Great Expectations: Books That Failed, Books That Impressed, and the Book I’m Excited For

Last year, I made a similar blogpost – here – about five books I had read that disappointed me and five books I was excited to read this year. Sadly, of the list of five I wanted to read, I only got through one. It was another rocky road for reading, but not necessarily for lack of trying. Sometimes life kicks you when you’re already down.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read twenty-four books this year so far and averaged a rating of 3.29 stars. Better than my ratings last year, but not by much. Of them, I have compiled a list of three books I expected more from and two I underestimated. And at the end, I’ll have one book I’m hoping to read next year.

Three Books That Failed the Hype

1. Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

It’s not often that you find transgender rep in novels, less often still that this rep happens in fantasy. I’d heard Mask of Shadows get talked up for the longest time and decided that I had to read it.

Then I did. And I was so disappointed.

The entire book underwhelmed me, but by far the worst parts were the genderfluid rep and the world building. The plot itself was… mildly interesting. The characters were forgettable. Yet it made me scratch my head how Sal could be genderfluid and no one bat an eye, and yet (it seemed) being gay was still subject to the same homophobic nonsense we have in our world. I… don’t understand it at all.

Worse than that, however, was how… flawed Sal was? They had a “system” that while I guess works was rather underdeveloped and cisnormative. “If I wear a dress, call me a girl. If I were pants, call me a boy.” And that was another thing that confused me. They said if they weren’t dressed in a masculine or feminine fashion, that they were gender-neutral and went by “they” which is fine but… I mean I guess it works if they gender clothes differently than we do, but I doubt it considering how heavily they gender other articles of clothing.

In interviews, the author says she consulted trans people when writing Sal. Honestly, should’ve done more research.

2. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

I follow Schwab on Twitter, I’m pretty sure, or I follow someone that does. Point is, I’ve seen her around for a long time and her books have been quite hyped up. Without realizing, I bought more than one book by her – more books to read, I guess – and ended up reading this one first.

The basic idea itself was interesting? But it surrounds a lot of world building that I find… superficial. So much was left unexplained that it hindered the plot a bit. The characters fell flat a lot of the time, honestly. It wasn’t a terrible book, by any means, but it didn’t live up to the expectations I guess I had set out for it.

3. Rat City by Tyffani Clark Kemp

I talked this book up a lot last year in my list of books I was excited to read. It was also the only book in that list I ended up reading this year. And it was… not what I expected it to be.

I feel like I was promised a lot of things I didn’t end up getting. The world building was weird and the plot kept getting sidetracked by a romance arc I smelled from the first page. There were some unfortunate editing mistakes, both grammar-wise and on a grander scale. All of the things that I was thinking of when I first got this book are not what I ended up getting and… safe to say I was sorely disappointed. And while the ending is certainly not what I was expecting, by the time I got it, I was so disappointed that I don’t think I will be purchasing the sequel.

Two Books I Underestimated

1. Vicious by V. E. Schwab

After reading This Savage Song, I wasn’t sure what I could expect from this author anymore, but I still had this book in my library, so I decided to read it.

I’m glad I decided to give this author a second chance, because Vicious was fuckin’ incredible. Is it a perfect book? No, but certainly left quite a taste in my mouth. It has a lot of the aspects I love reading about and the characters are a blast to read about. It was a wild ride from start to finish that I devoured. I was so impressed, in fact, that I purchased the sequel as well. We’ll see if it too lives up to the hype.

2. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I don’t really know why I underestimated this book. Maybe it is the demographic this book is aimed at. Maybe it’s because I disagree with the author in some regards. In any case, I kidded myself into thinking this book wasn’t as good as it was.

And this book ended up being… wonderful.

This book has been in my life since high school. This year, a local queer organization I’m involved in decided for their book club, we’d start off with this. A good choice, honestly. The prose really makes you think. I like a lot the characters quirks. If I ever found my attention wavering, there was always something that quickly dragged me back. And while I guessed at a few of the twists, I didn’t fully expect them. It was nice to see.

Gotta say, though, that the summary is a bit misleading.

One Book I’m Excited to Read in 2020

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

This book has been sitting on my TBR all year and I’m itching to finally get my hands on it. Doesn’t help that my timeline has been talking about it virtually nonstop – means I think about it all the time! As soon as I can, I’m purchasing this book and setting to make it one of the first books I read in 2020. It has all the makings of a fantasy book I’d love to read, as well as some things I’ve not yet seen before.

An Outlier in a World of Box and Whisker Plots

Being trans is a difficult enough subject to broach on its own. If you don’t look the part, or you don’t fit societal expectations, the response can be anything from discomfort to deadly violence. And even in writing, a hobby so centered on escapism and release, it feels like we can never catch a break.

Being trans and a writer is difficult as well. How people treat me as a nonbinary individual is already bad enough. But, I’ve noticed, that when it comes to my trans characters, a lot of the feedback surrounding them is very… targeted. And of course, criticism is one thing, something I’ve adapted to over the years. But comments like these can’t really be considered criticism:

“Why did you use they? Is this multiple people?”

“I refuse to use these pronouns so I’m going to misgender them and ask you increasingly invasive questions.”

The second example is more vague – the actual conversation was nastier than I feel comfortable sharing – but the premise remains the same. I’ve learned that having a majority-cis audience is… hard. The moment you give them something they can’t understand, the best you can hope for is confusion. More likely, they’ll get upset.

There’s a common belief in writing circles that writers should be allowed to write whatever they want to. I mostly agree – within reason, of course – but have always scratched my head on how to write the things I want. A lot of it is so niche that it’s hard to find the intended audience. Instead, it gets rolled along on bigger, more encompassing waves: High political fantasy, or high fantasy in general, or contemporary thriller, or romance or…

Oftentimes, it is mighty discouraging realizing that you are the outlier. Even more discouraging is the negative response that the norm gives you. But that doesn’t mean that I or any other niche creator should be forced to give up on what it is we want. One of my biggest hopes is that, in time, aspects such as queerness and shades of the queer identity can become more normalized. More people will understand it. That can’t happen if we allow ourselves to be silenced by a majority threatened by our existence.

It’s hard being an outlier. It’s hard being trans and harder to have to try to act like I’m not. It’s hard becoming so used to escaping into the worlds and characters I created, just to have my comfort shattered by readers angry that I’m using singular they, or that I refuse to give out what bathroom a character uses. It’s hard being dehumanized, having your creations dehumanized, having everything you and your works are under such an intense microscope.

Still, we must persist.

I will never stop writing about the outliers. Angry readers can pry them from my cold, dead hands. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt to be scrutinized sometimes.

A Wild Alex Appears!

New accounts beg first posts to properly throw them into the world. This is mine.

Hello. My name is Alex. I’m a nonbinary writer from the Pacific Northwest and my main genre of choice is fantasy! Perhaps you might know me from my Wattpad account. Perhaps you’ve seen me on one of the many social media platforms the internet has to offer. And maybe you don’t know me at all. That’s okay, too.

The main point of this blog will be for writing and exploring the writings of others, so I’ll do my best not to deviate! Here’s some things to expect from this blog:

  • Writing excerpts
  • Reviews of books I’ve read
  • Discussions on certain tropes
  • Experiences I’ve had as a writing/with writing
  • Writing advice
  • Experiences with publishing (eventually!)

I might also rarely talk about video games I’ve played or make more personal posts. But, in general, this blog’s purpose is writing and that is what I will stick to.

It’s very nice to meet you!