Book Reviews DNF Books

Did Not Finish: A Discovery of Witches, Allison Hewitt is Trapped and Delirium

I don’t finish all the books I start. There are several reasons why I do not finish a book and they vary wildly: it could be because the writing is uninspiring or the characters don’t ring true. Or because the world-building is not interesting or lacks inherent logic. I am not above pet peeves either, and sometimes even one little thing will make me put the book away for good. Sometimes I quit a book only after a few pages, sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes it is clearly a case of the wrong time to be reading a particular book and I just put it aside to pick it up at a later date. Sometimes I am pretty sure I will never open it again.

Here are some of the recent books I was unable to finish – and the reasons why.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Viking (US)/ Headline (UK), February 2010, Hardcover: 608 pages
Review copy received from Headline

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

The hype surrounding A Discovery of Witches is tremendous. The positive reviews are coming hard and fast and the marketing material I received with my review copy has about a page full of blurbs and quotes including a starred review from Booklist. The book is about a young witch who does not like the fact that she is a witch (it is a family thing) and has turned to scholarly pursuits (because it is the least magical profession she could think of). She is incredibly powerful though ( and also incredibly precocious and with a great intellect as she makes sure to tells us) and her powers cannot remain contained. One day she is at the Oxford’s Bodleian Library doing some research and finds a manuscript that is oozing with power and her adventures begin. There is a romance with a vampire as well. Let’s put aside the fact that the premise sounds like just about any PNR out there (it sounds as though adult fantasy publishers are finding out right about NOW the potential in a good PNR story and are trying to sell it to a wider audience?) what didn’t work for me here was the writing.

The book starts as the main character gets this manuscript at the library, 11 pages later, she opens it, then returns it. The pages between holding the book and actually opening it are made of exposition, of boring info dump about her past and history with witchcraft which completely stills the action. Chapter 2 begins, she is back at the library, she feels she is observed by a vampire and takes a whole page info-dumping about what vampires look like and then another FULL page to describe the one that is looking at her (a vampire who is of course, incredibly good looking). The description includes the following bold statement:

But the most unnerving thing about him was not his physical perfection. It was his feral combination of strength, agility and keen intelligence that was palpable across the room.

Please note that at this point, said vampire has not moved or spoken a single word to her: how can she tell he is strong, agile and intelligent just by looking at him? I tried a few more pages and realised that the writing was not for me, and since the premise sounded just like a thousand other books and didn’t grip me from the get go, I decided to put it aside.

Pages read: 31

For a different opinion, read this very positive review from The Book Bag.

Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux
St Martin’s Griffin(US)/ Headline (UK), January 2010, Hardcover: 352 pages
Review copy received from Headline

Allison Hewitt is trapped. In the storeroom of Brookes & Peabody’s. In a world swarming with the Undead, the Doomed, the Infected.

Locked away with an oddball collection of colleagues and under siege, Allison takes advantage of a surviving internet connection and blogs. She writes, as the food runs out and panic sets in, as relationships develop and friends die, and as zombies claw at the door, all in the hope of connecting with other survivors out there. But as she reads the replies to her posts, Allison begins to comprehend the horrifying scale of the damage. And when no one comes to the group’s rescue, they are forced to leave the safety of their room and risk a journey across the city; streets that crawl with zombies, and worse – fellow humans competing for survival.

I love the idea that this book started as an experimental fiction blog, as the author wrote as the character and this concept became the book after the blog became a success.

The book is entirely made of blog entries written at the beginning of a zombie apocalypse by Allison Hewitt who is trapped with 5 colleagues at a bookstore. The story follows the first days of their confinement and what they must deal with and is a “historical” account of those first days of the ZA and even include blog comments from other readers that are also stranded. I enjoyed the first chapters very much; Allison has a good voice; the story, although not entirely original, was gripping enough with the Human Elements and how they deal with panic and tragedy. HOWEVER the problem is that the writing, or more specifically, the format grew inconsistent as the story progressed. Some of the blog entries contained dialogue; some of the blog entries were written in the present tense as though things were happening right now when they couldn’t have been because a blog entry can only be written after the fact. This bugged me to no end and prevented me from enjoying the book. The concept of the book, what sells the book as “different” is the gimmick, ie the blog entries. These HAVE to be consistent, they MUST follow what blog entries really look like for it to work properly. Otherwise, and that’s how unfortunately I feel about it, it is nothing but an empty gimmick, quickly published to capitalise on an original, clever idea.

