When a Book Sours (Updated)

Recently I gobbled up a book with great enjoyment only for it to fall apart as soon as I began thinking about it.

I will not name the book for it is very popular and has many voracious fans. Long term readers of this blog know that I have a policy of never naming living writers whose books I am less than enamoured with. It is not worth the grief of offended authors or fans.

This has happened to me before but never so quickly. Within half an hour of finishing the book in question doubts, grave doubts, began to creep into my mind. As I read, I thought it was the best book ever. It was only after closing it that certain thoughts crept up on me about plausability and worldbuilding and how the main character had never had to make any hard decisions. I became uneasy.

So I read the sequel. It was the exact same book all over again with all the same flaws. Only they seemed worse because the first book was a direct retread of the first.

Yet the sequel was as sticky as the first book. Once I started reading it I could not stop (though I did skim, which I did not with the first book). This time as I read I was aware of the book’s many flaws. Of how unlikely all the plotting was, how flimsy the world, and how, once again, the main character was spared making any painful decisions.

I have decided not to read the third book. Though given the stickiness of the first two I may succumb.

I will still happily recommend the first book. I had a great time reading it. I will tell people the book is crack but best not to think about it too hard. There are many books of that kind that I adore.

Have any of you had this experience? Of loving a book as you read it? Only for it to fall apart afterwards when you started thinking about it?

Do not name the book if the author is alive. I am more interested in the experience of changing your mind about a book you initially loved than upsetting any authors or fans.

Update: I want to clarify my position on not naming the books. There are several reasons for it. If I name the book and it’s one that sells better or is more critically acclaimed than my own work then it looks like sour grapes. If it’s one that’s less well-received than one of mine than I look bad for picking on someone worse off than me.

But more importantly it doesn’t matter what books we’re talking about. The discussion is about how following through implications of plot/characterisation/world building etc can cause a book to crumble. All of which applies to any number of books. It will be different books for different people. Several readers have complained that my books fell apart for them in exactly that manner. We all read differently. There is no wrong or right on this question. While I am wondering how the hell the books I’m talking about could be so loved when they’re so flawed, there are people wondering the exact same about some of my favourites.

I also want to make it clear that I am not talking about the Twilight books. So you can stop sending me cranky email on that score.

No, I am not going to tell you what books I’m talking about. Please stop writing me and asking me.


  1. Julia Rios on #

    Yes, I have this happen to me with books and movies and so forth. Sometimes the opposite happens, though, so there’s that.

  2. Ellen on #

    Yes, there was one book series I just ate up; I read the first three in quick succession. When I got to the fourth one, however, the whole experience just fell apart for me. The first three weren’t very well-paced – the plots didn’t pick up until the last third of the book, and the characters were pretty flat. But I didn’t notice any of this until I hit the fourth book, because the flaws in that one were so much more obvious.
    It kind of sucked, because I did enjoy the series, but I know that I would not enjoy rereading it now…

  3. Shutterbug on #

    I have read many, many books raved about by other people but that have sadly fell short. Some of these books I had never thought of them as bad until I reread them later, and then I was shocked at how differently I perceived the book.
    Two books that have recently come out that were highly praised on the internet I found to be quite awful. One book had an incredibly shallow, selfish main character and the other had a disjointed, overused and uninteresting plot. At first I felt betrayed by the people who enjoyed the books, but now I know that taste varies, so I’m a bit more cautious before buying a novel.

    I read a book much like the one you described above, and read the sequels because the writing was actually addictive, despite the bland style and large plot holes and undeveloped characters. In this unnamed series, I took the last book out of the library to hate it in detail. It surpassed my expectations in suckitude.

    Is it better to have enjoyment in a book, or to question the book and possibly give up that enjoyment? I think I would go with the latter.

  4. Chris Lawson on #

    I think you’ve hobbled us, Justine, by refusing to allow us to name and shame living authors (I’m not criticising the policy, just pointing out that it makes it hard to kickstart a conversation).

