Books I Re-read in 2021

Re-reading is one of the greatest joys of being a reader. I’m the type of person that will watch the same movies and shows over and over, listen to the same songs over and over and yes, you guessed it, read the same books over and over. When I love something I go in hard, what can I say? 😂

The fun of re-reading a book is in experiencing a story, world and characters I love all over again with a greater appreciation for them. I tend to notice finer details on re-reads that I missed the first time around, learn more about the world, connect more to the characters and fall even more deeply in love with the things that I loved about the book the first time. I particularly love re-reading books when I’m in a slump because turning to books I love reminds me of what I love most about reading and reignites my desire to read. So here are the four books I re-read this year and my thoughts following the re-read.

Wuthering Heights

Anybody that has read any of my other posts will already know Wuthering Heights is my favourite book of all time, so it’s no surprise that it’s on this list. I re-read it right at the start of the year in February and the dreary, gothic tone of the book fit perfectly with the winter season. I did an annotated read and took my time to read it, really immersing myself into the story. I filled the pages with endless annotations and picked up on the many layers of this novel. I loved my re-read even more than my first time reading it because I was able to really sit with the book and feel the emotions of it. It’s a book that I have a constant craving to re-read simply because there’s something about the atmosphere and the characters that is so compelling and completely immerses me into the words on the page. The re-read only cemented it as my favourite and reminded me of its brilliance and uniqueness.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

I turned to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo during a reading slump near the beginning of the year and it achieved exactly what I wanted and reminded me why I love to read. This book feels more like a film than a book. I can picture everything so clearly in my mind and I feel like I’m watching it on the big-screen as I’m reading. Evelyn is such a complex character and her life so crazy that I loved being able to further analyse her. This re-read actually inspired my post ‘Queerness and bisexuality‘ where I wrote about the depiction of sexuality in the book. It’s one of the few books I’ve read that not only has a main character that’s bisexual but actually claims the identity and uses the word bisexual to describe herself. There were certain plot twists that didn’t hit the same the second time around but I loved re-visiting Evelyn and the relationships in this book.

Daisy Jones and The Six

After finishing The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I couldn’t resist picking up Daisy Jones and the Six. I was pleasantly surprised by this book the first time I read it and wasn’t sure it would hold up on a re-read, but I was wrong. I actually loved this book even more the second time round. During my first read I was completely invested in Daisy and Billy, but this time I was able to appreciate the other characters more. I still loved Daisy and Billy, of course, but was also more connected to the stories of the minor characters. It reminded me that Taylor Jenkins Reid was able to create characters that feel so real that at times it felt like I was reading a memoir about a real band.

Twilight

Now this is a re-read I never expected to happen but after binge watching the films on Netflix one weekend, I felt the urge to dip my toes back into the books for the first time since I was a teenager. It was a strange re-read because on one hand I found myself really enjoying it, and on the other I was very bored. I’d forgotten just how much of this book was Bella gushing about what a stunningly handsome and perfect adonis Edward is. As someone that doesn’t particularly enjoy reading romanc, it was a snooze-fest at times, but I did enjoy the nostalgia of returning to the series. I’ve seen the films so many times that they’ve replaced my memories of the books so it was fun getting back to the roots of the Twlight universe and being reminded of little details that I’d forgotten. I’m hoping to continue with my re-read and may even do some posts dedicated to it in the future 👀

Do you enjoy re-reading books? Did you re-read any books in 2021? If so, share in the comments, I’d love to hear about the books you re-read and whether your opinions or feelings towards the book changed.

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Book Hype: is it ever worth it?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a discussion post (read my previous discussion post ‘Reading, Blogging and Mental Health’ here) and there’s a topic that has been on my mind recently that I wanted to chat about: book hype in the book community. As someone that came back to reading only a couple of years ago, I was thrust into the bizarre world of Booktube and engaged in various online bookish communities. Prior to this, my reading consisted of searching the library and browsing bookstores and picking up whatever took my fancy. But in this digital world, I, like most readers, now take the majority of recommendations from online spaces. What I quickly noticed when I joined these online spaces is that certain books would suddenly erupt with popularity and gain traction because creators across all platforms would create content about the books. Books like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, The Song of Achilles, The Poppy War, Six of Crows, Throne of Glass, A Little Life have all been subject to this hype (and still are) and almost every reader will have heard of them regardless of whether they have read them or not. But the question is, are these books ever truly worth the hype they receive and what impact does book hype have on readers?

