6 Books That Disappointed Me

I try to be upbeat and positive on this blog, because I think there’s already enough negativity out there.  On the other hand, sometimes I come across a book so infuriatingly disappointing, I just have to scream about it to the world.  Or to my blog, anyway.

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Bear in mind these are not bad books.  I don’t finish bad books, so they never have the chance to disappoint me.  These are books that seemed great when they started, but gradually (or swiftly) failed to live up to the hype.  Insert generic ‘this is all personal opinion,’ etc, etc, ‘please do not skin me,’ and so on and so forth.

Spoilers ahead.  Beware!

 


1: 1984 by George Orwell

I know, you’re all shocked.  (The sarcasm is strong in this post.)

After finishing The Hunger Games, I craved more dystopia.  After rattling through a few YA titles, I grabbed 1984, the big daddy of dystopia … and hated it.

The protagonist was loathsome, the story unbearably depressing, and the plot entirely, 100% predictable from just a couple of chapters in.  Winston attempts to overthrow the government, discovers the rebellion is a trap, is kidnapped, tortured, and becomes a husk of a man.  The entire story is really just window dressing for a thumping great political message, delivered with the subtlety of a brick through the window.  I’ll stop, because I’ve ranted about it before.

Even more infuriating, 1984 has the gall to be a really, seriously important book.  For all that the story is miserable, the book teaches a political message about totalitarianism and media bias that’s really worth learning.  You have to finish it.  Or at least watch the film made in the 1980’s which, while equally miserable, is at least over in an hour and half.

 

2: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

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Gasp, a book I’ve never talked about before!  Shock!

I read The White Darkness for my secondary school book club.  It’s about a girl named Sym, who’s haunted by the ghost of Captain Titus Oates, hero of the Antarctic.  When Sym’s adopted uncle believes he’s discovered an ancient civilisation buried beneath the ice, he takes Sym (and, of course, Titus) on an adventure to find it.

It sounds absolutely perfect.  My problem with it?  It’s not fantasy at all.  By the end of the book, you learn Sym’s uncle is a total whacko, the civilisation isn’t real, and Titus is simply Sym’s imaginary friend.  In fact, the end of the book implies that, by letting go of her fantasies, Sym has finally learned to grow up.

After expecting a fantasy story, I felt betrayed and patronised.  This book inspired one of my personal pet peeves: ‘cop-out fantasy’.  That is, books that advertise themselves as fantastical to draw readers in, but turn out to be realism (an unnervingly common ploy in teen fiction, at least it was in the early 2000s).

 

3: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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One of the many books I read for my Gothic Literature class at uni, I wanted nothing more than to throw Wuthering Heights out the window.  (I didn’t, because it was my mum’s fancy vintage copy, and because I lived by a main road, and didn’t want to cause a ten-car-pile-up in the middle of Winchester.)

Wuthering Heights: a story that begins with a ghostly child clawing at the window, calling, ‘Let me in, let me in!’ … and turns out to be an awful romance story about terrible people.  Was the ghost real?  Was it a dream?  Who cares, have 300 pages of angst and death!  I gather it was written to expose how awful and unhealthy many classic romantic stories are, but that doesn’t change the fact it could’ve been an epic ghost story.

I hated just about every character, and the plot moved at an agonising crawl.  Considering how well I got on with the rest of our Gothic Literature texts, this one surprised me because I only very barely managed to finish the damn thing.

 

4: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

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Of all the books I’m whinging about today, this one gets the gold star for Least Terrible. In fact, it barely made it onto the list, and I feel a bit mean including it.  But alas, I am a heartless monster, and must complain a little.

Stolen is the story of Gemma, a sixteen-year-old girl and kidnap victim.  Ty, a young man  obsessed with her for years, steals Gemma away to the Australian Outback, where she can never escape.  The first few chapters of this book are heart-stoppingly tense, some of the dialogue sending shivers down my spine, and implications that Gemma would eventually develop Stockholm Syndrome kept me reading all day.

The trouble is, the the plot wavers after the first chapter, and Ty changes rapidly from terrifying creep to poor, sad woobie.  Gemma only seems to develop feeling for him in the very last pages, after she’s already escaped.  What could’ve been an intense and haunting psychological thriller falls flat, seemingly too cowardly to make real the threats of Chapter One.

