Short reviews: Runners up and bad books

bad book

I’m very fortunate to receive lots of novels and non-fiction books free – bad books, blah books and good books – in the expectation that I’ll review them. I am hugely grateful to authors and publishers for the opportunity to read them, and to share the books I love with other avid readers. Occasionally, I hit a bad book, or a boring one…

What makes a bad book?

Some books are bad or blah because they’re just not to my taste. Some are badly written (although I am very tolerant of a badly-written book if it’s a great story!). Some reveal that the author has ideas or values I don’t share or am revolted by. Some are just worthy-but-dull. Blah.

But my bad or blah book might be someone else’s favourite. So here’s a list of books that I only gave 1, 2 or 3 stars. I was bored by them or hated them, or just not inspired enough to write a full review, but hey, you might think otherwise. There’s no accounting for taste…

Helle and Death

by Oskar Jensen

A fairly enjoyable whodunnit. The story is a classic locked room mystery.

Bunch of people in their 30s, who were friends a decade ago, brought together in an old mansion, and get snowed in. Then the host is murdered. Yes — it’s an Agatha Christie revival, this time with a Danish guest-turned-sleuth.

Nobody loves a classic British mystery more than I do, and I’m all for reviving the classic formula. But Helle and Death is a 2.5-star read for me because it felt rather formulaic. And I mean formulaic, rather than ‘homage’. It’s clever, well structured and intriguing, so it probably deserves a better review than this, but it just didn’t hit the mark for me. This is parotting the classic form while bringing nothing new. Nothing stood out for me apart from the narration: the audio version is a pleasure to listen to.

The House Hunt

by C. M. Ewan

Very mixed feelings about The House Hunt.

Boy is it a page turner! It grips like superglue. For a couple of nights I got way too little sleep: first, I couldn’t put the book down and then, once I finally did, in the early hours, I was haunted by it and unable to sleep. And then I had nightmares. I put all this in the PROS because it takes skill to create such strong feelings in the reader.

It’s well written, and very visual; you feel like you are in that house, right in the middle of the action. You can feel the claustrophobia, the menace, the tension. I really was totally hyped while reading and had to force myself to take deep breaths to calm my heart. Wow!

I didn’t particularly like it, didn’t like any of the characters and found the plot stretched the bounds of believability to snapping point. In fact, much as I couldn’t put the book down, so I couldn’t wait for the whole unpleasant experience to be over.

So I’ll give it a 4 for the skill and the author’s success in creating a tense, claustrophobic thriller. And a very personal 2 stars for the unpleasantness (and plot weaknesses). Overall then, a 3-start read for me. Judge for yourself if this is your cup of tea!


by Clare Pollard

This was an interesting read in that it throws you back into what it was actually like to be in lockdown day after day, as a deeply abnormal situation became totally normalised. I enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere. It captures it remarkably well. All this interlinked with a story of research into prophecy.

This is in many ways a very good novel, well written and quite poetic in parts, well constructed and clever. The only issue for me is that while I enjoyed reading it, it had no lasting impact at all. I struggle even to remember reading it. 

Head First

by Alastair Santhouse

Bad-book alert!

This one annoyed me so much it gets it own review (or rant). 

See: Head First – Alastair Santhouse

The Gifts of Imperfection

by Brené Brown

Bad-book alert!

This one annoyed me even more. (It must annoy others too. This review/rant gets more Likes on Goodreads than any of my other reviews!)

See: The Gifts of Imperfection – Brené Brown

The Serial Killer’s Daughter

by Alice Hunter

This is a fairly standard crime mystery/thriller. It’s a decent read, quite compelling, but doesn’t stay in your mind after finishing it.

The literary equivalent of a bag of chips.

Time Glitch

by Brona Mills

I liked this. Time Glitch is a futuristic, time travel, romance and thriller in one. I found it pretty gripping.