The answer to that question is: yes and no. I’ve read a lot of books based on hype that I’ve enjoyed and others that were a colossal disappointment. Sometimes I dislike a hyped book precisely because it was hyped. When a book is widely popular and praised, it means that I go into that book with high expectations and therefore increasing the likelihood that it will fail to meet my expectations. Generally though, books that receive hype are hyped for a reason and have genuine merit. Inevitably, that doesn’t mean that they will suit everybody’s tastes because reading is subjective and a lot of the hype surrounding a book often stems from FOMO.

When we see others reading and talking about how incredible a book is, we want to become part of the conversation regardless of whether we like the book or not. Also, when a book explodes with popularity it’s fun to see the varying thoughts and opinions of a large audience of readers which we don’t necessarily get with other less popular books. It’s exciting to be part of the buzz in the community when a book is the talk of the town, but it also creates an unfortunate side effect in the community: echo chambers.

If multiple readers and creators are talking about the same books, those books continue to be recommended and reinforced in all bookish communities at the potential exclusion of other books. Since readers are increasingly likely to take recommendations from online spaces, this also means that the pool of books that people are reading is likely to become more narrow and discussions in the community less diverse.

Personally, I will always take recommendations from others in the community, because I value and trust their opinions and have found some of my favourite books of all time because of those recommendations. However, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that a lot of books that are continously promoted online are often hyped due to external factors (e.g. marketing, algorithms). From a creators POV, the bottom line is that content about popular books will always draw engagement across all platforms and this influences the books that many creators discuss on their platforms. This means that not every popular book is deserving of its hype, instead, certain books gain traction because content creators make content for those books to ensure their content is current and in-keeping with what is going on in the community.

Overall, book hype is like a double edged sword. On the one hand, it helps readers discover lots of new wonderful books and engages lots of readers into exciting discussions. But on the other hand, it creates echo chambers, limiting the breadth and diversity of books being read and recommended in the book community. As a reader and blogger, I’d like to make more of a conscious effort to reach for and explore books that are perhaps lesser known in the bookish world and broaden my horizons.

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Song of Achilles – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2011
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Major character death, murder, violence, slavery, abduction, abandonment, torture, rape (mentioned), human sacrifice, human trafficking, self-harm, child abuse, and war.

Synopsis

A modern retelling of the Greek myth the Trojan War from The Iliad told from the perspective of Patroclus and Achilles.

What I liked

  • Patroclus’ characterisation
  • Patroclus and Briseis’ relationship
  • Historical elements
  • The depictions of love

What I disliked

  • Writing style
  • Slow pacing
  • The ending

Plot and Structure

Since the book is a retelling of a popular and widely known Greek myth, as expected, the plot and structure is largely based on The Iliad. Madeline Miller definitley put her own spin on it, but the core essence of the story is the same but written for a modern audience and exclusively from the perspectives of Patroclus and Achilles. It’s structured chronologically, beginning with Patroclus’ childhood. It builds his backstory and traces the origins of his relationship with Achilles before progressing to the events of the Trojan War. It includes the major plot points from the original myth but tweaks some things, particularly at the beginning and end. As all retellings should, it takes a popular story and gives new insight. The emphasis on romance was a little excessive for my tastes and I would’ve preferred more plot. This was particularly apparent towards the end where the tragic romance story took front and centre stage.

Whilst I generally enjoyed the plot and most of the changes that were made, it did feel slow throughout. This isn’t necessarily a disavantage, because it allowed space for me to get to know and connect with Patroclus, but there were parts that I found boring, particularly in the first half. Futherore, although Patroclus and Achilles’ perspective brought new insight, it hindered the story in other ways, leaving little room for some other significant characters.

Overall, the book wasn’t very plot-driven and was very focused on setting, themes, characters and relationships. Generally, these are the aspects of books that I enjoy most but there was something that just didn’t quite sync up in the way I expected to, but more about that in the Characters and Relationships section.

