Books, Review

Books to Avoid: Cranky Book Reviews

I must confess, I have been a somewhat cranky reader recently. Here’s the thing: I hear complaints about the quality of books available in KU all the time. Having my own in that pool makes me wince a little when I see those criticisms. But…


It’s all true. You know what else is true? Traditionally published books have all those problems, too. Poor editing, multiple homonyms (wrong-word usage), flat-out typos. I don’t care about the occasional typo. I know from my own work that multiple passes by editors, early readers, and myself will still miss a typo. And I know that in trad-pub, your ‘editing’ is often done by underpaid (or unpaid) interns. But when I’m being thrown out of the story almost every paragraph by a word I have to stop and figure out WTH that word is there, then it’s a problem for me as a reader. And that book was put out by a small press, although it’s hard to tell these days.


What is even more of a big deal for me as a reader is deceptive genre placement. I’m very much a mood reader. Sometimes I want chocolate, sometimes I want fruit… oh, we’re talking books. So recently my craving has been for mysteries, the more hard-science the better. There are times I really enjoy a good romance (although rarely modern ones) but that’s not what I want right now. So it’s super frustrating to pick up a novel written by a well-known forensic anthropologist and find that it’s mostly fluffy romance. I wanted science, dammit! Not hare-brained heroines swooning over her pick of studly investigator and macho forensic scientist (not too mention that second makes me snicker). Also, I’d like plausibility and plot. Is that too much to ask?


So breaking down this particular book’s problems: it felt like it was being written to a word quota. There were times the story was being carried along well, and I was able to look past the quirky dialogue (ok, it was fairly wooden) to see what was happening. Other times… well, let’s put it this way. I really don’t care about curtain colors, much less type of fabric, kind of hardwood flooring, or flowers in the kitchen flowerbox, unless they contribute to the plot. They didn’t. And as much as I love food, I don’t want to read a description of every meal. So. Much. Fluff.


And then we get into plausibility. The general idea of the book was that Our Heroes were a pair of plucky heroines that have abandoned a career investigating mass graves in global locations where mass genocides had taken place, and had opened a non-profit agency toward identifying missing persons from unknown dead bodies. There are… nice ideas there. And there are some very odd ones. But anyway, these two are drawn into an FBI case by an agent who has decided that he doesn’t trust the internal lab because – I don’t know, because. It wasn’t fully explained why he and his partner had decided they couldn’t trust their superiors in Georgia, so they finagled a transfer to LA. And they had managed to stay together during that transfer. So… yeah. Um. Ignoring that this just doesn’t happen, we continue with the story. One of our heroines has a past with one of the investigators (so, really, his ‘hiring’ her is just an excuse to get closer to her again?”. And that same heroine has a thing going on with a former colleague who used to volunteer for the UN and surprise, surprise, worked for the FBI lab. So you can see where this is going? Oh, good, so it’s not just me. (Book to avoid: Freezing, by Clea Koff. Also, that cover is shudderingly bad)


That book? Traditionally published (admittedly, through a small press that works only with agents) and I checked it out through my local digital library.


I don’t always object to romance cooties in my mysteries. But I don’t want it to be front-and-center. And I really don’t care for characters falling in love within hours of their first encounter. Oh, I know, love at first sight and all that. Which is fine. And I totally appreciate attraction when you first meet someone – and that’s not always meet in person, by the way. My own life story bears that out. But for heaven’s sake, you shouldn’t have the hero angsting over whether the hot investigator chick (I use that word purposefully, here) could possibly like his geeky self during their first drive to a crime scene together. He’s supposed to be a brain, can we make him less shallow? And I won’t even get into the female character here who is supposed to be super smart and doesn’t show it. Ever. Through the entire book. (Book to Avoid: Body of the Crime by Jennifer Chase)


Speaking of stupidity, I did finally pick up a book on KU during this reading jag that had great promise. I made it to the 50% mark, and then it hit the wall (in my mind. I like my tablet, I’m not actually throwing it). First of all, I was gritting my teeth over the central premise of the main character. Does every female character HAVE to be the victim of domestic abuse, these days? Must they? I would so love to pick up a book with a happily married family woman who didn’t have some scary monster in her closet. Anyway. I was putting up with that, and for a change it wasn’t eye-rollingly badly done. I was actually flinching a little as it hit sore points from my past (yea, I know, I’m complaining about something I lived through. Escapism, people). However…


I’m not a fan of stupid hero tricks. And I am really not a fan of the main character deciding that since she’s the victim, she’s going to wander off on her own without telling her supportive friends and colleagues where she’s going, or why. So when our abused heroine jaunts off to confront her abusive spouse on the other side of the country – oh, yeah, the one who the book has made clear has killed at least three people at this point, one of which she is well aware of – I put the book down. I won’t pick it back up, and the author’s name is on a list of “Don’t Bother” for future reading. (Book to Avoid: Exhume by Danielle Girard. Although props for a fantastic cover).


