Bad Romances and Boring Thrillers: My 1 Star Reads from 2013

Amy’s One Star Books

What does it mean to give a book 1 star? While two stars, or even some three, may hint at mediocrity, one star remains an unequivocal not worth the time. The book might have had a good plot or interesting characters, but some major feature drove me away. Without much ado, then, I present….some of the worst books I read in 2013.

The Firm by Josh Grisham

Why not jump in with a controversial one? I realize this was particularly popular when it came out. I’ve had several people tell me how much they loved it. It was not much to my taste. Mitchell McDeere is fresh from law school when he receives a job working for a Memphis law firm…with extremely high benefits. It’s an almost too-good-to-be-true job, and as Mitchell begins looking into the company that employs him he uncovers corruption and power…etc. etc. For a legal thriller, it was kind of boring. I was irritated by several scenes, did not like any of the characters, found the pacing off. Overall, it bored or irritated me into increasing oblivion.

Marked by P.C. Cast

Summed up in a sentence? Zoey Redbird gets bitten by a vampire and goes to a vampire high school where subsequent pages involve sex, swearing, and general teenage hormonal angst. I recognize that this “R rated” concoction might be “nothing new” for a teenager in high school, but it was not something I’d recommend.

Enigma by Robert Harris

Another thriller turned sleeper. Details…description…long flashbacks. Summary claimed a genius numbers guy experiencing a breakdown would try and find his girlfriend and a spy. Except both plot points only get going by page 180. Though the twist at the end was interesting, it took too much slogging to get there.

Scarlet Moon by Debbie Viguié

A fairytale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood…and not one worth bothering with. The romance was shallow, hormonal, and instantaneous – a horrendous trio. The plot was entirely foreseeable and had a lousy ending. The writing was dreadful. In short? A really badly done retelling of a classic fairytale.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

I actually like a lot of Sarah Dessen’s books. Despite being ‘teenage fiction’, they often strike a relevant cord and make for some slightly escapist but also realistic reading. This book follows a girl who has to move in with her sister and her sister’s husband…it gives her an education and a future but she mainly gives into teenage angst and falls for the neighbor guy and I don’t even remember what all else. Not particularly likeable or relatable on any level. Not worth the time.

The Trial by Robert Whitlow

Another legal thriller…except from the “Christian” genre.  The message is “become a Christian and everything good happens. You get out of jail, crazy people are healed, and you won’t faint after not eating for over 14 days.” Good things happen as long as you are a basically good person who has a nice come-to-Jesus-moment. There is misuse of Scripture, including verses taken out of context for a self-application that is sketch at best. Courtroom scenes were incredibly dramatic, the “thriller” portion badly passed and mainly crammed into the end. Being harsh on the novel but found it not worth it

The Ghost by Robert Harris

Though paced better than Enigma, the book contained a lot of unnecessary scenes and details. A lot is crammed into the end, but the climax doesn’t flow well into it. The main character is boring and unknowable, no character in the entire book is particularly redeemable. In the end, read more like a critique of Tony Blair’s government (or an episode of ‘Life With the Clintons’….) than a believable plot. Also, practically every American – or pro-American- is a bad guy. Meh.

Violet Eyes by Debbie Viguié

Arguably my biggest disappointment this year. It is a retelling of Princess and the Pea…my favorite fairy tale! I waited years for my library to get this one (not joking…). In the end, it was a weak novel with inch deep characters, irritating and predictable drama, and a thin storyline. It left the reader with more questions than answers, hardly a satisfying novel. More than that, it wasn’t even a so-so read worth the read. More irritating than interesting

Morning’s Refrain by Tracie Peterson

I really should avoid Christian romances. They annoy me so much. However, in this case it wasn’t the overt sickly-sweet ‘Christian’ plot that threw me off. That part wasn’t so bad. It was the nonexistent plot, boring characters, and lousy writing. Not much else to say. If you like this sort of thing you read it, and if you don’t you probably have more sense than I do to not pick it up.

Happy Days Are Here Again by Steven Neal

A sugar-coated account of FDR’s 1932 political campaign for president. Though it traces some interesting political maneuvering, overall a very biased and mediocre read

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik

Who knew a title could be so self-critiquing? A “modern” teenage version of Pride and Prejudice. It adds nothing to the story and hardly stands on its own without a working knowledge of Pride and Prejudice. The entire idea has been done before…with much better results. In short, an immensely useless book.

Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols

Leah Jones is trying to escape her trailer park life…through the skies. She flies for an aerial advertising company flying planes with banners. When her boss suddenly dies, though, she is forced to confront his sons. This book could have been incredible. Minus a the language, it has a huge amount of potential. The general plot is good. The characters are (mostly) good. The storyline is good. The content is …substandard. It boils down to sex and f-bombs. What might have been a great book became awkward, unnecessary, and eventually unreadable.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

In a world where dragons and humans remain at uneasy peace, Seraphina enters the royal court as a gifted musician hiding a dangerous secret. Think Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George but not as good.  There is no happy ending. The book comes to a crashing conclusion and I suppose that means I ought to find the sequel but I don’t have any inclination to do so. By the end I was sick of all the characters, every last one of them. The romance was distracting. The climax was anti-climatic. I remain dissatisfied

Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson

Gosh was this book hyped up. Anna Silver is a cop and Paul Falcon works for the FBI. An old case brings them together…and eventually hey fall in love. Somehow I missed the memo that it wasn’t so much a mystery as a Christian romance novel. The entire plot is like – Ann Silver walks in, tells a story, Paul Falcon falls for her. They drink soda.
Stuff happens.
More soda is consumed.
More stuff happens.
More soda.

Interesting plot but the writing was not fabulous and I found myself bored with both characters. A disappointment…but I should have suspected as much the minute I realized it was mainly a romance.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Oh it was clever, I suppose. The ‘story’ behind Oliver Twist’s Dodger, Charles Dickens’s interaction with a street boy. However, mainly it was uninspiring. Bit of a sleeper. Possibly more like 1.5 stars, but I’m willing to keep it at its entirely uninteresting 1 star level.

A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss

A fictional account of Sarah Edmond’s adventure as a young woman who disguised herself as a boy to join the Union Army. I suppose, if I knew nothing about Sarah Emma Edmonds/Frank Thompson, if I knew nothing of women who disguised themselves to fight in the Civil War, if I enjoyed sappy romances….I might have enjoyed the story. But I didn’t. Because Sarah Emma Edmonds/Frank Thompson was one of my heroines growing up. Even though it has been a few years, I remember quite a bit about her. Lots of creative license taken with this book that distracted me. The first person style of writing only worked to a point. It was limiting and cluttering for the story. The romance was obnoxious. The modern mindset glaring. Not a bad story but had too many of my pet peeves to let slide. The story has been done before…with much better results.

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

A Christian fairytale retelling of Snow White. The characters are shallow, perfect, or self-centered. Most of them are not well-developed. I ended up despising the hero and the romance. My least favorite Dickerson novel to date.

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Most of the book involved the main character getting sexually harassed and molested by pervs while pining after a guy. I seem to have missed the redeeming elements of this one. Not my cup of tea. Beautiful writing and description, however it wasn’t enough to distract me from my dislike of this particular ‘coming of age’ story.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

To conclude, I’m going to offer my angry rant written this summer about this book…mainly because I find it really amusing.