Writing Style

I struggled to connect to Miller’s bland and simple writing style. The tone of the writing didn’t match the tone of the story and pulled me away from the story multiple times. Whether it was the use of short sentences, lack of fluidity or plain language, it didn’t sell the story in the right way. It’s an epic tale and Miller portrayed Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship as a tragic love story, yet the writing was just okay. It achieved what it needed to but didn’t evoke the emotion from me that truly great writing usually does. It was clear and concise, but I would’ve liked more flower, this is a retelling of The Iliad afterall.

We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.

Characters and Relationships

I liked Patroclus as the main POV Character. His characterisation was standard for the “average guy turned hero” archetype, but his empathy and desire to do the right thing. In a world where power and status was what men most valued, Patroclus defied expectations. He acted out of his conscience, love, loyalty and duty. His compassion offsets Achilles pride and their differences sets the underlining moral message for the entire story. Patroclus was the most defined and nuanced of all the characters. The other characters were in the background, and even Achilles himself suffered from a severe lack of development, feeling more like a caricature than a fully rounded character. This was most likely because most of what we learned about Achilles was from Patroclus’ perspective who had rose-tinted glasses when it came to Achilles.

Leading on from that, this is where the review gets controversial – I didn’t like the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. My issues with this relationship were in part because Achilles was under-developed but also because their love seemed to magically happen despite having nothing in common. It’s particularly unfortunate, because the romance was the main focus of the story and the emotional impact of the ending was very dependent upon how invested the reader is in Achilles and Patroclus’ love.

Interestingly, I was more invested in Patroclus’ relationship with Briseis. It felt more complex, nuanced and sincere, and explored the blurry and complicated lines between platonic and romantic love. It was built on genuine connection, companionship and a liking for one another, none of which Patroclus seemed to have with Achilles to the same extent. Patroclus’ dynamic with Briseis was definitely the most captivating to me of all the character dynamics.

Concluding thoughts

The Song of Achilles has receieved a lot of hype in the book community in recent years and although it has its merit, it didn’t blow me away. Madeline Miller has proven with this book and Circe that she’s able creatively take myths and adapt them for modern audiences, making them accessible and entertaining. By shifting focus to Patroclus and Achilles, Miller was able to add new depth and perspectives to the ancient myth. Whilst I enjoyed reading the book overall, it was lacking in a few areas. The emphasis on the romance was a barrier for me in emotionally connecting to the story because I disliked the way Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship was written. However, I enjoyed the underlying themes around love and pride, and the exploration of different types of human love and bonds. Overall, it had all the ingredients for a 5-star book, but the execution fell short and the overtly cheesy romantic ending left me feeling luke-warm.

I’d recommend The Song of Achilles if:

You’re looking for a romantic, modern retelling of a Greek myth with a gay romance.

Have you read The Song of Achilles or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Spooky Scary Book Tag

It’s Halloween Eve so in keeping with the spooky season I’m bring to you the Spook Scary Book tag 🎃👻🧛💀🦇😈

As always, I couldn’t resist switching things up a tad and adjusted some of the questions and added a couple of my own. All the prompts I edited or added are marked with an asterix. For the original prompts check out the original creator of the tag, Clever Fox on YouTube.

Also let’s take a moment to appreciate that this is the second post I’ve shared in this week – your girl is on a roll!

What goes bump in the night?

A book that has legitimately scared you while reading it

The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

Whilst on the surface this is a typical haunted house story, the isolation and slow building of tension and suspense crept up on me. The way Susan Hill crafts the story makes the supernatural elements feel realistic and Arthur’s terror is palpable. It made me feel like something that could actually happen. Reading this alone at night in a hotel on a stormy autumn night also probably added to the creep factor of my reading experience.

Jack O’ lanterns and classic costumes*

Recommend a book to read at Halloween time

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stephenson

It’s short, it’s snappy and it’s a classic. Although it’s not set on or around Halloween, the gothic elements and chilling nature of the plot and its moral message make it a must-read during the spooky season.

Black cats and bats*

Favourite animal character in a book/series

Pooh Bear – Winnie-the-Pooh

So Pooh is as far from Halloween that you can get, but I couldn’t choose anyone else for this one. Pooh’s optimism, naivety and endless loyalty to his friends makes him one of the most loveable characters ever written.