    Speaking in generalities, I don’t often find myself disliking a book after I’ve finished. Flaws tend to smack me in the face while I’m reading them rather than on reflection.

    I do however often find myself the situation Julia Rios mentions above of finding more to like in a book the more I think about it. This is especially true of Jim Thompson novels.

  5. Jude on #

    I read a book, absolutely loved it, then a month later couldn’t remember why I loved it so much. I thought that was weird because I usually remember books quite well. Why didn’t I remember this one? Then I read a review in a science fiction magazine which said, “If a month later you can’t remember why you loved this book so much, re-read it.” I still think it’s bizarre that the reviewer and I had the same experience, but I took his advice, re-read it, and love it to this day. Since I love the book now, I’ll tell you that it is The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Leguin.

  6. Cat Moleski on #

    Yes, I have been seduced by an author’s writing, or characters, or the way they build emotions, only to be let down by the plot. But on reflection, I realized that’s because I like concrete things to happen in a book. I also like a good resolution, not a simple plot that extends over many books, when it could just as easily resolved in one book, leaving room for other stuff to happen.

  7. Sherwood on #

    Yep–have had that experience. Still enjoy having read the book, but it doesn’t go on the reread list.

  8. Annalee Flower Horne on #

    I’m going to go ahead and name names because Robert Luis Stevenson is dead. The book in question is THE BLACK ARROW.

    It’s seriously one of my favorite books ever–a romping YA adventure about a boy from a minor noble family who gets caught up in the War of the Roses while trying to rescue the girl of his dreams. It’s really good craic; I recommend it to everyone.

    Just dear dog, whatever you do, don’t think about it. Like, at all.

  9. Keren David on #

    I wonder how many of us are writing about the same series? I read one very popular series, loved how compelling it was but was very aware of its flaws as I was reading. It was like eating a lot of doughnuts – yummy but ultimately not all that good for me.
    I did read a very popular best-selling novel recently and very much enjoyed it, but afterwards, on reflection felt a bit sick about various aspects of the plot. Things that only became clear late in the book changed my view of the characters. There was a tinge of paedophilia that I found distasteful, and the plot became ridiculous – but there were still many things I enjoyed about the book.

  10. Justine on #

    Chris Lawson: I think you’ve hobbled us, Justine, by refusing to allow us to name and shame living authors

    You’re not wrong. But I’m really uninterested in trashing books. Especially ones that sell way better than mine do. Cause it just looks like sour grapes. Also to a certain extent it doesn’t really matter which books we’re talking about. It’s more about how following through implications of plot/charaterisation/world building etc can cause a book to crumble. Which applies to any number of books.

    I can’t believe you had even a moment’s doubt about Jim Thompson’s genius.

  11. HWPetty on #

    I read a (uber popular) series like that, and I’m ashamed to say that even my ultimate disgust with the writing didn’t diminish my enjoyment or keep me from recommending the book to other people.

    The last book was trash, though. Straight up trash from beginning to end.

    I think its important to be a critical reader. But I think it’s just as important to be able to accept books for their entertainment value and not feel the need to diminish them entirely.

    I have to say here that there have been times when reading a book was absolute drudgery–even when I could recognize the amazing writing and plot. But sometimes the characters are hard to relate to, or there is a lot of extraneous description or information. Whatever the reason, the book isn’t fun to read… even though after I can admit that it was brilliant in its own way.

    All of that to say that it goes both ways. ahahaha

  12. Nif on #

    I recently read the latest novel by an author who I KNOW milks the emotional melodrama for all it is worth. Her first book made me sob in an utterly self-indulgent fashion. This was a sequel. And I was letting myself be gripped by the whole “is-everyone-going-to-be-OKAY?” pathos she was building. Then she enraged me completely by abruptly killing off a key character very close to the end. Piling actual tragedy on top of the ordinary, but compelling, stresses that the characters were wrestling with was supposed to be some sort of test of their moral fiber, I suppose. Look, we’re REALLY OK, we made it through an AWFUL thing. But the growth the characters were already demonstrating would have made for a fine, satisfying ending in my estimation. I was so angry that the author was trying so hard to jerk my strings, I completely detached from the characters for the final chapters of the book. I stopped caring about them. I’m still growly about it, because I liked them quite well before that.