Pages read: 97

For a different opinion, check out Graeme’s review: he finished it and he liked it (but with some of my own reservations)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Harper Teen(US)/ Hodder & Stoughton (UK), February 2010, Hardcover: 400 pages
Review copy from HarperTeen via Netgalley

There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world. People would go to the end of the earth to find it. They would tell lies for it. Even kill for it.

Then, at last, they found the cure.

Now, everything is different. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Haloway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But then, with only ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable.

A confession: I will admit that I only picked this book up because I was persuaded by the hype and the positive reviews that are popping up all over the place. The premise sounds very similar to Matched by Ally Condie, another recent dystopian YA novel (which I didn’t like) and I wasn’t very keen on yet another Dystopian-romance but persuaded I was and that’s all there is to it. I was determined to give the book a fair try and in fact, I read half of it before I called it quits. The reason to stop reading this one? I could never buy into the premise.

(Before I get into that though, to those who are wondering: although it sounds like Matched, it is actually very different and stands on its own when it comes to its world-building whereas Matched was uncomfortably similar to yet another dystopian read, the classic The Giver.)

The premise is that about 64 years ago, doctors and the president (of the United States?) identified love as a disease – a disease that causes madness. A cure was found a few years later and everybody once they reach 18 is given such cure. This means that everybody after they are 18 is safe: and lead a calm, collected life free of such madness. The entire society is thus, lobotomised into behaving well. The main character is a girl called Lena, whose mother committed suicide because she was never “cured”. Lena is terrified by this disease and is looking forward to her approaching birthday when she will be cured and then matched with a husband (which she gets to chose after she is given a few choices) . But then of course, she meets this guy and he winks at her and … is in the air.

My main question concerning this book is: why? WHY would love be considered a disease in the first place? You see, the thing about dystopias is that they always come under the guise of a Utopia – or at least set out to be an utopia and then things go wrong and ergo, dystopia. A dystopia is usually the degradation of a good idea. And that idea has to have originated with something believable. In The Giver for example there is this idea of safety and security, which has gone awry and led to the loss of colour and vibrancy and the human experience and of course, the loss of love. The loss of love and human experience is a consequence. Ergo, to me, it doesn’t make sense to treat love as a disease as an a priori because there is not anywhere in the world, a place, a culture where love is a bad thing. The lack of love is a worse, horrendous idea so this society, in this book, set out as a dystopia from the get go. Because it can only be a dystopia, because none of this can never ever work to anyone’s benefit. Especially when you only start to being “cured” at 18 – what happens before that?? You have uncured children, being capable of love being brought up by their parents who are unable to love them thus creating a condition for chaos rather than eliminating it.

Plus, in a society where everything is controlled, everyone is observed, where there are curfews and basic rules to be followed, it seemed extremely easy to break said rules, to get around them. The main character at one point, leaves the house unnoticed, breaks the curfew, rides a bicycle for a few minutes and reaches a barn where there is a co-ed party with music and alcohol even though all of the aforementioned is extremely against the law and everybody is presumably being monitored! It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

(I will not even mention how the love story felt forced and too instantaneous for my taste) (I will also not mention how boys and girls are brought up separately so that they wouldn’t fall in love with each other regardless of the fact that well, hello, boys fall in love with boys and girls fall in love with girls too. Although this is seen as another side of the disease but worse called “Unnaturalism” and ok, it is a dystopian society and I did not read the entire book but I wonder if this is going to be addressed at all).

I wasn’t a fan of the writing either (“”there’s a deep aching in my chest as though something large and cold and sharp is lodged there”) and since I was unable to finish Oliver’s previous book Before I Fall, at least this has helped me to decide that I am not a fan of this author’s style and will not be reading her other books .

I am definitely in the minority here though.

Pages read: 45% of it, according to my Kindle

For a different opinion, check out Kirkus’ starred review.