Witch’s brew

Favourite witch character in a book/series

Minerva McGonnagall – Harry Potter

Who else could I choose for this than the bad-ass Minerva? Not only is she a powerful witch, but she’s confident, out-spoken and sassy. Whether she’s taking down Umbridge with some one-liner, offering her students biscuits or defeating Snape with a flick of her wand, she’s one hella awesome lady.

Ghouls and ghosts

A book that still haunts you to this day (good or bad)

Dark Matter – Black Crouch

This mind-bending sci-fi thriller is oddly disturbing. Set in a world of multi-universes, this tale takes endless twists and turns and is unpredictable. Sci-fi as a genre is meant to push the boundaries and poses heavy philosophical and moral questions, and Dark Matter poses some of the toughest ones.

Haunted graveyard

You’re alone in a haunted graveyard, you get one book to give you comfort, which is it?

Winnie-the-Pooh – A. A. Milne

It’s charming, it’s warm, it’s happy and it’s a piece of my childhood. I’m certain that this book would help combat all those pesky ghosts and keep me somewhat sane whilst trapped in a haunted graveyard alone.

The Undead

Favorite supernatural creatures to read about

Vampires

It’s a predictable answer, but I can’t deny my fascination for vampires. These blood-sucking fiends are addictive to read about and embody so many hidden depths. The creation of vampires in folklore gives voice to human’s attempts to make sense of death, disease, grief and in more modern times, capitalism, politics and sexuality. There are various takes and perspectives on vampires with authors putting their own spin on the vampires they create, which keeps the genre somewhat fresh.

Trick or Treat*

A book that took you by surprise (good or bad)

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a widely loved author and I’d heard great things about Coraline prior to reading it, but I was surprised by how much I disliked this book. The suspense was built up well, but with little reward. It was anti-climatic and I didn’t fully grasp where the story was going or why.

Devils and Demons*

Favourite antagonist from a book/series

Heathcliff – Wuthering Heights

So technically, Heathcliff is an anti-hero, but I consider him to be more a villain than a hero hence why he’s made it here. The fact that Heathcliff is even regarded as an anti-hero reveals how incredibly written he is. Despite being cruel, selfish, abusive and vengeful, Heathcliff is a character that is strangely sympathetic and pitiful. His complexity is exactly what makes him easily my favourite villain that I’ve ever encountered in literature.

The Grimreaper*

Most shocking character death in a book/series (warning A Game of Thrones spoilers)

Eddard Stark – A Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin defied all expectations when he brutally murdered the protagonist of A Game of Thrones. It’s unpredictable, it’s shocking and it shook me to the core the first time I read it. There’s no other book I’ve ever read that subverts expectations surrounding character deaths like the A Song of Ice and Fire series. There are many more deaths from the series that could’ve taken this spot but I decided to go with the OG major character death.

Happy Halloween, my lovelies and stay spooky 🎃👻🧛💀🦇😈

Book recommendations for Black History Month

October is nearing its end and I couldn’t let it end without acknowledging Black History Month ❤️🖤💚 Black History Month is a time to share, educate and celebrate black history, culture and identity. Books written by black authors are a crucial part of this as they give voices to the lived experiences of black people across the globe. I’ve been so pleased to see black authors becoming visible and spoken about in mainstream publishing and the book community, but there is still more to be done.

I’m always conscious of being diverse and inclusive with my reading because so much of the value of reading for me is gaining insight into the lives and experiences of others and developing greater empathy. I’d encourage all readers to also be mindful of the authors they’re reading and to read and support books by black authors, not just during October, but all year round.

Now let’s get into the recommendations. I have seven books (sorry to those of you that are a stickler for even numbers!) and it’s a varied selection from non-fiction to YA to historical fiction, so hopefully there will be something for everyone to enjoy.

12 Years a Slave

I’m starting with 12 Years a Slave because if there is any book you should read off this list, it’s this one. This is a harrowing and authentic insight into slavery in South America through the eyes of Solomon Northup, who was born a free man and kidnapped and sold into slavery as an adult. Northup’s writing immersed me completely into the hell that he was living and his compassion, astuteness and determination connected me deeply to him. His account shines a light on the realities of slavery exclusively from the black perspective and provides an interesting perspective since the narrator experienced living as both a free man and a slave. As expected, it’s an emotionally challenging read, but books like this should make us uncomfortable. This is our history and the pain and trauma that resulted from generations of slavery continues to impact black people and families today.

