I didn’t record my DNFs this year, which helped me feel less ashamed about the practice of DNFing.
Then good ol’ Storygraph shared my DNF stats in my 2022 Reading Wrap-Up.
I am trying to sit with that discomfort.
This list includes books I DNFed last year that filled me with some sort of annoyance and/or rage.
I left indie authors alone this time (for the most part), so you won’t be reading my thoughts on The Romanov Oracle.
It’s best if I pretend that book doesn’t exist.
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
At about the 60% mark, I started skimming Harrow the Ninth’s Wikipedia summary to catch any plot points I’d missed.
According to Wikipedia, I’d missed nothing. I had absorbed all the information the author had seen fit to give me and was still lost.
I have two main theories about Harrow:
- I am too stupid to understand this book (seems self-critical and unproductive)
- an editor read this and advised Tamsyn Muir to explain the world in greater detail and Muir said, “Nah.” (seems…entirely probable)
I have been dropped into books with complex worldbuilding before. I have had to piece bits of culture and plot together from the information provided before.
Harrow the Ninth‘s worldbuilding is nonsense. You have to have read Homestuck, I guess, to understand the plot.
Cool, I love it when books have HOMEWORK.
I quit with 10% left to go. I couldn’t take it anymore.
American Royals by Katharine McGee
“What if America was a monarchy?” is such a fascinating concept.
I wish it hadn’t been tossed aside for a crown prince named JEFF.
Also, my enjoyment of this book was somewhat hampered by the fear that the American monarchy hadn’t, in fact, abolished slavery. (It had. Also being gay is fine, I guess? No problems there? A woman can’t succeed the throne but we solved homophobia! Checks out!)
This book stretched my suspension of disbelief to its limits.
I understand that my vision was not the author’s vision
However…I can’t believe she passed on writing f/f rivals-to-lovers in favor of a love triangle with the aforementioned JEFF.*
*named for THOMAS JEFFERSON. CAN YOU SEE WHY I WAS SO CONCERNED ABOUT THE SLAVERY THING?
Donut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau
I read a LOT of romance novels in 2022 that just didn’t do it for me.
Donut Fall in Love was perhaps the worst offender (in terms of straight romance, anyway. My sapphic nemesis is coming up.)
This book had a triple threat of bookish icks, including
- a half-baked male lead who was rude to the female lead after he destroyed some of her product (and then balked at its price)
- an INCREDIBLY mediocre sex scene at the 50% mark that almost read as a parody of unsatisfying m/f sex. You’re telling me this dimbulb frat bro thinks fingering someone once without any finesse is the height of sexual prowess? Romance as a GENRE is supposed to be a fantasy FOR women (usually) about men (usually) who are emotionally engaged and attuned to their partner’s sexual needs. HOW then is THIS the male lead?
- gross couple-y flirting. My tolerance for cutesy banter is LOW. You don’t get to be this bad at sex AND this annoying during pillow talk. Please kill me.
All of this would have been bad enough, but Donut Fall in Love decided to throw daddy issues into the mix and I DID NOT HAVE THE PATIENCE.
“How do I reconnect with my emotionally distant father?” Have you tried asking him for sex tips?
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
I had this book recommended to me about eight million times as an honest, sensitive account of a bisexual woman who blew up her own marriage and, later, lost a child.
My ungenerous take on the book has been largely influenced by Levy’s transphobic descriptions of her ex-lover.
She could have made her point without repeatedly deadnaming and misgendering her ex, even if they parted on bad terms.
There was no need for her to express confusion and disgust about her ex’s changing body.
All of it read as gross and mean-spirited.
Further, while the book is a personal account of one woman’s trauma with the theme of “this can happen to anyone,” every subsequent event struck me as “privileged person experiences difficulty for the first time.”
After her divorce, Levy had to move out of her house…into her family’s extra property? Ariel, I CAN’T AFFORD A BEDROOM.
I had zero interest in exploring pain and loss with this person after the “my trans partner is yucky and weird” entries. Tell your sob story to someone else.
I Kissed a Girl by Jennet Alexander
Sapphic romance has a biphobia problem and I’m sick of it.
Another sapphic romance I DNFed had one lead say to the other, “I just assumed you were straight because you hung out with men.”
It somehow never occurs to the lesbian characters in these books that queer women can also be attracted to men. You can, in fact, be queer and like people of all genders.
Noa was nominated for the Shitty Romantic Lead award when she decided that Lilah going on dates with men disqualified her from being queer. In the SAME BREATH, she mentions the possibility of Lilah being bisexual, then suggests that Lilah’s dates with men are a “smokescreen.”
A smokescreen for WHAT, Noa?
Noa nearly clinched the award when she made a nasty, highly unnecessary comment about Lilah’s enjoyment of women’s fiction, something to the effect of, “Of course a girly girl like you would like that.” This coming from a woman whose favorite genre is HORROR. Genre fiction isn’t stupid when MEN like it, okay?
The part that made me ragequit the book was Noa assuming that Lilah hates her because Noa is Jewish. Noa talks openly about her Jewish identity and assumes Lilah has never met a Jew before and doesn’t know the first thing about Judaism.