So this is my latest batch of books I did not finish. Have you read them? Agree, disagree? Let us know what you think!

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  • Tina
    February 1, 2011 at 5:58 am

    I was looking forward to reading Allison Hewitt mostly for the zombies and the blogging, but your review gives me a bit of reservation. I’m still interested in reading it, but maybe I’ll look for a borrowed copy.

    As for Delirium, I have it up as my next read this month, but I’m really wary of its hype. I did like Before I Fall so there’s still a chance I’d like this one, too.

  • Anonymous
    February 1, 2011 at 6:17 am

    I’m really surprised that you didn’t like Delirium as I’ve just finished reading it and couldn’t put it down! It’s not just “love” that they tried to diminish but the behaviour associated with it like heightened emotions that can make you act irrational, lie, act violent, lose focus. I think basically “the cure” is a way of controlling behaviour and getting rid of feelings altogether (not just love). Because feelings are what causes trouble in the governments’ eyes. They want to control everyone.

    I didn’t feel like the relationship between Lena and Alex was forced AT ALL. In fact, it was almost accidental that they met and continued to meet. They didn’t fall in love until the novel had nearly ended!

    And the illegal parties took place (as you would expect in any society, there will always be an “underground”) and I don’t know why this surprised you. The Government tried to control the people with fear. It’s a shame you didn’t read the rest of the book as you would have found out that not all is as it seems and the government lied to the people about certain things.

    And as for not having the procedure before the age of 18 – this is because it could kill them and so it’s not safe to do it before then.

    I fully appreciate that you are entitled to your opinion but I’m not sure you should comment if you didn’t finish the book. I’m saddened that you didn’t like it as I thought it was amazing. You did already say that you didn’t like Lauren Oliver’s writing style though and I happen to think that she has an intelligent and profound writing style that truly speaks to me. As for the other two books, I’ll still give them a go and make up my own mind. I appreciate your honesty however 🙂

  • KB/KT Grant
    February 1, 2011 at 6:25 am

    If love is a disease in Delirium, does that mean people don’t care abotu others? Are they cold and unfeeling toward one another? If a family member is in pain or needs hels, no one helps them because they don’t care or have feelings of lvoer for one another after the age of 18?

    Why cure at 18 years old and not at the moment of birth? A mother had no bond or love for their child?

    Looks like I have a lot of questions. LOL

    Delirium sounds like the Psy community found in Nalini Singh’s books.

    I’m looking forward to reading Witches, although yet again it has to be compared to Twilight because of the vampires in it.

    As for Delirium, I’m going to hold off because the recent YA books I’ve read have been such fails for me.

  • Lynsey Newton
    February 1, 2011 at 6:33 am

    Didn’t mean to be anonymous, just hit the button without putting in my details, doh! That last comment was from me.

  • KMont
    February 1, 2011 at 6:40 am

    Totally understand where you’re coming from on Delirium. I didn’t finish it either. It was boring. The writing came across as very awkward to me. The beginning chapters felt disjointed and not at all explained well enough (the worldbuilding more than anything) to engage me in any way so as to feel sympathy for the heroine, let alone billions of people brainwashed from feeling and acting on love. There wasn’t any incentive to become invested in the story.

  • Mandi
    February 1, 2011 at 6:52 am

    So glad you posted your thoughts on The Discovery of Witches – I have heard both good and bad, but I think this seals the deal for me…

  • Megan
    February 1, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I like that you all do these DNF posts. It’s interesting to take a look at what different things can lead to giving up on a book. I love dystopian books, but I find myself always doing the same thing – asking a ton of questions about everything that doesn’t really make sense, and that can weigh me down and keeps me from enjoying the story as much. But is that my fault or the authors, heh.

  • Holly
    February 1, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I couldn’t finish Delirium either after more than 100 pages. I too read it because of the hype. It was hard for me to put a finger on why the world building just didn’t make sense but I agree with your explanation. I also didn’t really care enough about Lena though she’s not badly written. I credit my lack of sympathy for her to the holes in the dystopia as well.