Giovanni’s Room

James Baldwin is one of the best known black authors of all time, so it seems fitting that he made it onto this list. Set in Paris, this book is an exploration of queerness in the 20th century. The protagonist, David, is faced with a choice between two people he loves. However, it’s not just a struggle of choose between two people he loves, it’s a struggle between a man and a woman, who symbolise two vastly different possibilities and futures for David.  Baldwin’s writing is raw, honest and complex. He doesn’t attempt to gloss over the messiness of figuring out your identity and sexuality, he dallies in the grey areas and explores the spectrum of sexuality. This book is a truly fascinating insight into the intersection between same gender desire amongst men and masculinity. It fleshes out the conflict between manhood and the perceived imasculating desire for another man in the context of race. It also explores male bisexuality in a way that few classics do.

Noughts and Crosses

If you read My Favourite Children’s Book post, you’ll already know that this is one of my all time favourite books. It has be recommended a lot in recent years, particularly with the rise of Black Lives Matter, but that won’t stop me from recommending it again. Noughts and Crosses is a tale of racism, interracial love, oppression, family and division written for a young, modern audience. By switching the roles in the book’s universe so that the white characters are the oppressed and the black characters the oppressors, it enables white readers to empathise with the black experience more deeply. The genuine connection and love between the two main characters Callum and Sephy is the foundation that the story is built on. They exist in a world that not only divides them based on the colour of their skin, but actively tells them they should hate each other, yet they continue to love each other no matter how much the world tells them they shouldn’t. It’s a hard-hitting and emotional read, and the fact that it is categorised as YA and aimed at younger audiences, doesn’t in anyway detract from the valuable insight, commentary and messages the book contains about race.

The Vanishing Half

This multi-generational historical fiction follows identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella, one of whom lives life as a white woman and the other whom lives life as a black woman. Through contrasting the twins’ lives against each other, this book sheds light on the tenets of racsim that exist in every area of daily life. Similarly, it explores that blackness is more than the colour of someone’s skin, it is a fundamental part of identity. Stella’s privilege as a white-passing woman is contradicted by the constant fear and discomfort she feels at living a lie and having to conform to the white surburban community she is part of, which actively perpetuates the racism that convinced her to live her life as a white woman. Admittedly, I did have some minor issues with some of the plot conveniences in the book, but it’s nonetheless a fantastic read and provides insight into the complexities of race and the way racism evolves over time through the voices of generations of a family.

All Boys Aren’t Blue

If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you’ll have most likely seen this book at least a few times. I love this book so much and will recommend it whenever I get the chance. This memoir is honest in a way that no other memoir I’ve ever read has been. Johnson bares his soul, revealing the most vulnerable parts of himself and most intimate details of his life. Thematically it shares a lot of similarites with Giovanni’s Room, discussing constructions of gender, masculinity, sexuality and the intersection of being black and queer. It’s a short read but so educational, valuable and touching. I’d highly recommend the audiobook which is narrated by Johnson.

Stay With Me

Set in Nigeria, Stay with Me is an explosive, dramatic and surprising story that provides a detailed examination of marriage and family. It pushes the boundaries repeatedly and challenges expectations, taking the story into directions I didn’t expect. It’s steeped in Nigerian culture, and is educational in this regard for readers like myself that are unfamiliar with Nigerian culture.. As a modern couple, Yejide and her husband struggle against the Nigerian traditions and expectations surrounding, particularly regarding polygamy. The main character, Yejide, is an immensely nuanced, layered character that felt so real. Her emotions and motivations were easy to understand and empathise with, even when I didn’t agree with her actions. First and foremost, this is a family drama (one might even call it a domestic thriller of sorts) and is driven by deeply flawed characters. However, there is also so much valuable context and commentary about Nigerian history, culture and society. Unlike many other books in this list, race isn’t used as a lens of critical analysis, this is simply a story about the lived experience of black people living in one of the most populated black nations in the world.