 

5: The Pillars of Creation by Terry Goodkind

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I loved The Sword of Truth series at first.  Richard and Kahlan were great characters you could look up to, if a little unrealistic at times, the fantastical world was something I longed to step into, and the villains were so violently, gruesomely evil, that seeing justice dealt was satisfying as watching Joffrey Baratheon choke on that pie.

But, as the books went on, I realised they were a bit … samey.  A new villain, Emporer Jagang, arose … and just sort of stuck around.  Coming up on the seventh book in the series — The Pillars of Creation — I was already tired of the main characters being repeatedly kidnapped, of Richard’s evil relatives popping up (despite the fact he was meant to be the only surviving son of Lord Rahl), and Jagang still not being dead yet.  Regardless, with every book, I hoped the series would get better again.

Aaaand then I read The Pillars of Creation, and my hope died.  I have no idea who that book was written for.  No newbie to the series would start at book seven, but no veteran could possibly stand the level of dramatic irony through this book.  We follow the hopelessly clueless Jennsen, who spends the entire book thinking Richard is a villain.  Even around the time she sleeps with fantasy Satan himself, she’s like ‘Yeah, this is definitely the good guy’.

After crawling through 300+ pages of her idiocy, Jennsen finally meets Richard at the end of the book, and within the space of a single page, is utterly converted.  Facepalm?  Facepalm.

 

6: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

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I saved the worst (at least by my reckoning) for last.  I often tout this book to my friends as The Worst Book I Ever Finished.  Worse than 1984, although similar to it, in many ways.

Only Ever Yours is a dystopian novel in which women are forced to choose between three careers: to be castrated, and work as a teacher; to be a prostitute; or to become wives — breeding stock — for powerful men.  Our protagonist, Frieda, is determined to become the latter.  But, as graduation approaches, the girls in her class tear each other apart.  And the best of them, Frieda’s friend Isabel, begins to rebel …

… unfortunately, her rebellion goes nowhere.  Supposedly a work of feminism, this book had me loathing women, as every single female character was portrayed as petty, vapid, back-stabbing, and downright nasty.  Hilariously, the only character I liked was a boy.

The story in unrelentingly grim, giving the barest sparks of hope that force you to keep reading.  But those sparks are a lie.  A lie, I tells you!  The feminist message is ham-handed and backward, the characters are loathsome, and the plot manages to simultaneously tempt you with wonderful things that could happen, without ever actually allowing them to happen.

This is, in summary, a YA version of 1984 … but without that whole important political message.  Y’know, 1984‘s only redeeming factor.

 


 

Phew.  That got heated.  I’m going to have a glass of water and a little lie down to save my blood pressure, and later, I’ll talk about the books I expected to hate, that surprised me with their greatness.

In the meantime, tell me what books have disappointed you!  Or, if you love one of these books I’ve shredded, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong and also a horrible person.

I am a Master of Writing

Or, more specifically, a Master of Arts in Writing for Children.  I returned from Amsterdam in the middle of this week (which was excellent, by the way–so many bikes and museums and bagels for breakfast, mmm …), and then went to Winchester for my graduation ceremony.

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Man I love those silly hats.

My last graduation two years ago (BA Creative Writing) was strange, because it didn’t feel like my time at uni was really over.  Immediately after the ceremony, I walked up the hill and into my MA evening class.  This time graduating felt strange because my time at uni feels like it was over long ago.  My last class was in April 2015, well over a year ago.

Regardless, I had a wonderful time, managed not to fall over as I walked across the stage, shook hands with Alan Titchmarsh, and spent the day bouncing around in a floaty bubble of giddiness.

After a week off, I’m back to editing my book today, back to work in the library on Monday, and my regularly scheduled blogging will continue uninterrupted as of now.  Well.  Semi-regular.  Sort of.  When I remember.

Why I Vanished for a Week

This week, I was horribly, disgustingly, confined-to-bed, chundering-in-a-bucket ill.

I’m recovering now, and slowly teaching my stomach that food is a good thing (it doesn’t entirely believe me–by the end of the week, I’ll have consumed my body weight in Rennies).

Unfortunately, this means I didn’t really do any blogging this week.