A few months ago, I exited a fabulous used book store in Chatanooga with 15 books. I’d gotten some great deals. While waiting for my ride, I sifted through the free book bin and discovered an old copy of “A Short History of England” which I guarantee no one has ever heard of because never exactly was on the bestseller list, even in its heyday, and is hardly short. But it was old, 1920’s or ‘40s, and had a good binding and was getting rained on. I know. Awful. I immediately snatched it up and stuck it in with my other books.
A true book-lover immediately understands my horror. Bad enough to have books get rained off, even awful ones that won’t sell at a used bookstore, but that such an old one would be so destroyed! (I’m pleased to say it came from the experience no worse for wear)
Mrs. Allison Hoover Bartlett would not understand. She is not a true book lover.
“Unrepentant book thief” John Charles Gilkey would not understand. He is most definitely not a book lover.
That the two of them even masquerade as such in this “I want to be a memoir but got hyped as a real-life crime mystery and really am lousy attempt at investigative journalism” is a travesty. I am so irritated right now I should probably wait till I cool down. The book Finally. Freaking. Ended.
Took forever.
Part of the problem is that I am a speed reader listening to my first book on CD since I was like, in first grade. And parts where I could zip-right through get dragged out. The smug tone of the writing, the reader, and just about everything about this book made me want to punch someone in the nose. My, I’m turning violent.
But seriously
You know what makes Ms. Bartlett and I different? I may tell you about saving an old book, but I don’t expect you to care. She, on the other hand, uses her book / biography / memoir wannabe as a platform to express her views about e-books and book banning and her own childhood favorites. And, to add insult to injury, she bores the world to tears talking about how she doesn’t understand. Here’s the thing. I don’t care about her. I don’t care about her son. Or her daughter. Her thoughts. I don’t care what emotions she felt, who she is attracted to, and who has a paunch.
I sound utterly heartless. This just wasn’t the context for her observations. Or maybe it was and this book is totally misrepresented. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the context much for anything. Though random trivia is thrown in and occasionally interesting bursts of book-loving quotes, I can’t help wonder when she glosses over things I know about what else is being glossed over. Oh how great of Jefferson to sell his private library to Congress! Never mind that he was hugely in debt…
See, we didn’t exactly hit it off well immediately. In fact, I scribbled down because I was so indignant:
“Nuh-uh, you did not just try to explain who Moriarty is to me.”
She gives way to many unneeded details. Like when she is visiting the prison and has to remove her bra. Did not….need…to…know…that. I did not need to know that she had to RUN out to her van to “wrestle” it off. That does not add to the story. In fact, it rather disturbs me.
I found her description of the people she interacted with equally irritating at times. Sanders and Gilkey are trumpeted as the two main characters of this book. The “persistent sleuth” and “serial book thief” respectively. Sanders is not given enough time. He isn’t. Not for what he is trumpeted as. However, there is only so much you can say. They really aren’t great, life long rivals or anything. Only so many times you can quote this foul mouthed book selling hippie. In the end, I don’t think she painted him in a great light either. Gilkey comes off as “misunderstood”, while Sanders is “close minded”.
Um, ‘scuse me?
And Gilkey. Let me tell you, he is exactly what is wrong with America. There is no sense of right and wrong. He views everything as a personal injustice against himself. It’s other people’s fault that he can’t afford books. “All” he wants is a good library and to become a gentleman. To live high on the hog without spending a penny of his own personal cash. Why, the penitentiary is perfect for him! He can live on the taxpayer’s dollar. But no, being in jail, those were “sacrifices” for his dream, “forced pauses”. I wish I were making this up.
I really do. He does not love books. He does not love learning. He loves the prestige that comes with books, the aura that comes with knowledge. His craving is for personal recognition, not a selfless esteem for the written word.
But oh no! He’s such a victim. He just loved books too much. His sense of right and wrong just a little skewed, but isn’t he basically like every other book collector?
Um, no, the comparison is offensive.
And Ms. Bartlett, the sucker, falls for his pity party!
What just irritates me to no end, though, what simply ruins this book is that Ms. Bartlett is no book lover. She’s a good little Freudian disciple. But no book lover.
Quote: “a large part of any book is sensual”
She connects everything as sexual. It’s “erotic” pleasure in the book. Holding the book automatically is assumed to be sensual. She almost trips over herself in her eagerness to mention “gay classics” or point out that she has a “feminist classic” on her shelf. Everything is so intense! As if the world depends on her….dates with this creepy criminal dude.
Worse than the “characters” that populate this story is the author’s discussion of herself. Because in this book she is the “heroine.” She is mortified in the bookstore, she wants to (and sort of kind of not really who are we trying to kid) “confronts” him over his crime. She is the one wondering if she should tell the FBI…the one who lies and checks up on the statute of limitations…the one who wants to single handedly discover where his book stash is and “save the day” so to speak. But she never does figure out where the stash is and so she just ends up looking like an idiot. “Even a fool is considered wise when he is silent”, alas that no one ever taught her that proverb!
I am being harsh on this book and I realize that. I am being particularly harsh on the author. However, this book was packaged as a great story about a book thief and the amateur detective who tracked him down. If it was even just the story of rare book collectors and their obsession and the criminals who steal, as the book tries to be, it would be passable. But this book aims too high, tries too hard to be wise, and finally just bores the reader out of their mind. A pretty big disappointment.


You now know which books to avoid in 2014. Happy New Year, readers!


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