You see the cover. You read the inside flap. Maybe an author you really like is quoted on a back cover blurb. The book sounds great – and maybe it is! Or maybe it isn’t, and you’ve fallen victim to a misleading synopsis. This week’s Top 5 Wednesday is about bad synopses – they can glam up a boring book, dumb down a fabulous book, or make you think that a plot element is more relevant than it actually is. Either way, they can be dicey. Here are 5 “liar liar pants on fire” synopses I’ve experienced.
- Anything billed as being similar to Red Queen
This is my current #1 turnoff in book synopses. If I see this, the thought process is as follows: “Oh, it’s like Red Queen? You mean it’s a B-grade YA book that encompasses such tropes as an unimaginatively named caste system, a villain reveal as unbelievable as Hans in Frozen,* followed by a sequel that couldn’t hold my attention past 30 pages? Why yes I would love to read this book!”
For the record, I often like the books on the “read this if you like Red Queen” lists, I just can’t stand the reference.
- False Prince | Jennifer Nielsen
This book is decent for a middle grade adventure read, ignoring the fact that the characters are hilariously self-aware to the point where someone actually says, “We’ve come to it at last…I am ready to tell you my plan.” The basic plot rundown is that Chief Fun-Sucker Conner** is a nobleman planning to train an orphan to pose as the long-lost prince. What the synopsis does not appropriately convey is that the ENTIRE book is about the two weeks he’s training his potential puppet princes, and the moment he decides is supposed to be the apex of the plot arc. What even. I went into this thinking that was maybe going to be 1/3 of the book, but nope nope nope.
- The Kiss of Deception | Mary E. Pearson
First glances do not do this book justice. I hear “The Kiss of Deception” and look at the cover and immediately conjure up images of smarmy, gag-worthy romance that make me want to tuck the whole thing into my sweatshirt pocket.
It is waaaaaay better than that. We’ve seen lots of stories about princesses escaping arranged marriages and the ensuing love triangles, but this one stands out for an intriguing element of mystery – the jilted prince and a would-be assassin have tracked the princess down, but we don’t know which man is which. We get chapters titled by characters’ names, and chapters titled as “the prince” and “the assassin,” but the latter give no identifying clues about who fulfills each role. It took me about 1/3 of the book to realize this was happening, and I was fascinated by it from them on. All three are living double lives in a small village, trying to feel out each other’s intentions and avoid having their true identities uncovered. The dainty flower crown cover belies the high adventure, unique matriarchal magic system, and inclusion of geo-political drama that make this an unexpected win.
- High Calling | Evelyn Husband
This book didn’t have so much of a misleading synopsis for me as a lack of synopsis. Time travel back to the summer before my freshman year of high school, and I’m on a space camp trip to Houston. I don’t remember what museum or visitor center we were in, but I was looking at the books (obviously) and a fellow camper told me this one was good. So I bought it. Fully priced hardcover. If I operated like that now, I would have no money.
Fast forward a bit, and I can tell you that this book is not just good, it is great. It’s written by the wife of Rick Husband, who was the commander on the final Columbia space shuttle mission when it broke apart during reentry. It chronicles a life devoted to God, his family and his career, all with a carefully monitored and loving balance that I think a lot of us could learn from. This isn’t a high-handed science biography, it’s the heart-wrenching story of an incredible man whose journey was marked by humility and faith. I accidentally stretched a 10-minute presentation on him into 20, and sometimes wear that final mission’s patch on my airsoft gear.
- We Found a Hat | Jon Klassen
If you’re not familiar with “I Want My Hat Back” and “This is Not My Hat” by the same author, you should acquaint yourself with those before perusing this. They’re picture books; it’ll take you all of 5 minutes. For those of you familiar with Klassen’s infamous hat stories, you might go into this like I did – expecting a sort of Thunderdome-esque showdown between two turtles over the right to wear some swag headgear. But we learn right off the bat that these two turtles are friends, so the stone cold vengeance approach that was so fascinating in the first two just doesn’t sit well with this one. Good news, friends – We Found a Hat brings this visually adorable picture book trio to a heartwarming conclusion rather than a bloodthirsty one. There is good left in the world, and it can be found in this pair of turtles.
Have you been lead astray by a sneaky synopsis? Holler at me in the comments or drop a link to your list and we can commiserate together!
*Ok maybe not that bad. I will go on record as saying I unabashedly abhor Frozen. Tangled is where it’s at.
**Not his real title, but it should be.