Even more unfortunately, tomorrow I’m zipping off to Amsterdam for four days, then returning to England for my graduation ceremony.  None of which is unfortunate for me–I’m going to have a great time–but it means I’m unlikely to do any more blogging in the next week.

If I can, I’ll try to do a post on my phone, because I don’t want this blog to become a barren ghost town of tumbleweeds and sadness for a whole fortnight.  But we’ll see.  Maybe Amsterdam will just be too awesome and I’ll forget about WordPress entirely.

Hope everyone else is better than I am right now, and I’ll write again when I can!

Cheerio!

The Health Risks of Being a Writer

October 2013, I sat in my first interview with Judy Waite, my tutor for by BA dissertation.  She’d taught me two years previously, and strongly advocated a kind of ‘method writing’.  Basically, don’t just sit around reading books for research–get out and do things.  Take a martial arts class, sing an audition, do the things your characters do.  I was anxious, but also glad to be partnered with Judy, because I knew she’s written a book in exactly the genre I wanted to write.  Grinning nervously, I set my planning form down in front of her.

‘I want to write about a girl in a cult.’

And Judy, looking me dead in the eye, without a hint of irony, said, ‘Amelia, please don’t join a cult.’

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I managed to mumble some horrified form of, ‘I, um …  I wasn’t planning to?’

She nodded.  ‘Good.  Because I did that once, and it was a bad idea.’

And that was the first time, staring at my polite, smiling tutor, who’d straight up joined an honest-to-god cult for research, somehow escaped and faced whatever hellish deprogramming was required to rejoin civilisation, and expected me to do the same, that I thought to myself–holy crap, writing is dangerous.

To Judy, if you ever read this: sorry for telling everyone about your crazy escapades.  Also thanks for helping me get a First Class in that dissertation.  You rock.

To everyone else: writing isn’t a career you imagine as having health risks.  It’s mostly a quiet, sedentary job, with no power tools, boiling oil, or tangles of wires which may or may not be live.  Unless you follow Judy’s ‘method writing’ approach (which I highly recommend, although for the love of god be sensible about it), you’re pretty much going to spend your time typing, or nose-deep in books/the Internet for research.

But take it from the girl with her right hand currently in a splint–you don’t have to join a cult to hurt yourself writing.

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Owies.

So here are some common health risks with writing, and how to avoid them.

1) Repetitive Strain Injury

Well, yeah, no shocker that the woman constantly moaning about her wrist is going to talk about RSI.  But seriously, this hurts.  Shooting pains into your hand prevent you not only from writing, but also eating, picking things up, and basically doing anything.  Unless you want to be forced to teach yourself to be ambidextrous, learn from my mistakes.

You know those soft, squishy things some people have below their keyboards?  They are a godsend.  You don’t have to buy one–a small towel rolled up into a sausage works perfectly.  Rest your arms on it while you type, rather than letting your hands hover over the keyboard.  If you can bear to part with the money, an ergonomic mouse will seriously help you out, too.

Also, it will freak out all your friends.  ‘WHAT IS THIS THING?  HOW DO I EVEN HOLD IT?  AHHHH!’

2) Back Strain

This is definitely another case of Learn From Amelia’s Mistakes.

Both my parents have bad backs.  If they ever caught me sprawled across the floor or curled in a ball on my laptop, they went nuts.  ‘You’ll ruin your back!  Sit at a table!  Rah, rah, rah!’  Because I’m an idiot, I didn’t listen.  For a whole semester at uni, rather than sitting at the scratched-up desk supplied by my landlord, I sat on a beanbag.  Curled over, laptop on my legs.

If I’d known I’d spend hours that summer–months later–lying on a sofa and wailing like a beached whale, I’d have burned that bean bag before I sat down.  Back pain is worse than RSI.  Because your entire nervous system has to run through your spine, when you strain your back, you can’t move anything.

When you sit down for hours of writing, for goodness sake, sit in a chair with your back supported; use cushions to plump you up on the sofa if you have to sit there, but preferably, use a table.  Because having a bad back at the ripe age of 20 sucks.

3) Putting on weight

I mentioned before that writing was sedentary work, as if that makes if safe.  But the 21st Century is really setting out to prove the opposite.  Sitting down all the time is super bad for you.