So now I’m cranky. Because I haven’t been able to get my reading fix, and it’s Friday, and I’m at work. At least I have my podcasts to occupy my brain. I might even try an audiobook. Might.

16 thoughts on “Books to Avoid: Cranky Book Reviews

  1. KU has a lot of great books including yours. I often have to spend a fair amount of time sifting through them to find one that “catches” me enough to start reading it. A good cover often draws me in (and sometimes I’m disappointed in the book, avoid “King’s Dark Tidings” unless you want to meet Mary Sue’s brother.) but a bad one won’t always turn me away. The covers that will make me avoid a sci fi/ fantasy book like the plague is a cover that looks like it was stolen from a “bodice ripper”. I like a bit of romance and yes lust in the books I read it part of being human. I do not want it to be the focus of my books….unless I picked up some cotton candy on purpose (which is rare).

    1. Yes, I don’t usually judge by the cover – I’ve read books with bad covers, and in this review the covers run the gamut from bad to meh to quite good.

      And yes, sometimes the cover is a cue that there’s genre-blending going on. Which, as you say, is helpful to either seek out or avoid certain books. But both the romance-trope-heavy books had no clues on the covers.

      I don’t mind sifting, much. I just like when I find gems, like Harry Bingham’s Fiona mysteries.

  2. KU is seemingly designed for the avid reader, but it’s fairly easy to read everything good in any particular genre, fairly quickly.
    So not really.

    I’ve decided to buy it a month at a time, so I don’t run out with time on the clock.

    1. The nice thing about KU is that there are new books coming in all the time. I use it, and my library, to keep my book budget under control for those times like this week when I’m in the mood to binge.

    1. I don’t usually review ‘meh’ books. At least one of these was more boring than anything, but it was the streak of them that led to the post.

  3. I have been using KU for audiobooks recently, which takes some doing. It is possible to search for KU books that also have audio editions, but not for KU books with an audio edition where the audio is included in KU. (i.e., many books are free to read, but you have to buy the audiobook to listen.) So it gets a little bit labor intensive to find KU books that I can hear. (I do almost no visual reading for pleasure these days–I have frequent migraines with severe visual distortion and that’s when I want to unwind with pleasure reading.)

    Once I’ve located books that I can download as part of KU and have descriptions that seem interesting, I’d guess that fewer than half of them survive the first chapter. On the other hand, I have located some really excellent reads. It’s just a matter of sifting.

      1. A good voice actor makes all the difference, but it’s also true that some books are better for listening than others. Fast paced mysteries and thrillers are good. I recently discovered the John Ceepak series and it is great.

        1. I like reading Anne Perry’s mysteries, but a recent audiobook had me frustrated – the accents were over-the-top, and quite hard to understand.

  4. “Does every female character HAVE to be the victim of domestic abuse, these days? Must they?”

    Seriously. I’m -so- tired of it. Nobody had parents who weren’t perverts? Come on.

    I do have a character who did get into problems with the head mistress and the music teacher back in private school, and it gives her PTSD. She’s a bit magical, her magic power is attracting weirdos and scumbags. But her PTSD isn’t from being a victim, its from KICKING THEIR ASSES. She was young, it was horrible, and she has flashbacks. It makes it hard for her to relate to the cute robot girlfriend who decided Magic Girl needed looking after.

    But she manages. And she uses her brain. And so does the cute robot girlfriend. What do you do with your robot when she’s the wrong gender, and kissy face sets off your PTSD? Play Barbies and have dress-up contests, in between bouts of crushing weirdos and scumbags. Just because shit happens to you, you don’t have to be a victim of it.

    The thing that pisses me off is I had to write that myself, because all the Strong Women Characters out there seem to not have two grey cells to rub together.

  5. Actually, I hate all the explicit sex now in SF/F books. Especially urban fiction. I don’t feel it necessarily adds anything to them. I haven’t found a one where it doesn’t just seem shoehorned in. I find the same with mysteries. They’re almost erotica and just not my cup of tea. But it is what it is. I know a lot of publishers coerce writers (especially urban fiction writers) to include those types of scenes into the book. I just skim those parts to see if there’s anything essential to the plot in it and then carry on.

    I also think there’s too much focus on the purely romantic story without enough of the story being told. Vampire and werewolf books are like this, by and large. I just skip anything that looks like a Harlequin romance with fangs lol.

    1. Hah! Love that description of the paranormal romance genre. I agree about the sex being shoehorned in. One of the lovely things about being an Indie Publisher is I don’t have to put any kissing in my books if I don’t want to. I do, from time to time, but mostly not. I don’t mind reading it from time to time, either. But I prefer other plots than ‘they meet and fall in love’ over and over and over.

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