Posted in Books

The Curse of Book 2: Why Does the Second Book in the Trilogy Sometimes Fall Flat?

Hi again, bibliophiles!

Trilogies are a tried and true length for so many good book series. Having three books in the series makes for a larger three-act story overall, and it sits in the happy medium between a quick duology and a longer, more drawn-out saga. But even so, the trilogy often falls prey to a sometimes fatal curse: a middle book that doesn’t hold up to the rest of the series. Just like in a single novel, a lull often happens in the middle of the trilogy, and that lull almost always happens to land in book 2. It’s like Pulp Fiction—the first and last third are fantastic, but the middle seems to drag on and on without any consequence to the plot, or in this case, the series as a whole.

I’ve read plenty of trilogies—good, bad, and just decent. But a lot of them fall into this pattern of having great first and third books, but not-so-great second books. So I decided to look into what makes middle books fail—or succeed. I’ve gathered up three examples of lagging middle books and three fantastic middle books, and from there, we can determine some of the root causes of a sagging middle.

Now, keep in mind before I dive in—this is a very, very subjective analysis. These are examples of books that I personally think fit the bill of good or bad middles, but it’s not true for everyone! Think for yourselves. Now, let the ranting investigation begin…

Let’s begin, shall we?

THE CURSE OF BOOK 2: WHY DOES THE SECOND BOOK IN THE TRILOGY SOMETIMES FALL FLAT?

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MIDDLE BOOKS THAT WENT WRONG

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2) – V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows: A Novel (Shades of Magic, 2): Victoria Schwab:  9780765376473: Amazon.com: Books

I got into the Shades of Magic trilogy last year and loved it—except for this one, which was still decent, but nowhere near the others in terms of quality. My main issue was that the plot was almost entirely filler; the Elemental Games were entertaining, sure, but they were inconsequential in comparison to everything else that moved the plots of A Darker Shade of Magic and A Conjuring of Light forward. The only thing tying A Gathering of Shadows to its predecessor and successor was the main villain—brought back by the resurrection trope, no less. What made A Gathering of Shadows so lackluster was that it emphasized the worst aspect of its predecessor—the weak plot—and amplified it into 500 pages of filler.

Blood & Honey (Serpent & Dove, #2) – Shelby Mahurin

Amazon.com: Blood & Honey (Serpent & Dove, 2): 9780062878052: Mahurin,  Shelby: Books

I wasn’t attached to Serpent & Dove as much as I was to A Darker Shade of Magic, but I recognize blatant filler when I see it. The sad part about Blood & Honey is that the Serpent & Dove series was originally supposed to be a duology, but it got so popular that the publishers pushed Shelby Mahurin to make it a trilogy. So in the grand scheme of things, the pitfalls of Blood & Honey could have been prevented.

Even though this was a 3-star read for me, it was still a major slog. I’ll say this in A Gathering of Shadows’ favor—it may have been filler, but at least it was entertaining. Blood & Honey was just 500 pages of the characters being separated and then hemming and hawing as they attempted to find their way back to the main plot. And then it had to end with a ridiculous cliffhanger.

However, the case of Blood & Honey isn’t exactly like all the other trilogies in this post—it wasn’t the worst book in the series, but after Gods & Monsters, this was the signal of what I felt was the nosedive in quality of this series. Gods & Monsters was even worse. My advice? Just stick with Serpent & Dove and then let it be.

Kingsbane (Empirium, #2) – Claire Legrand

Kingsbane (Empirium, #2) by Claire Legrand

Apparently I’m in the minority for this one; a lot of people really seemed to like the direction that Kingsbane took the Empirium trilogy. For me, though, it lacked the emotional weight that made Furyborn and Lightbringer so impactful. Though I liked it a lot more than I did A Gathering of Shadows and Blood & Honey, this one was also a lot of rushing around. By the time the cliffhanger came, its impact was dumbed down for me. And this one was 600 pages long, so it was easy for the important parts of the plot to get bogged down with what occurred in the interim. (That’s not to say that all long books are unnecessarily lengthy—ever read Dune?)