Even worse, when you sit down to a real write-a-thon, the temptation to snack is hard to resist.  A combination of sitting still and munching through an entire pack of bourbons an hour (yes, I really did that, and not one of those little packs–a family-sized, three-rows dealie) is going to make you pack on the pounds fast.

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Mmmmmmm … sorry, not helping.

Unfortunately, the only way to avoid this is the same way as you always have to avoid putting on weight.  Exercise, eat better, and eat less.  Put away that pack of bourbons and make yourself some carrot sticks instead, or nibble at some grapes.  Get out and go for a daily ramble (this will help your bad back, too), or join a sports club.  If you can’t afford a club and it’s streaming with rain, go for my favourite form of exercise.

GANGNAM STYLE.

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I’m dead serious.  Hop up every couple of hours and dance furiously to the loudest, silliest music you can.  Or do star-jumps, or jog on the spot.  There are excellent movie work-outs around the Internet (do three push-ups every time Wolverine gets his claws out in X-Men), so make good use of them!  And if you’re rubbish at motivation, get someone else to motivate you.  It’s hard to be lazy when your boyfriend/mother/sentient teddy bear leans over every twenty minutes to pester/bribe/bully you.

4) Loneliness

This is one I’d never have believed before I left university.

There’s no water cooler chatter when you’re a writer; no greetings from your coworkers in the morning or goodbyes in the evening; no chance to ask if so-and-so watched that episode of Game of Thrones last night.  Your friends and family, for the most part, won’t really understand how writing a book happens.  To the majority of people, writing is incomprehensible witchcraft–and it happens alone.

If you’re an introvert, days and days spent alone in a quiet house might sound heavenly.  But even introverts need actual human interaction once in a while.  The loneliness of working hard on writing can be oppressive, and depressing.  The odd Facebook chat really doesn’t make up for actual face-to-face conversation.

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The cure is obvious: you have to get out the house and meet people.  Join a club, or organise a weekly meeting with your friends for pub quiz, or pizza, or just a movie night at your house.  If you like, seek out other writers so you can talk about your work–but a full break from writing, just for a few hours, is also healthy.

 

Being a writer is the best.  I’d never write anything if I didn’t love writing.  But it’s also important not to become obsessed, and to take care of your health, whatever your job.  Let me know if I missed anything out, or tell me about the weirdest health hazards in your own job!

Spooktacular Books for Halloween

It’s officially October, and you know what that means?  Take it away, Mr Skeltal!


Doot doot!

I love Halloween, which is shame, because the celebrations in England are pretty lacklustre.  When trick-or-treating is seen more as a nuisance than a tradition, you have to find more peaceful ways to enjoy the spookiest day of the year.  And what could possibly be better than curling up with a creeptacular book?

So here are my favourite spooky books to read.  And instead of stars to tell you how good the book is, I’m going to use skulls to say how scary the book is.  Because, as a coward myself, I appreciate that some people actually want to sleep at night.

 

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Scare Level: classic gothic

This classic Victorian tale is perfect for a dark, stormy night.  Told in epistolary form (that means using diaries, newspaper clippings and other “this totes happened for real, you guys!” methods), this gothic vampire story has oodles of tension and atmosphere, and is perfect for people who prefer that creeping, eerie sensation that something is amiss, to out-and-out gore.

Since Count Dracula is so well-known in popular culture, it’s hard to find this book really scary.  But the atmosphere is wonderfully spooky and unnerving, and there’s a good amount of blood and death for a scary story.  Dracula is one of my favourites and I return to read at least one or two chapters every Halloween.

 

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

Scare Level: perfect for wusses

From classic vampires to parody vampires.  Like most of the Discworld books, there’s no need to read any of the previous installments to enjoy this book.  And, like most Discworld books, Carpe Jugulum is utterly hilarious, and I love it.  New vampires are moving into the quiet country of Lancre.  Modern vampires.  With style.  The trouble is, if they want Lancre … they’ll have to fight the witches for it.

Featuring both witches and vampires, this one’s a double whammy for Halloween spooks galore.  However, since Terry Pratchett (GNU) is a master of comedy, nothing in Carpe Jugulum is too grim or horrifying.  This book is 110% recommended for anyone who wants to read something spooky, but still wants to sleep at night.