Eloquent Rage

Eloquent Rage is an intersectional feminist memoir about social injustice, political discourse and the many facets of womanhood and race which impact the lives of black women. It strikes the perfect balance between discussion, academic research, reflection and personal experience. Unlike other memoirs, it doesn’t get too bogged down in personal anecdote nor does it become too clinical with endless statistics. It’s educational but also captures Cooper’s personal identity, experience and views. Her view on race is black-centric and focused on the ways in which black men hurt black women and the black community hurt each other in general. This perspective is rarely depicted in racial discourse since it’s generally reliant on the polarisation of the races, with the central theme being “black versus white”. It’s an insightful, thought-provoking and powerful read, which covers a lot of ground and does it very well. Cooper expresses her views and opinions candidly and clearly, and supports them with academic research. It’s by far the most informative and interesting feminist text I’ve read from both a gendered and racial perspective.

Happy Black History Month, my lovelies and keep reading ❤️🖤💚

The Woman in Black and The Haunting of Hill House – Snapshot Book Reviews

Snapshot reviews are short book reviews of around 200-250 words.

The Woman in Black

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Susan Hill
Genre: Horror
Publication year: 1983
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Death, death of a child, mental distress and trauma.

Review

The Woman in Black is a gothic horror which has been popularised over the last decade by the 2012 film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe. It follows lawyer, Arthur Kipps, who goes to the small town of Crythin Gifford on a case. During his stay at his deceased client’s property, Eel Marsh House, Arthur has multiple eerie encounters with a woman in black. This is a slow-burn, atmospheric supernatural horror that is creepy and psychologically disturbing.

Whilst this novella is only about 200 pages, the story felt well-rounded and fairly paced. I was invested in the mystery of the woman in black and Arthur’s story. Arthur fulfilled many of the archetypes you’d expect for a protagonist in a Victorian classic horror novel, but despite his lack of originality, I felt a deep sympathy for him due to the impact the supernatural encounters he had had on his mental state.

Susan Hill’s writing style was immersive and perfectly captured the foreboding gothic horror atmosphere that I adore. The horror elements were simple but effective, relying on the setting and psychological elements to evoke feelings of dread and isolation. There was a strong emotionality throughout with emphasis on Arthur’s emotions and themes of grief and loss flowing throughout the narrative.

Overall, The Woman in Black was the perfect read for October. It had all the components I look for in horror novels and executed them well. Although it’s a very standard haunted house story, it was an enjoyable and gripping reading experience.

I’d recommend The Woman in Black if:

You’re looking for a Victorian horror classic that is a slow-burn, haunted house tale.

The Haunting of Hill House

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror
Publication year: 1959
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Grief, death, suicide, mental illness, paranoia, gore,

Review

The Haunting of Hill House is another classic horror novel which has recently soared in popularity due to Netflix’s TV adaptation of the same title. But don’t be deceived; the book is its own story and very separate from the TV show. It tells the story of Doctor Montague, who sets out to investigate the presence of paranormal activity at Hill House. He is joined by three young guests, one of whom falls under the dark influence of the house. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to my expectations despite its promise.

I loved the setting of Hill House and the way that the house was crafted as a living, breathing entity entirely its own. However, the pace was meandering and the “big” moments were underwhelming. There was too much dialogue and trivial moments, making the action feel almost unearned. The supernatural scenes were too long and repetitive, and consequently ineffective at unsettling me. Although I related deeply to the protagonist Eleanor, and was interested in her descent throughout the novel, the other characters were flat and odd. In fact, that’s the word I would use to describe this book overall – odd.

I found the writing style to be disjointed and somewhat sloppy. The dialogue and the interactions between the characters felt out of place. Their immediate familiarity with each other and their sudden shifts in tone, mood and personality confused me. Whilst this was likely Jackon’s attempt to demonstrate the adverse affect the house was having on the characters, it wasn’t necessarily clear and I was lost multiple times throughout.

Overall, I liked the premise of The Haunting of Hill House, the setting and Eleanor’s character development. It was an entertaining read, but I’ve seen this type of haunted house tale done better elsewhere and found it to be very standard for the classic horror genre.

I’d recommend The Haunting of Hill House if:

You liked The Turn of the Screw OR are looking for a pschological haunted house horror story that will play with your mind.