  • Ceilidh
    February 1, 2011 at 8:47 am

    That was my main problem when I read the synopsis of Delirium – nowhere in the world is love seen as a bad thing so why get rid of it? What does it accomplish? Surely it creates more problems than it solves. The worldbuilding just sounded so badly thought out and without logic which is the automatic death seal of a dystopian novel for me. With so many of them coming out this year I look forward to your views on a few others.

  • janicu
    February 1, 2011 at 9:36 am

    When I saw your comments on twitter about A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES I suspected you’d DNF it. I think that the super detailed prose is probably going to be a turn off to a lot of people. I ended up liking it myself, but I totally saw what you did regarding the detail. Working on a review now.

  • KarenS
    February 1, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I love DNF posts. I still feel guilty when I can’t finish a book, but there are just too many books to read to spend more than 150 pages on a book you aren’t enjoying. So when you discuss why you couldn’t finish a book, I’m able to figure out if any of your pet peeves or issues will make the book a problem read for me.

    A Discovery of Witches sounds interesting and I admit I’m sorry you couldn’t read more of it to give us a better idea of whether it works. What bothered you about it could easily bother me, but there’s a chance it will get better after a while. I keep thinking of the hype around The Historian, though, and how that turned out. My husband bought The Historian because of the hype and ended up hating it. Because of that, I never got around to it.

    I have an ARC of Delirium and I purchased Before I Fall. The negative reviews I’ve read for Delirium have put me off it, but I won’t make a definite decision about reading it until I read Before I Fall.

    Like Delirium, A Discovery of Witches sounds like it could go either way for me. Because of that, I’m leaning toward not buying A Discovery of Witches. At 600 pages, I’m not sure I’m willing to give it a chance.

  • Benni
    February 1, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I finished Delirium, and I liked it, although I thought it was marketed strangely–comparing it to The Hunger Games won’t do anyone any favors. I liked Oliver’s lyrical style, and I thought the book was more of a metaphor for a real life “us-against-the-world” first love. At least that’s how I explain why the dystopia is strangely constructed.

  • Elie
    February 1, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Fabulous post. Interesting-your comments about Delerium. I have been avoiding book blurbs due to spoilers and had not read the summary for this one.

    I love you explaination of dystopia. Thanks for posting.

  • April
    February 1, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Very interesting. Your thoughts on book 1 and book 3 confirmed my suspicions about them, and I liked what you said about dystopias. It definitely feels to me like a lot YA books coming out just don’t seem to have functional dystopias in them. For now I think I’ll avoid Delerium and move Ship Breaker back up to the top of my TBR pile.

    If you get a chance, I’d suggest maybe taking a look at Wither. It features a very unpleasant world but I really liked the writing and Rhine, the main female protagonist.

  • Keri
    February 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    I too love these DNF posts, for all the same reasons that KarenS gave. Your feelings on Delirium seal the deal for me – I won’t be reading it. I’ve discovered that I generally don’t like dystopias, so unless a book is a knockout it’s not really worth the effort for me.

    I am now intrigued by A Discovery of Witches. I hadn’t heard of this book, and while it didn’t work for you, it might work for me. I’m going to check out a few more reviews and then decide.

    Thanks for this post. 😀

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  • mb
    February 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I too love DNF posts. I DNF a ton of books myself, and appreciate when reviewers state why they didn’t finish a book. Personally, I find a lot more information from less positive reviews than from the ‘best book ever’ unquestioning adoration reviews. And, since I read books for pleasure, I have no intention of wasting my time on something that is annoying me. I’ll give it a fair chance then drop it.

    The premise and problem of Delirium, as you’ve explained it here, sounds frankly stupid and poorly thought out. I will stay far away from that one, in spite of the hype. Why doesn’t something like this get caught by editors? Are they all just too young and since publishing is dying, just to thankful to have a job to be critical? I’ve been wondering that lately. I’m seeing an awful lot of books with real problems that shouldn’t have been published until they were perfected. And I don’t mean grammatical errors, I mean big structural and logical ones! Again, this is where an editor is needed, I’d think.