  13. Liana Brooks on #

    It happens. Not every book pans out the way you want. I’ve had books where the series took a twist I just didn’t like and I’ve let it go.

    I don’t think the writer or book is good or bad, I just know it’s not what I want to read today.

  14. Andrea on #

    There are three book series that spring to mind. Two of them I loved until the last book, then that book didn’t satisfy me so it made the other books fall apart retroactively. I don’t know why that is but it’s like the context of what I learned in the last book made the rest of it wrong somehow.
    The other book I’m think of was terrible but I still wanted to finish it in hopes that it would get better. The action was good but it was too lengthy and the description were not that great. But I powered through it and read the second one. But the third book almost killed me so I doubt I’ll read the next one.

  15. Maitriquest on #

    I have found recently with a couple of YA adult novels I’ve read is exactly what you’re talking about. Once I was done I thought over the story and realized that I really didn’t find what had happened compelling – the main character hadn’t really grown. And when I thought about the action it didn’t seem to really drive the plot forward. And I wondered later if it was lazy editing, or if the author’s (since this happened with two different authors)and respective editors thought that teens didn’t need that level of sophistication. It left me feeling a bit depressed.

  16. Merrie Haskell on #

    Well, sure, this happens. It happens more often with movies than books, for me… are we allowed to name the movies?? I just watched on in particular this weekend.

    Anyway, the real reason I’m commenting is because I’ve had the opposite happen, too. Where I think, “This book is okay,” (as in “meh, merely okay, maybe not even good”) as I’m trundling along, and then weeks later, I’ll be thinking, “Dang, that was much better than I thought. That books is HAUNTING me.”

  17. Allie-wa on #

    That has happened to me, but more often I have the opposite reaction. I might dislike a book when I first read it, but when I start thinking about it, I realize how awesome it is. And then I can’t stop thinking about it.

    Which is why I almost always reread books. I pick up stuff the second or third time that I didn’t even realize the first time.

  18. Paradox on #

    This happened to me with a book once. I checked it out thinking it sounded interesting, sort of, but by the time I started it I completely fell in love with it. Everything about it seemed perfect. I fully believed it was the best book I’d ever read. I loved it so much that I decided to read it again as soon as I finished it. Bad idea. When I read it through the second time I found all its flaws, and there were a lot of them. I felt so disappointed, but the book was still pretty good.

  19. Jennifer on #

    A series I’ve been reading recently reached…book #5, I think. The first four were rollicking fun. Book 5, well…it spent too long recapping the previous book, everyone’s acting like an idiot, the heroine has too many love interests and it’s just getting irritating, and…I was all, why did I like the first four again?

  20. Adrienne Vrettos on #

    I picked up an ARC at BEA that so many people were excited about – it’s the first in a series and I *so* wanted it to be amazing. It just…wasn’t. Until the end, which was kind of sort of amazing but not enough to keep me from scowling and giving the book dirty looks when I was done. I think part of the problem was that someone thought they were being helpful by telling me what happened in the first two chapters. So I read them quickly, just waiting to get past the plot points I already knew about to get to something new. Next time, I’m going to cover my ears and scream No Spoilers.

  21. Alissa on #

    I find that I feel more betrayed by badly plotted engagingly written prose than poorly/awkwardly written interestingly plotted prose. The former feels like more of a waste of my time. I think if the author could write this well they were being lazy about structure.
    I suppose with the later I have already lowered my expectations, but intrigued by the story I want to see what happens. I wonder if the stronger structure allows more chances for the reader’s imagination to fill in whereas when it is all style it is like a beautiful movie that enthralls but is meaningless.