Now, let’s take a look at the flip side.

MIDDLE BOOKS THAT WENT RIGHT

Aurora Burning (Aurora Cycle, #2) – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Amazon.com: Aurora Burning (The Aurora Cycle): 9781524720926: Kaufman,  Amie, Kristoff, Jay: Books

Maybe I’m a little biased since this is my favorite series, but I truly think Aurora Burning is a textbook example of book 2 done right. The key here is consistency: while it still took the plot to new heights and directions, it kept a similar pace, tone, and emotional weight throughout. What I mean by “consistency” isn’t that this was just Aurora Rising 2: Electric Boogaloo, but that it stayed on the same path set out by book 1, and kept the pace flowing as though it was all the same book. Unlike Blood & Honey and Kingsbane, this consistency of pacing is what helped build the tension and give weight to the infamously devastating cliffhanger.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2) – Neal Shusterman

Amazon.com: Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe): 9781534417861: Shusterman, Neal:  Books

(I think this is the only book cover in this post that doesn’t have a warm color scheme lol)

Like Aurora Burning, Thunderhead’s saving grace was that it kept the pacing and tone consistent with that of Scythe while also introducing new and very consequential plot points along the way. Thunderhead drops a whole host of bombshells over the course of 500 pages, which forces the reader to constantly be on their toes. This slow building of tension and suspense is what made Thunderhead’s cliffhanger as bleak, horrifying, and painful as it was. And that was a real gut-punch of a cliffhanger…I don’t think I’ve fully recovered in the 4 years since I’ve read it…

The Demon World (The Smoke Thieves, #2) – Sally Green

Amazon.com: The Demon World (The Smoke Thieves): 9780425290248: Green,  Sally: Books

Although it employs the same tools as Aurora Burning and Thunderhead, the unique thing about The Demon World was that it managed to be the highlight of the whole trilogy. This book is the black sheep in my general middle book theory—instead of being the low point between books 1 and 3, it manages to overshadow them altogether. With a new threat introduced at the end of The Smoke Thieves, The Demon World had a perfect setup for building tension and increasing the gravity of the conflict. It was emotional, it was action-packed, and it delivered another whopper of a cliffhanger.

So with all that said, what is it that makes the middle book stumble and fall?

  • Filler plots: whether it’s a product of the author not knowing how to bridge the beginning to the end or publisher pressure, filler plots often result in a sequel that lacks the same emotional weight or consequence as book 1.
  • Inconsistent pacing and tone between books: this is often a byproduct of a filler plot; if the story itself isn’t as monumental as the first book, the pacing slows down where it was once sped up. This often results in a feeling that whatever happens in this book isn’t as important as what happened previously or what will happen next.

Both of these end up leading to:

  • Cliffhangers with unnecessary twists: this is where the aforementioned inconsistent pacing and tone culminate. Although bombshell cliffhangers can be a valuable tool in catching and keeping the reader’s attention, if the book already has less emotional weight, the cliffhanger feels like a lazy attempt to tie the events of the book to the series as a whole.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! What are some middle books that you didn’t like? What are some middle books that you thought were fantastic? Let me know in the comments!

My Disappointment Is Immeasurable And My Day Is Ruined | Know Your Meme

Since I already posted once today, check out this week’s Goodreads Monday for today’s song.

That’s it for this post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

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Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (7/20/21) – Off Balance (Aunare Chronicles, #2)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

For the most part, I really enjoyed reading Off Planet, the first book in Aileen Erin’s Aunare Chronicles; I read it on vacation, and I loved the fast-paced action. So on a whim (and because it was pretty cheap), I bought book 2 on my Kindle and read it between library hauls.

But…

[heavy sigh]

Oh god, I can’t believe that these books are from the same series…Off Balance took everything that I didn’t like about book 1 and made it the main focus of the plot, making for a mess of a sequel that I had neither the will nor the patience to finish.

(find my mini-review of book 1, Off Planet, here!)

Enjoy this week’s review!