It’s not the most skillful writing but I thought the time glitch element was well handled. Hard to explain why without spoilers. The aspect of people travelling from the future to save humanity is well done, adding a melancholy to the ‘present’ as well as a sense of urgency.

Good characters, solid plotting… it’s a decent read and I think I’d be curious to read the next in the sequel.

What Doesn’t Kill Her

by Paul G. Vecchiet

DNF. I only reached about 15% on this as it is very poorly written. Even though there are suggestions that the story might become quite interesting, the narrative style isn’t. There’s no ebb and flow, no variation in tone. As I ‘listened’ to the words in my mind, while reading, all I could hear was a dull, monotonous drone.

It’s also poorly edited. It feels like every page has more than its fair share of dangling modifiers, ambiguous modifiers, misused or missing commas… To take one random example:
“Katrina arrived fifteen minutes early to find the Commander, with the assistance of an orderly and a quad-cane entering the lobby.”

So you (or at least I) constantly get halted in the reading flow and have to reread to understand what’s happening. It’s no fun.

I’ll give 2 stars to give the author the benefit of the doubt as regards the story itself.

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies

by Maddie Mortimer

This book has a lyrical style that I quickly lost patience with. For example:

“Lia remembered the way he looked at the door as if he were a snake and the rain had just washed off a layer of his skin. Unwrapped and remade, there he was.”

Or: “Walking down their street, the pain rattled in Lia’s toes noisily.”

Apart from the irritation I feel due to this dangling modifier, I don’t like authors that make me work this hard to understand them.

There is a story in there, lost in all these words. The style becomes even more overblown as the novel progresses.

Some readers might love this, find it lyrical and experimental and moving and heart-rending. I find it too clever by half.

All the Wicked Games

by Lauren North

Let’s start on the positive: All the Wicked Games is competently written, well plotted and keeps you guessing. Lots of twists and turns — so if that’s your thing, it delivers.

So why only 2 stars? The short answer is that I found it formulaic and stretching the bounds of credibility.

The long answer is more an ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ thing. Maybe I’m just jaded and done with mystery novels (at least contemporary ones — I’ll take a classic British early 20th century mystery any day!).

Years ago, after being pretty addicted to serial-killer novels, I just quit. It seemed like authors were going round and round in circles and the only thing ‘new’ in each one was more gore, more ‘twisted’ psychology. More bodies piling up. The tropes started to bore the pants off me (investigator becomes target / killer playing mind games / race against the clock, bla bla bla). It all became silly and predictable.

The same thing seems to be happening with this genre of modern mystery/women’s fiction. I get sucked in because I like fiction about women. [Unfortunately the classification is used for any novel with women as main characters, which makes it ridiculously, uselessly broad…. but I digress.]

The women-embroiled-in-a-twisty-mystery has become another formula, with novels churned out in their thousands, all so similar. To stand out, each one strives to make the betrayal twist or the final reveal about the killer more unusual. And so this genre, too, is becoming silly and predictable. The details of the reveal are perhaps not predictable, but what IS predictable is that it will be ridiculously far-fetched.

Now it may seem unfair to vent my frustrations with a genre onto one novel (and author) but I guess this for me is just the proverbial straw. Lauren North has set out to write a particular type of book and has accomplished it well.

The fact that it didn’t appeal to me is largely on me. (Reminder to self: stop reading books like this.)


by Amy Marsden

A good story somewhat let down by hyperbolic prose. The overblown style is exhausting. (Editor needs to wield the red pen more forcefully.) It gets a bit better as the book progresses.

That said, the story kept me engaged. Pandemic, infected people, bites…. They may not be zombies (they’re not dead and don’t feast on brains) but what’s not to like for a hardened fan of the zombie/dystopia genre?

Despite liking the genre, however, I’m probably not really the target audience. This definitely reads as YA and I’m just an embittered middle-aged grump. If the style doesn’t put other readers off, I can see this series growing a pretty big fan base.

To see when I upload new reviews, follow me on Mastodon.