  22. Mdi on #

    This happened to me a couple months ago. The book started out wonderfully, with good characters and hilarious writing. About halfway through, i realized that i no longer cared about the story. The characters started doing things COMPLETELY out of character with no visible reason.
    This was the first book EVER that i didn’t finish.

  23. PixelFish on #

    Recently I tore through a fantasy-romance series (ALSO NOT TWILIGHT) that currently has four books. Weirdly enough I started with book four, unaware that it was a sort of series, and liked it, primarily because it did a great inversion of saving-the-girl, by having the girl save the guy.

    But when I went to read books 1-3, I liked the series progressively less and less. Initially I recommended it, then I de-recommended it after one of the heroes off-handedly remarked that you couldn’t rape a wife. The male characters, who I had been hoping would be reformed or have new views, kept on being privileged, snobby, wealthy men of authority who felt like they should get everything they wanted. The world building had a lot of problematic issues, but worst of all was that the huge social injustices the secret society in this world perpetuated were never addressed, while our “heroes” continued to uphold the status quo. It was a shame really because the whole series had a lot of potential to undermine and subvert the romance conventions that I like least, but the series kept missing these opportunities and instead of toppling romance conventions, ended up reinforcing the ones I like least.

  24. Amanda Coppedge on #

    Totally behind you with the not-naming thing. I do the same. There is one trilogy that is interesting because I think book 1 is so-so, book 2 is AWESOME and book 3 is terrible. I really wanted to like this trilogy but only book 2 is worth writing home about imho.

    One series that impresses me, which I have not read one lick of myself, is the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage. (I know it’s good because I give it to my patrons at the library and they come back for more.) I think book 5 got a couple of starred reviews? Bravo to series which remain strong and only get better over time.

  25. J on #

    I had started readin a very very famous series that many teens are in love with and obsessed with, many frighteningly so. the books were addicting, and i read the series twice, thoroughly in love with it. then i read what people who didn’t like the series thought of it, and why. and i found i agreed. the writer didn’t do much research, considering some facts were flawed, the main character ends up getting what she wants, the plots of each book were way to abrupt and thrown in, and many of the characters had personalaties that could be described in a few words. when i read the series, i still feel the addiction, and it is after i read it when i dwell on the flaws.

  26. Alex on #

    Sadly, I now CAN name the series of books that made me feel this way, which is The Belgariad (and the Mallorean and the Elenium and The Tamuli and practically anything written by David Eddings). I read these books when I was, oh, ten, maybe? And I loved them, and have reread them so many times their covers fell off and I can quote large chunks of text. They and Tolkien were my introduction to high fantasy, and it really took me a couple of years and a LOT more reading to realise just how tropey they are. They don’t really work, and they are highly unsatisfying, but they’re still very addictive and I can’t help but be grateful to the very thorough kickstart they gave to my fantasy education. But they are my guilty pleasure, and I can’t really take them seriously any more. They’re good fun though. Just popcorn books.

  27. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    Sometimes our friends FIB to us about books, and then we spend the whole books waiting for THINGS TO HAPPEN WHICH DO NOT HAPPEN, and then are let down by said books. Where was the promised excitement, scandal and taboo behaviour?

    I realise it is unfair to blame the book for this, but I kind of do anyway.

  28. Taylor on #

    Ah, yes, many times, especially recently. I think I might be able to guess which series you’re talking about, as well as the series everyone else is talking about.
    There are two main series that I am thinking of. One was good as I was reading it, but tedious. The other was fully captivating, and I still love it now, but it has many many many flaws and I love making fun of them. The first series, the flaws squash it, while with the later, it just makes it funny.

  29. J. Hernandez on #

    This happened to me once. I was reading a book that I thought was amazing, and then halfway through-around page 250-it just fell apart. Still, I felt compelled to finish it, and I am glad to say that it improved somewhat later–although the book itself was ruined for me anyway. Even now I am lax to reccomend it to anyone.

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