Amazon.com: Off Balance (Aunare Chronicles Book 2) eBook: Erin, Aileen:  Kindle Store

Off Balance (Aunare Chronicles, #2) – Aileen Erin

On the run from Earth and SpaceTech, Amihanna di Aetes flees to the other half of her heritage, the powerful, spacefaring Aunare. Even surrounded by the riches of her father’s estate, her life is one of constant fear – fear of Spacetech, and fear of the aliens who look at her like vermin for her half-human heritage. But as tensions within the royal family begin to rise surrounding her, she must think on her feet to make it out alive.

Gyllenaals GIF | Gfycat

TW/CW: discrimination, trauma-related nightmares, frightening situations, violence, bombing, 10+ year age gap between protagonist and love interest*

*yeah, you heard me right…see the fourth paragraph for me freaking out about that

DNF at 68%

Oh god…where do I begin with this one? It pains me to write DNF reviews these days. Really. It’s so rare for my ratings for a series to drop this much…I gave Off Planet a solid 3.5 stars, and here we have Off Balance with a measly 1…I feel pretty bad about it, but YIKES.

I really wanted to like Off Balance. I really did. But it just kept getting more and more frustrating with every page, and with around 500 pages, there came a point where I couldn’t take any more of it. It’s like everything that I didn’t care about in book 1 was emphasized, and then made 10 times worse…

First off, let me talk about the Aunare for a second. I was excited to see what their culture and physiology and such was like, but…there were hardly any differences from humans. I tried to brush off the fact that Lorne looked like an ordinary human in book 1, but, alas, here we have the “aliens that look exactly like humans but with ✨pretty eye colors✨ and they’re all ✨ridiculously attractive✨” trope. And they glow this time. Oh, joy. Furthermore, other than some of the food and the whole glowing business, all of the culture that we got was just…wild parties in ballrooms and messy stuff with the royal family? If nobody had told me that this was a space opera, I could have passed this off as a fully human cast. All those parties got mind-numbing eventually, which…maybe that was the point? I don’t even know…

And then there’s the issue of Lorne. I don’t judge love interests by whether or not I’m attracted to them, which, I’ll admit, doesn’t happen a whole lot to me in books. He already put me off a bit because of my association of his name from Lorne Malvo from Fargo (oops), but he was just all kinds of frustrating in this book. He was just such a startlingly bland character – there was nothing that distinguished him from any other YA love interest. And the whole thing with him and Amihanna…I just felt…nothing? I wasn’t invested in their relationship in any way, and all of the lines that were supposed to be tender or heartwarming just made me roll my eyes. And…IS NOBODY GONNA TALK ABOUT THE FACT THAT THERE’S AN 11-YEAR AGE GAP BETWEEN HIM AND AMIHANNA?

WHY IS NOBODY ADDRESSING THIS??

WHY?

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ALL KINDS OF CREEPY. AND NOBODY SEEMS TO BE BATTING AN EYE. WHY?

[waves hands around] okay, okay. Lemme cool off a minute.

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Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest…

Other than that, the plot just seemed to be completely absent. It was an endless cycle of Amihanna doing some training, drama with the royal family, drama with Dylan, drama with Lorne…just drama. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that this was a book from an entirely different series than the first book. I’m still so puzzled as to how we got from such an action-packed first book to…whatever this was.

In the end, I just couldn’t stand to read another page. The plot started to pick up a little, but by that point, I’d lost all will to read Off Balance. So it was a DNF for me.

All in all, a bitter, messy disappointment of a sequel that lacked in everything that made Off Planet a reasonably compelling read. Off Planet is still worth a read, but…maybe just stop at book 1. 1, sad little star.

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Off Balance is the second book in the Aunare Chronicles, preceded by Off Planet and succeeded by In Command (#2.5, a novella) and On Mission (#3).

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Tags

Disappointments Book Tag

Happy Friday, bibliophiles!

(Is there any better liberation than finally being able to dump all your old homework in the recycling?)

