man. I love all those ideas. Aerin and Tor’s adventures? YES PLEASE. Oh I wish there was another Damar book about that… (It is sad there are only two. They are so LOVELY and atmospheric, with such REAL characters. There’s obviously so much more history and adventure to explore there.)

        Thank you! I will keep that all in mind. And I will!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yes, he’s the same one. I liked him better in The Blue Sword.

        There’s actually one other Damar book, but it’s a very short picture book set in the same world. I can’t recall the name just now. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other two but it does add to the worldbuilding.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I feel like the fact that he wasn’t having some horrible awful romance with the MC made him much better in The Blue Sword. I read Hero first though, so I was predisposed to hate him…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Out of these, I’ve only read The Book Thief, which I have mixed feelings on. But I definitely loved that mythic element (although I hadn’t noticed it was mythic–that’s an excellent point). I think it ultimately makes a death more sad when you see it coming from far away? You have more time to get worked up about how much you’re going to miss the character. L. M. Montgomery kind of did that with Walter and I DIED. I’m glad she gave us warning, but I wouldn’t say it made it less sad. And Fitzgerald kind of does it with Gatsby? He doesn’t come out and SAY, “by the way, this is the story of how Gatsby died,” but he gives you that feeling right off the bat. So yes. I quite approve of this tactic.

    (And oh how are you liking The Iliad? Slogging through sounds about right, heh heh, but have you made the acquaintance of Hector??)


    1. Yes, very good point. I think you’re less likely to have that sharp, shocked grief that you get when an unexpected death comes; but there’s time for your grief to…deepen, I guess. And I like that.
      And no, it doesn’t make it any less sad. I DIED TOO. WALTER 😭😭😭

      Made his acquaintance, yes. Got to know him at all yet, no. It’s slow going. But I AM enjoying it! And I’m also enjoying ranting to my sisters about what BABIES everyone is, heh. (I think the only un-infantile ones so far are, in fact, Hector and Odysseus…)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I find it so compelling when a book spoils its own ending like that. You would think it would detract from the impact of the ending when it actually comes…but it doesn’t. Sometimes I feel like it makes you spend those two-hundred pages hoping against hope that there could be some other way, and then when there isn’t and what you’ve been told is going to happen actually happens, it’s just as shattering. I love that about The Book Thief (actually, I love basically everything about the Book Thief, but moving on).
    I read the entire Shades of Magic trilogy, and it wasn’t my favorite. There was some things I really disliked about it. BUT KELL’S COAT THOUGH. And KELL. Kell is wonderful and I love him.


    1. YES. I feel like I once read a book where they did that and then in the end the person DIDN’T die? The hints actually meant something else? Which was super cool but also set me up for many heartbreaks down the road because now I always hope SO HARD that they won’t die! Because it could happen! Agh. It is painful.
      (I am curious what you disliked. And also what made you read the whole thing anyway.) Kell and his coat are MY PRECIOUS CHILDREN that MUST BE PROTECTED. Especially Kell, because nobody else is going to protect him, least of all himself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooh, I love it when books seem to be hinting at one thing, but then it turns out to be something else. Honestly, I think the biggest thing I didn’t like about the Shades of Magic series was all the romance/kissing etc. I don’t always mind romance, but reading detailed descriptions of people kissing and such just makes me really uncomfortable. As far as why I read the whole series, well we’ve already discussed Kell and his coat, so there’s that. Also I love complex family relationships, and Kell’s relationship with his adopted family is quite complicated (especially after he saves Rhy’s life in the first book).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know, me too!
        Ohh yes. Same. Detailed descriptions of kissing is just….so unnecessary and uncomfortable.
        Heh, that’s exactly why I read as much of the series as I did too! Kell and his coat and poor Kell and all his complicated family relationships. I felt so bad for Kell. I just wanted him to be okay.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. YES. Same! I actually liked that we were getting hints of what was going to happen later on in the story. It made everything sad and gloomy and I kind of had this sick feeling in my stomach the whole time because “oh no when is this character going to die? a couple minutes? three days? a year? I dOn’T wAnT tHeM tO DIEEE!!” 😭

    I’ve never read a Darker Shade of Magic but that beginning scenes…wowsers…that’s just a whole other level of awesomeness! πŸ˜„

    Thank you for this aggressively positive post, Sarah. It made my day! πŸ˜€


    1. I knooowww!!! It was amazing!!! (I believe this is the first time in my life I’ve referred to anything that gave me a sick feeling in my stomach as amazing…) And the fact that you didn’t know when it was going to happen was so…TENSE.

      I know, right? It is quirky perfection and cannot be improved upon.

      πŸ˜πŸ˜‚ Thank you! I’m glad to hear it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yo, I love that you did this! (I don’t know why I started this comment with “yo”- I guess I’m just in a “yo” kind of mood.) I tend to focus on the negative a LOT and trying to find good things about books that I disliked- or even DESPISED is probably a good exercise. I should do it more.
    I simply LOVE the opening to A Darker Shade of Magic, but I haven’t read the book. And I don’t think I ever will. I just love Kell’s coat, and I don’t think that reading the book will make me love it any more, so there’s no need. Also I hate it when the opening is the best part and the rest of the story is just downhill from there, and how could the rest of the book NOT be downhill with an opening like THAT to live up to? Just saying.
    I do like the way The Book Thief “spoils” itself, and I like how you compared it to mythology. It’s an interesting storytelling device, and I have yet to use it myself, but now I want to.
    Hm, one book I read that had a great element but was overall disappointing was A Face Like Glass. It had a super intriguing premise, and (some) cool world building things, but overall the story was disappointing and the characters were kind of boring.


    1. It was a really fun thing to do, actually. Also, I thought of doing it at all because of your cynicism post. So yes.

      Okay but yes. This is true and perhaps I should judge the Shades of Magic more kindly in light of that…there was literally NOWHERE to go but downhill. πŸ˜‚ I should have been as wise as you and realized that to begin with. (Also, I can confirm that reading the book doesn’t enhance one’s love of Kell’s coat. Maybe one’s love of Kell, a little – idk, I was devoted to him right off the bat tbh – but one gets all one needs, coat-wise, from the opening.)
      I’ve been trapped into so many mediocre books by stellar openings, it’s kinda sad. I appreciate authors going the extra mile to ensure their openings are fantastic, but would appreciate the same process applied to the rear of the story too.

      Yeah, I like it. I want to use it too, but I’m not sure when. I feel it needs the right story.

      Aw. That truly is disappointing. I hated that an awesome premise can be ruined by boring characters, but it’s SO true. This is really just proof that CHARACTERS ARE KING, because awesome characters AREN’T usually ruined by boring premises…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I try not to get bitter about it, but it seems that people are much more concerned with having good openings than good middles/endings because the goal is to sell the book, not to create a masterful work of literature. Some books fall so blatantly into that trap that I can’t believe it’s not deliberate. Good story-openers are spectacular, but not when they’re just used as bait.
        Definitely not bitter.
        CHARACTERS ARE KING. Yes. Always. If you haven’t got good characters, you haven’t got anything.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Of course you’re not bitter. I don’t detect a single trace of bitterness.
        THAT MAKES SENSE, though. That it’s about selling books more than creating good stories. It would explain how often it happens. I never even thought about it, because I know with my own stories a good beginning is pretty easy to create, but maintaining that quality throughout the story is HARD. I usually have to revise my openings much less than the rest of my story…sometimes I think authors just don’t revise enough. It’s weird to me that editors don’t make them, or that they don’t care enough, themselves.
        Gosh darn it, now I’m feeling bitter.

        It’s true.

        Liked by 1 person

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