Lilah is…also Jewish.
Come ON, Noa!! Ever heard the term “diaspora?” YOU KNOW BETTER.
After all this, Lilah is still determined to win Noa over.
“I can get them to like me” is cute if it’s with two women, I guess.
Imagine being a closeted bisexual woman who has primarily dated men and learned to like what they like and meet their gender expectations, then having the first woman you express interest in treat you the exact same way.
The patriarchy is killing us! Zero out of ten stars!
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton
Wackiness is too often used as a cover by authors who have no idea where their plots are going.
This book introduced its female lead as a competent, no-nonsense badass and its male lead as a charming, foolish rake.
It then switched their personalities entirely for…humor? I guess?
Let me tell you, it is NOT fun to read a “feminist” book where all the women are silly and foolish and the lone man (excepting the MRA villain) is the only sensible one.
There were two points that broke me.
The first was one character relaying a piece of information and another responding with, “That’s ridiculous, that would only happen in a poorly plotted novel!”
It’s cute to reference your faults and all, but hear me out…what if instead you rectified them in editing??
The second was when an underage girl hooked up with an older man (gross) so he would be forced to propose (gross???). After dealing with this man for an extended period of time, the girl wIsHeD sHe WaS a LeSbIaN.
I’m so fucking tired of lesbians being used as punchline.
“Life would be so much easier if I was a lEsBiAn” is totally a thing I said while in the closet and it’s not a cool and fun joke, actually!! Using a marginalized identity as a punchline was actually unfair and unkind! Life is generally not easy for lesbians! Being queer is complicated! Saying shit like this is indicative of privilege!
Also, I’m LIVID that I only see this joke used in reference to MEDIOCRE DUDES who the heroines then CONTINUE TO SLEEP WITH ANYWAY.
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
I didn’t think the humor in this book was well-integrated.
The book went from very serious to very wacky, making for some nauseating tonal whiplash.
I hate that “feminist” fairy tales so often boil down to “naive protagonist learns about domestic abuse for the first time” when there are more interesting ways to explore silence, complicity, and victim blaming.
I think ultimately the author was trying to mix cozy fantasy with grimdark fantasy. I’m sure it can be done. I have yet to see it done well.
Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies by Misha Popp
I have read half a hundred centrist, wannabe-radical books that spout left-friendly slogans that lack any real power.
Whenever I look up reviews, half of them are from center-right people who think the book is trying too hard to be “woke.”
It’s not woke to have a bisexual protagonist be condescended to by both a male and a female love interest.
It’s not woke to reduce feminism to individual choice, i.e., “I can wear dresses and bake pies and still support the cause.”
(Also, fellow white people, can we please stop using “woke” to mean “left-leaning politically correct thing I don’t like?” The term was first used by Black activists to refer to awareness of racial bias.)
I’m mad because the book has such a rich premise!!
Our protagonist REVENGE MURDERS ABUSERS LIKE BROCK TURNER with PIE. HOLY COW.
I feel like it could have done some neat things with that premise!
Instead, it flattens abuse to mean “[usually white and cis] men harming [usually white and cis] women.”
I…okay. As long as you don’t generalize this as the experience of ALL women when you really mean white women-
Oh, that’s what we’re doing? Cool.
You’re right, it’s more important to discuss whether feminists can wear dresses. That is the primary issue of our time. Nailed it.
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
I think it’s safe to say I don’t get Naomi Novik.
I can tell she’s a talented writer with a sense of humor.
I just don’t jibe with her writing AT ALL.
This is my second attempt reading A Deadly Education. This time, I made it to the 80% mark.
All these cool, theoretical things were happening with the world (I guess) and the characters (probably) and the plot (so they say.)
I did not care about any of it.
Also, wow, the part about loc leaches WAS as bad as everyone said! Hot damn!
I am starting to think that dark academia isn’t my thing.
I need more angst and less theory.
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
I thought perhaps I’d been unfair to Call Down the Hawk when I read it in 2019.
Maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough to like it.
I decided to reread the first book and continue on with the series, the final volume of which had just come out.
This plan did not last very long.
Call Down the Hawk is the kind of all hurt, no comfort end-of-the-world fiction I just can’t stomach right now.
Ronan’s plight in this book makes me miserable.
I hate seeing him go from a hopeful person at the end of the Raven Cycle to a desperate one.
I DNFed right at the part with the dream crabs. I was so anxious during that scene I almost threw up.
CDtH also expands on some plot threads from the previous series that I’d hoped to forget. I wasn’t exactly clamoring for more of the fairy market and criminal underworld.
I was pretty good with Niall Lynch being dead and Aurora Lynch being [redacted.] If there was more to that story, I wasn’t interested.
Choosing not to continue this series was the most self-honoring decision I made all year.
I DNFed a lot of books last year and felt more or less good about it.
I’m better about DNFing books I despise; I’m working on DNFing books that don’t interest me.
Here’s to reading more of what we like in 2023.