I feel like I haven’t done a book tag in a while, so I thought I’d give this one a go. I found it over at Cherry @ Letters to the Lost. (She has a lovely blog, so go check it out!) The tag was originally created by Brooke @ The Reader’s Game.

RULES:

  • Tag at least 3 people
  • Do each of the prompts unless you have never read that type of disappointing book
  • For some of the prompts, you can twist them into what fits your book. For example: Sequels where the characters change in a bad way could change to Good story, Bad characters or good characters, the rest was meh
  • Have fun!

Let’s begin, shall we?

😑 THE DISAPPOINTMENTS BOOK TAG 😑

A DISAPPOINTING DEBUT

Amazon.com: Crown of Coral and Pearl (Crown of Coral and Pearl series, 1):  Rutherford, Mara: Books

Part of why Crown of Coral and Pearl was so disappointing for me was the fact that I thought that there would be mermaids (oops), but even with that aside, I found this novel to be rather dry. Save for a creature or two, there’s hardly anything “fantasy” about it.

AN AUTHOR WITH A NOVEL YOU LOVE AND A NOVEL YOU DISLIKE

They Both Die at the End' by Adam Silvera
ARC Review: Infinity Son by Adam Silvera – thesepaperwords

Adam Silvera is a hit-or-miss author for me; I liked They Both Die at the End a lot, but I had to DNF Infinity Son because it was such a mess. Maybe contemporary is just more his speed.

A DISAPPOINTING SEQUEL

Amazon.com: Blood & Honey (Serpent & Dove, 2) (9780063041172): Mahurin,  Shelby: Books

Speaking of books that were kind of a mess…

Book 1 was a lot of fun, but Blood & Honey just dragged so much…so much filler, and then a whole bunch of twists that made no sense crammed at the end.

GREAT IDEA, POOR EXECUTION

June Virtual Teen Readers Unite book discussion of Cinderella Is Dead by  Kalynn Bayron – Avon Free Public Library

It always pains me to think about this one…

Cinderella is Dead was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 – the premise of a dystopian kingdom 200 years after Cinderella found her prince sounded incredible! Alas, the worldbuilding was sloppy, none of the characters had much personality, and the commentary on misogyny/abuse/etc. was very forced, and relied more on telling than showing.

SEQUELS WHERE THE CHARACTERS CHANGE IN A BAD WAY

Cold Falling White by Gabrielle S. Prendergast

I wouldn’t say that it was the characters themselves in Cold Falling White that changed in a bad way, but the way Prendergast handled them. Most of the characters that died in Zero Repeat Forever were resurrected in a really weird way, and the characters that survived were either separated or shoved into a plot that made no sense. Sigh…

I TAG:

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Today’s song:

That’s it for this book tag! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday, Books

Book Review Tuesday (9/8/20)–Cinderella is Dead

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

It’s been a bit of a chaotic day for me–I couldn’t get into one of my zoom meetings for one of my classes, and it’s snowing. The latter is deeeeefinitely kind of worrying–here in Colorado, it usually doesn’t start to snow until mid to late October, and persists until late May.

IT’S THE SECOND WEEK OF SEPTEMBER. Yep, friendly reminder that climate change isn’t just global warming, but unpredictable weather patterns like this. Climate change is still very real, folks.

Anyway, I’ll step off that soapbox for a minute…only to get right back onto another one.

Ever since I found out about it in May, Cinderella is Dead was one of my most anticipated releases of this summer. A Black, sapphic protagonist, a multiracial wlw relationship, and a dystopian society based on the tale of Cinderella? I was FASCINATED. And while this novel did deliver in the aforementioned aspects, it was dragged down by the poor execution of nearly everything else.

Prepare for a rant review, folks…

Enjoy this week’s review!

Amazon.com: Cinderella Is Dead (9781547603879): Bayron, Kalynn: Books

Cinderella is Dead–Kalynn Bayron

Everybody knows the tale of Cinderella, the dismissed orphan who was visited by a fairy godmother and lived happily ever after with the dashing Prince Charming. But do you know what happened 200 years later?