  • John
    February 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    So I loved Delirium and Matched. Yeah. Probably not in the same dystopian taste category. 🙂 Delirium (and Matched) don’t touch on that, BUT I think the segregation is made to primarily prevent love and procreation as a whole. I mean, I’d LOVE to see that side of it, but we have to consider the limitations of a first person character. Which Matched also had.

    Of course, if the worldbuilding doesn’t work you’re toast with dystopian and paranormal. Too bad it didn’t work, but maybe next time avoid the hype! xD

  • Andrea
    February 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Did not finish posts are always interesting!

    Your comments about “Allison Hewitt is Trapped” are particularly interesting for me because I have an upcoming book which started as a fiction blog (though purports to be a diary), and thus you hit on some issues that I’ve had to deal with (it’s one of the rare occasions I’ve found tense slipping).

    Why did the dialogue in the blog posts bother you? Would it not be like dialogue in an epistolary work such as “Sorcery and Cecilia” – a fair transcription of what the writer recalls happening? [Presuming they’ve realistically had time to write all that down?]

    BTW, in the hopes of giving you a book that will work for you, have you ever tried Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s “Sorcery and Cecilia”? A fun romp!

  • Van P.
    February 1, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Wow, i’m surprised that you didn’t like A discovery of Witches. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy and in my opinion loved it. By the way this is NOTHING LIKE Twilight. The writing level is not even close to A discovery of witches. Cannot believe people would even compare the two!

  • orannia
    February 1, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Well, rats! I quite liked the sound of A Discovery of Witches, but I completely respect your opinion so….hmmmmm. My library has ordered it, so maybe I’ll try it at some point. I do dislike (intensely) super powerful heroines. See, if she wasn’t powerful that would be interesting!

  • Tiah
    February 1, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    There is nothing worse than poor world building. For me the whole book falls apart if that important part isn’t done right.

  • Lisa
    February 2, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Thank you for you honest and clarifying opinions! These books, especially A Discover of Witches, have gotten A LOT of hype. I had mixed feelings about the story-line from the beginning.

    Even though it seems you’ve gotten a lot of flak already for this review- I appreciate your insights!! 😀

  • Phoebe North
    February 2, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Completely agreed on Delirium, and I read it to the end. I mean, even Kirkus is giving a nod to how improbably the premise is. Though I liked Oliver’s writing, I found it to be little more than window dressing for an epic fail at world building. The details were entirely too contemporary. You get the feeling that she’s just not sure of how to create a future society.

  • de Pizan
    February 2, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Although the blogging form of Allison Hewitt did detract a little from the tension for me (since you knew she survived whatever was happening to write the current blog entry at least) and will agree the tense slippage was problematic; I loved the characters, dialogue, and plot so much I was willing to overlook it. And this is coming from someone that usually hates zombie novels/films. I also thought the blogging was a really interesting way to get commenters to weigh in from different parts of the world–usually in post-apocalyptic scenarios, it gets so narrowed down in focus you never know what’s going on outside of the tiny locale where the hero/heroine is.

  • Lenore
    February 8, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Commenting late here since I was on vacation, but I just wanted to say how much I loved Delirium. Is it improbable? Yes. But that didn’t make me enjoy it any less (though I will agree that separating out by sexes overlooks the very real possibility that girls will fall in love with girls and boys with boys).

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  • Tara
    August 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I wish I’d read your review of a Discovery of Witches before I bought it. It doesn’t get any better.

  • Tara
    August 16, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Cont… I’ve never commented here before but I’m so fed up with this book I have to. I’ve plowed my way to page 296/588 and can’t take any more. The author goes on for pages detailing completely irrelevant details of minor characters histories that don’t have anything to do with the main story. Even the main premise of Diana’s “research” reads like a text book. Total Yawn. And Diana Bishop is ridiculous. There’s like a three day time span where all she does is sleep, and we’re treated to all the details of those three very unexciting days. The last straw was this from the vampire love interest Matthew: “‘I will kill you myself before I let anyone hurt you.’ The words caught in his throat. ‘And don’t want to kill you. So please do what I tell you.'” What??? Do what I say or I’ll kill you?? I’m 40 years old and have read hundreds of books, and I’m actually not that picky. I can count on my fingers the DNF. This one is joining that list. Gah! I’m totally aggravated about it.

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