Being Objective About Some of My Favourite Books

Well you guys know I’m all about the objectivity when reviewing 😉 Just kidding! But I do occasionally like to try to get a little beyond my initial emotional response, such as talking about how some books are perfectly imperfect as I make them out to be and recommending books I didn’t like. Today, I decided to flip that on its head and talk about some books I do love, yet talking more about their downsides, so you get a fuller picture of what to expect than my usual GUSH. Because apparently I am a masochist I like a challenge. This was really tricky, not just cos it’s hard to critique something you adore, but I also didn’t want to pick books people like to trash talk. Plus, if you want pure negativity, maybe look at a negative review! 😉 Anyway, enough of the preamble, let’s jump into it!

The Great Gatsby– I’m starting with Gatsby because, while it’s one of my favourite books, I understand why a lot of people don’t love it. Fitzgerald is the King of Purple Prose. Plus, it’s fairly propagandistic (as is the case with a lot of American literature centred around the American Dream- you know what it’s getting at before you start reading). Not to mention that, as I once heard said, “there’s not a single likeable character in it”. For some reason none of that bothers me- I just think it’s an excellent depiction of human behaviour, it’s multi-layered enough to have universal themes and the writing is to die for.  

East of Eden– speaking of great American literature, this is one of my personal faves. That said, I noticed in a response I had to a post recently that it’s not everyone’s personal pick. And that’s totally fair- as the criticism said, it has a lot more exposition and (as I’ve noticed) it’s a lot more sprawling than his other work. And yet, though it doesn’t have that tight form of Steinbeck’s more popular works, I still kinda love it more. The characters for me leap off the page and feel more like family.

Lorna Doone– this is a book which isn’t perfect by a long shot. I was a kid when I read this, so I’m sure the (admittedly rather obvious) plot points will not be particularly surprising to an adult. Still, it’s a very entertaining, sensationalised story. Definitely an enjoyable read, if nothing else.

Shadow on the Wind– I do occasionally see criticism of this beloved book and my first response is always “WHAT?! You don’t love it?!” So I may struggle with objectivity for this one. It is a truly immersive and beautiful book, but in fairness to the haters critics, it is not fast paced (which, in my opinion, lends itself to the atmosphere). I also agree that it’s highly descriptive (which comes down to personal preference). Fairer to say that it weaves through the labyrinthine streets of Barcelona at a meandering pace. And I also understand that it’s frequently miss-marketed as a mystery or (more bizarrely still) a thriller. If you do want to try it out, look at it more as a piece of literary fiction about the beauty of books and you’ll be more satisfied for it!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone– hmm if you want objectivity for this book then you may have come to the wrong place 😉 Okay let’s give this a go- I guess if you don’t want to read a book with beautiful writing, intriguing characters, a great love story and spectacular world building then this won’t be for you… 😉 Alright- I guess you could call said beautiful writing prose very flowery and (while I think it isn’t technically instalove) I also get why people feel that way (just a little). It’s still really imaginative and Laini Taylor is one of my favourite writers, so. You. Should. Read. It.

Red Rising– this is probably my *favourite ever sci fi series*- which means it’s not going to be easy to have any level of objectivity for it! That said, I think Darrow would want me to be reasonable and measured here. I can say that it has a slower opening than a lot of people were expecting. Not only was I forewarned, but I’m actually so geeky about classics, that I LOVED how the world building linked so much to Roman culture. That said, I get why people would be (a little) peeved that it takes an unusually long time to get to the inciting incident. I also understand why people say that it’s similar to Hunger Games (though BLOODYDAMN it ends up doing something very different and is much more adult!)

Black Magician’s Trilogy– this is one of my favourite series that it’s actually easier for me to critique because, yes, I get that it’s not perfect. The first book was slow and there was much too much telling (especially in the way of world building infodumps). THAT SAID, it’s entirely worth sticking with. I was lucky enough to have a friend that told me to stick with it- so now I guess I’m doing the same for you- if you try this series, stick with it!

Hazel Wood– this was one that was one where the criticism was a little closer to home- literally, because my sister didn’t like it! That said, her criticism that it was too graphic was valid. Also, I read a lot of reviews that complained it was too slow paced and that it took ages to get to the actual hazel wood. All of which is fair… I just didn’t mind the slower pace because I felt the wonderful writing, world building and characters balanced it out!

Circe– Oho- such a hard one!! I have seen a couple of negative reviews (because even masterpieces like this have detractors 😉) but I can admit it’s fair when people call it slow. Expect a more languid pace for this one- it’s not designed to be an Achillean sprint. This takes place over hundreds of years, stringing countless myths together into a story arc and developing character in a unique way. It’s both very modern and ancient in its telling. It’s basically a work of pure genius… and yes I’m still being objective!

Wolf in the Whale– oof I understand why people don’t love this (although I will continue to recommend it because it’s so different to anything I’ve ever read). This is an account of history that’s never been explored- the meeting of Inuit and Viking. Yet for that, it’s realistic historically and has some graphic assault scenes. I completely understand why it’s over the line for some people- normally I’d feel the same way. Except I personally felt so absorbed in this other world and thought the atmosphere was incredible.

Bear and the Nightingale– this is another atmospheric read that I’m going to struggle to critique. I think in this case, it might be best to read Briana’s review, where she explains why it’s not great that it engages in the (all too common trope) of making the religious characters are portrayed as fanatics. I can see her point- HOWEVER I have to defend this series as a whole- over the course of the trilogy Arden really gives this aspect far more nuance. It show you a purer and good hearted alternative.  I thought it managed to balance the complex culture of Russia and its history by the end. The other main criticism that this gets is that it starts slow and that the action is over in a blur- which I can see to an extent. In retrospect, this is more about building relationships, characters and sets the scene for what’s to come. I get that this won’t be for everyone, but I can still recommend giving it a go over a hot chocolate on a chilly night!

I didn’t do the worst job of being objective… although perhaps not the best either! 😉 What do you think? Was I fair here? Do you have any critiques to add? Or, most importantly, have any of you been tempted into reading any of these? Let me know in the comments!