In Sophia Grimmins’ world, the tale of Cinderella is now the backbone of every tradition in town. Every year, all of the eligible girls must attend the Annual Ball, to be picked and chosen by the men. But for as long as she can remember, Sophia has never wanted a man–she’s wanted a woman. She flees the ball with her life, only to find herself in the tomb of Cinderella herself. There, she finds Constance, the last surviving descendant of Cinderella, who seeks to help bring down the patriarchal kingdom. Sophia and Constance join forces, and sparks soon fly between them–but the truths they thought about Cinderella are far from true…

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My range of emotions through the course of this book

Let me be perfectly honest: it truly pains me to give this book such a low rating. It’s such a joy to see #OwnVoices books outside contemporary and historical fiction with POC/LGBTQ+ leads, and we certainly need more of those out in the world. But even though Cinderella is Dead boasted great representation all around, it failed to meet my expectations in almost every other aspect.

I’ll start off with the good before the bad: representation! This dystopian fantasy is absolutely an #OwnVoices book, with a Black, lesbian protagonist, a lesbian love interest, and a gay side character who has a semi-prominent role. Throughout the book, there’s themes of contradicting patriarchal tradition, abuse, and misogyny, and it’s always wonderful to see a sapphic couple kicking sexist butt, so that’s always a win. But even then…Sophia wasn’t a very distinct character. I struggle to find any traits that would make her much of an individual, other than the desire to smash the patriarchy. (Don’t we all, though? Can’t go wrong with that.) I liked Constance a little bit better, but their relationship felt very rushed and glossed over. And the themes I just talked about it? They felt very forced, relying more on telling than showing. There wasn’t very much subtlety or creativity in the ways that they were tackled, making the commentary…almost not worth it. I appreciate Bayron’s attempt to discuss these issues, but there are so many ways that they could have been handled better.

All of the Cinderella mythos had SO MUCH potential, from the punchy title to the concept itself. It was still reasonably spine-chilling in execution, but other than the fact that the tale has been weaved into the world’s operating system, the worldbuilding was…wait a minute…[picks up a telescope] wait a minute, where’d it go? A little help here?

…okay, that was probably harsh, but it was RIDDLED with holes.

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Me @ the worldbuilding

[spreads out a sheet of paper] Okay, let’s see. We’ve got a country ruled by a monarchy, with some forests around it, presumably. It’s hinted that it’s a bit more antiquated technology-wise, but we don’t get any sense of where society has gone as far as technology, transportation, all of that. There’s a little bit of evidence to suggest that magic exists, but the only wielder we know of is the Fairy Godmother. (So is there some sort of ban on magic? Has nobody else been able to find it? Who knows…) The character’s names range from ones that were popular in the 19th century to those in the 21st century, but most of them fall into the latter. (ex. Liv, Isla, Sophia) So…wait, what? It’s been a good two and a half weeks since I’ve read Cinderella is Dead, and I STILL have no idea what’s going on there. I NEED ANSWERS. PLEASE. THIS IS A MESS.

Confused Screaming | Filthy Frank | Know Your Meme

The worldbuilding is my main criticism, but other than that, my issues are a little more nit-picky. Things like Sophia having very few defining traits (if any) and the telling method of tackling the issues, the villains had very lackluster, overdone motives and no redeemable qualities to speak of. The dialogue also had a tendency to be overly stiff, and nobody had a distinct voice.

Again, I feel so bad for giving this book such a low rating. #OwnVoices books are so pertinent and important in this day and age, but…there are so many better ones that you could be reading than this one. I could chalk this rating up to my high expectations, but other than the representation and concept, Cinderella is Dead was such a mess. Amazing concept, terrible execution. 2.5 stars, but the half star is likely just for seeing a multiracial wlw couple smashing the patriarchy. [sad harmonica noises]

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Cinderella is Dead is Kalynn Bayron’s YA debut, but she has several other adult and nonfiction works. Cinderella is Dead is likely a standalone, but I’ve heard a rumor about spin-offs set in the same universe, but I haven’t been able to confirm their validity.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! I promise that the next reviews I write will be more positive. Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!