Books I Almost Loved

Very rarely do I rate books with five stars. For that to happen, a book has to be perfect in every regard in my opinion. I can’t even have a minor complaint. As I decided early on not to use half stars on my ratings, I always award four stars to books that weren’t flawless but that I almost loved. Only by reading the review can my high esteem for such books be fully perceived. The following eight books fall under that category.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

This retelling of an Ancient Greek myth resembles a fictional memoir. Circe, the daughter of Helios (the god of sun) and Perse (a nymph), was sentenced to exile as a punishment for using witchcraft against her own kind. Throughout the book, Madeline Miller delves into the meaning of love and the fear of losing a dear one. The prose is gripping and the characters feel truly real, thanks to a tangible portrayal of emotions, particularly those of Circe. However, the book loses a bit of its enchantment when Circe tells stories about Odysseus.

 

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

The first book in The Farseer Trilogy is not only a story of court intrigue and lust for power, but also a true interpretation of human emotions. When he was 6 years old, Fitz was left by his grandfather at the castle of the town where they lived in, because he was the bastard son of the Crown Prince, Chivalry. Some years later, he started being trained as an assassin in secret. The detailed and absorbing writing style is one of the highlights of this fantasy book. Unfortunately, the last chapter is not as thorough and some events are just briefly mentioned.

 

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan moved in with her aunt and uncle, who was not only the owner of Jamaica Inn, but was also involved in a smuggling business. Did he commit any other crimes? Daphne du Maurier managed to create a believable dangerous atmosphere in this novel. The interactions between the characters, particularly those involving Mary and Jem Merlyn, are also remarkable. Nevertheless, the pacing is not always perfect.

 

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

A successful mix of crime story with a reflection on the writing of fiction, Dear Mr. M features two intertwined stories. One is about Mr. M, a renowned writer who was not as well-known as he once was, and the other focuses on his creepy neighbour. The final revelation is surprising but makes perfect sense. The characters are fleshed out. Both protagonists are fascinating, although Mr. M’s strand is not as gripping as the other one at first.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Told from Offred’s point of view, this is a powerful read about equality, lack of freedom, love, feminism and women’s agency. It’s set in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian, repressive and puritanical state established in the US. Women who are believed to be fertile (the Handmaids) are used by the Commanders (men who are part of the elite) to breed, as their own Wives can’t conceive. It’s a great book, but I would have liked it even more if it presented other perspectives as well in some way.

 

Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (Blindness) by José Saramago

This is a thought-provoking allegorical novel about human beings experiencing a life-threatening situation. It explores relevant social, moral and political issues. In an unnamed city, people start going blind. But, instead of being surrounded by darkness, everything around them turns white. Despite its bleakness, it is a highly gripping novel. However, I wish I had cared more about the fate of the characters, but what they had to face was so extreme that I couldn’t imagine an even worse fate.

 

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Elizabeth Macneal’s debut is a story set in 1850 about freedom, independence and how love is not the same as obsession. The main character, Iris, wants to become a painter, but her aspiration is not deemed appropriate by neither her family or society in general. She is resolute in pursuing her dream, though. Along the way, she meets Silas and Louis, and her life changes in various ways. The plot is gripping, London is visually depicted, and the ambiences created are immersive. The characters become fully fledged as the story progresses, despite at first feeling slightly artificial.

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Fearful of losing his beauty, Dorian Gray sells his soul to ensure that it’s his picture that ages and decays with time and not himself. His subsequent libertine lifestyle leads to tragic events. This could have been a perfect classic if it weren’t for the chapter that features excessively long and boring passages describing his study of perfumes, music and jewels.

 

Have you read any of these books? Are there any books you almost loved? Tell me in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Books I Almost Loved

  1. Isobel Necessary says:

    I do find it interesting how people decide on their ratings for books. Reviews hold the real gold, as we can describe the kind of reader we think might like the book, explain the key features that might attract someone to the book (or put them off), and somehow assess the overall quality. Still, ratings are a nice shorthand.
    For me, four stars is for books I’d be happy to recommend, and five is reserved for books I liked so much I can’t shut up about. Three is “this wasn’t a waste of time, but reading it again probably would be” and anything below that should have been a DNF.
    Of these, I’ve read “The Handmaid’s Tale” (I gave it 5 stars when I read it in 2014) and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (4 stars from me in 2017 – I agree with your summary, it’s great but not necessarily continuously engaging, and that’s probably the case with a lot of the books I’ve given 4 stars to).
    My least favourite reading experience is when I am really enjoying a book but about 80 percent through it pivots into the ridiculous. Worse than a simple dislikeable ending, I’m talking about introducing a whole new concept which has not even been foreshadowed. More than one YA book I read had a “the explanation is aliens” in otherwise good sci-fi stories. It’s okay to have aliens and surprises and even both but it still has to somehow feel like the same I started. Life doesn’t necessarily have foreshadowing but give your readers something that in hindsight prepared them for where this was going. Especially since I gave the author my trust for a couple of hundred pages up to that point. Anyway, overly-specific rant over. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susana_S_F says:

      Generally-speaking, I give 4 stars to books that I like. Some are far closer to the perfection level (5 stars) than others, though. Half stars could be helpful to make that clear. But I decided not to use them, because, for me, it would definitely be a temptation to then start giving ratings like 4.7 or 4.2, if I liked some books more or less than the ones that I rated with 4.5. I would just start overthinking the ratings, basically!

      I agree with you that the review is the most important part!

      Some of my favourite endings are the ones that surprise me, but that at the same time I think back and realise that the clues were there since the beginning.

      Liked by 1 person

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