Amidst all the end-of-year best lists, these are books that didn’t quite live up to the hype. I’m not saying these were the worst books I read in 2017. Some, like Manhattan Beach, were quite good, and you will certainly see them on others’ best-of lists. But I approached them with high expectations, and they fell short.
Manhattan Beach: I’ve been a Jennifer Egan fan since her first novel, The Invisible Circus, and I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad. This is a great historical novel about a female diver during World War II. But the last part fell flat for me, relying on a storyline I’ve seen too many times before.
Lonely Hearts Hotel: Nominated for the Women’s Prize longlist, a really interesting and sometimes beautiful novel about turn-of-the-century Montreal. But as the book went on, the characters grew less likable and the story lost some interest (see instead: The Gustav Sonata).
When Dimple Met Rishi: A critical favorite this year, I wanted to love this novel about an arranged marriage between two college students from Indian-American families. But I felt it went on a bit too long and the side characters and storylines weren’t well developed. I’m not the target audience for this novel, granted, but I think a great YA novel is written well for all ages (see instead: Dad’s Red Dress).
Housekeeping: Many readers love this novel by Marilynne Robinson about two sisters who are pushed apart by their difficult family life. I love a good story about sisters but I found this one hard to get through. I’m hoping Robinson’s Gilead is more to my liking.
Difficult Women: Roxane Gay is a fantastic writer and I look forward to reading more by her. But this collection of short stories was brutal and I found myself thinking about when it would be over. I probably should have read Gay’s Hunger instead.
The Twelve Days of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti: This book was quite good; it was beautifully written, suspenseful, and emotional, exploring a powerful father-daughter relationship. But ultimately, the violence detracted from the story for me, as did Hawley’s frequent poor choices for his family. The ending left me with mixed feelings.
Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan: Part of my effort to read around the world and read diversely, this is a novel you’ll see on some best-of lists, but I found this story of a mother who returns to Iran with her unwilling daughter infuriating at times.
Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener: I was disappointed by this story about Americans in Budapest in the 90s. I found Budapest to be a fascinating city in 2010, and I really wanted to understand more about how the city felt after the end of Russian occupation. This book gave me a story about Americans interacting with other Americans, yet it seemed to blame Budapest for all of their problems.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: Everyone is talking about how great Borne is, but with a movie coming out I picked up this one instead. I found it lacked character development and the story didn’t make sense, although I hear Book 2 in the series is better.
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard: this modern-day fantasy novel sparked my interest mainly because of its endorsement by Neil Gaiman. I was moved by the story about two sisters with an abusive childhood for personal reasons, but the fantasy story itself was utterly ridiculous.
Books I didn’t finish this year include Do Not Say We Have Nothing, The Floating World, and The Mothers, all critical favorites that I just didn’t make it through. For more Books that Disappointed, see here.
Please feel free to disagree with some of these choices! What book disappointed you in 2017?