 

World War Z by Max Brooks

Scare Level: gory, will mess with your mind

The outbreak started in China–we think.  This book collects a series of interviews with a variety of people, from military personnel to average Joes on the street, to tell the story of how the zombie outbreak spread across the world, grew out of control, and how it was finally defeated.

Seeing as I just recently recommended World War Z, no one should be surprised it makes this list.  The way this book is set out makes for fascinating reading, as it outlines the politics, military strategies, and human reactions to a hypothetical zombie outbreak.  Max Brooks gets full points for a) making me enjoy a zombie story, and b) making walking zombies scary again.

On a side note: if you saw the film and thought “Meh …”, as I did, please follow the old adage.  Never judge a book by its movie!

 

Tales of Terror Series by Chris Priestley

Scare Level: I noped out more than once (but had to come back for more)

“But Amelia, these are children’s books!  They can’t be two-skulls scary, come on!”

Oh, you sweet summer child.

I picked up Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth last Halloween, because I had nothing to read and I thought short children’s stories would be good to read in short spurts between doing other stuff.  And then, I couldn’t put the damn thing down.  Mostly by my fingers were frozen, clutched around the pages in horror.

The short stories in Priestley’s books all link around one central theme.  In From the Tunnel’s Mouth, a boy meets an eerie woman on a train, who tells him a series of creepy stories as she tries to make him go to sleep.  The scare-factor varies from one story to another–some being as tame as you’d expect from children’s fiction, some being worse than anything I’ve read in adult’s–but it’s well worth reading the whole book, just to see how they link together.  I can’t wait to get my hands on another book in this series!

 

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

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Scare Level: even ghosts are scared of it

The power of Christ compels you!

This horror story about a little girl possessed by a demonic force was immortalised in the 1973 movie, and … okay, I’ll admit it.  I haven’t actually read this one.  I haven’t even seen the movie, because of that aforementioned thing about me being a total flipping wimp.

However, it is on my to-read list, and has been for years–since my boyfriend read it, and told me it kept him up at night.  Nothing keeps him up at night.  He is sleeping champion of the world.  The creepy snippets he gave me just aren’t enough; my curiosity is killing me, and I’ve got to read it.  So it’s going on my list, because I want some of you to suffer along with me.

 

The True Facts in the Case of M. Valdemaar by Edgar Allen Poe

Scare Level: quoth the raven: “AAHHHHH!”

Don’t have time to read an entire book this month?  No worries!  (And with 125,000 words of editing to do, I feel your pain.)  This short story by horror master Edgar Allen Poe is easily read in one sitting, and will get your spine tingling.

Rumours of the death of M. Valdemaar have spread, wild and mostly incorrect, and now it is time to reveal the truth, and put these lies to rest.  Our protagonist, fascinated with the art of mesmerism, asks his poorly friend if he may attempt to hypnotise him before he dies.  His friend agrees…

Since this is a short story, I don’t want to give too much away.  But holy wow, I was fine all the way through the story, until I hit the last two pages.  I finished it, put the book down, and scuttled backwards out the room hissing, “Nope, nope, nope nope!”  Hopefully it’ll spook you too!

 

Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes by Scott Cawthorn and Kira Breed-Wrisley

Scare Level: Chuck-E-Cheese is ruined forever

“Amelia.  What.

I know, I know, a video game tie-in novel?  Well, yep.  For anyone not familiar with Five Nights at Freddy’s, don’t worry.  You absolutely do not have to play the games to enjoy this book (although if you have played the games, the book is excellent).

Ten years ago, Charlie practically lived in Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, entranced by the singing, dancing animatronic animals created by her father.  Then five-year-old Michael was murdered.  His body never found, Freddy Fazbear’s closed down in disgrace, and Charlie spent years living away, trying to forget.

But on the anniversary of Michael’s disappearance, she returns to hometown, drawn back to the crumbling pizzeria that was once her entire world.  But the building is haunted by its history, and the animatronics that Charlie once loved have changed …

As a game tie-in novel, I didn’t go in expecting high art.  But, as I whimpered through scenes of creepy, dead-eyed robot animals, this book certainly earned the description spooktacular.

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So that’s it for my list of spooky books.  What about you guys?  Have you read any of these?  What spooky books are on your list to get you in the mood for Halloween?  Please talk books with me, I’m very lonely in this big … creaky … empty house … eek!