Have you read The Woman in Black or The Haunting of Hill House or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Spooktober! 🎃

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Spooky book & film recommendations

Where has this year gone?! I feel like I’ve been in a weird time warp since Covid hit. Who am I? Where am I? When am I? Who knows? 😂 To mark the beginning of October, I decided to make a very unpredictable and unique post (/sarcasm) to share some spooky book and film recommendations for the autumn and Halloween season 🎃👻 Since I am an avid horror fan and almost exclusively watch horror films, I couldn’t resist adding some films into the mix. So here are 8 recommendations for horror/thriller books and films, 4 for each.

BOOKS

I Am Legend

This novella makes for a fast read and is ideal for a dark, spooky evening. It’s a unique vampire story with an intelligent, quick-witted and resillient protagonist. The post-apocalyptic setting is haunting and emotionally impactful and gave me The Walking Dead vibes when I read it.

Pet Sematary

Stephen King is generally not an author for me, and of all the King novels I’ve read, Pet Sematary is the only one I would recommend. It’s haunting, disturbing and provides a gruelling insight into the meaning of death and grief. There are scenes in this book that are genuinely spine tingling. The honesty and emotion that is depicted combined with the horror elements makes this an unforgettable and terrifying read.

If We Were Villains

This dark academia is the ideal autumnual read. It’s set at a performance university that specialises in Shakespeare and, like all dark academia’s follows a group of students in the aftermath of the mysterious deaths of one of their friends. It’s fast paced mystery that’s both dramatic and hard-hitting with Shakespearian influences running throughout.

Dracula

It’s a classic for a reason. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the epitome of vampire gothic fiction. With it’s slow building plot and atmospheric setting, it continues to pile on the suspense and mystery throughout. Admittedly, it loses some of its impact since the nature of Count Dracula is common knowledge and cemented in pop culture, but it’s a thrilling and enjoyable read if you’re looking for a slow paced and intense gothic horror.

FILMS

Hell House LLC

Hell House LLC is a stellar example of the found-footage genre and why it works so well. It follows a group of friends that visit a haunted house to investigate a tragic accident that happened there years previously. The tension is slowly built and the atmosphere is effectively creepy. There’s an authenticity to the story that makes you feel invested and it doesn’t rely on cheap scares and tricks. It’s a must-watch for any fans of found-footage and haunted houses.

Triangle

One of the most unique, mind-bending and thrilling horrors I’ve ever seen. The film begins with the main character Jess, heading off on a sailing trip with a guy she knows from work and a few of his friends, but things don’t quite go to plan. You might think you know what’s going to happen but I guarantee you won’t. Triangle continually takes twists and turns, keeping you guessing and forcing you to question what you think you know.

Identity

This one is for those of you that don’t like the more hardcore horrors and are looking for more of a thriller-mystery. Identity is the older film out of the four I’ve chosen, but a true gem. Ten strangers find themselves stranded at a motel in the middle of a storm and are killed by an unknown killer one by one. It’s an unpredictable and genuinely intruiging plot that will keep you guessing throughout.

Haunt

Haunt has gained some recognition in horror circles recently and it’s well deserved. Although it may first appear to be another teen-scream horror maze film, it exceeds that. It’s entertaining and steeped in tension with strong performances. Of all the films on this list, it’s the perfect Halloween watch.

Happy October, my lovelies and keep reading.

Beyond Stereotypes: The Outsiders – Book Analysis

Book analyses are essays which closely and critically examine specific characters, relationships, topics or themes in a book.

Spoilers

Read my spoiler-free review of The Outsiders here.

Content warning: Mentions of classism, child neglect, child abuse, suicide.

The Outsiders is a complex insight into the class system that overlooks, devalues and scapegoats the working classes. It gives voices to the forgotten people that live on the fringes of society and are deemed unimportant. Ponyboy, Soda, Darry, Johnny and Dally are ostricised, stigmatised and labelled “white trash” or “scum” because of the communities they live in and their family backgrounds, both of which they have no control of. They’re villanised by their communities who see them only as caricatures based on their prejudices and societal stereotypes.

You greasers have a different set of values. You’re more emotional. We’re sophisticated-cool to the point of not feeling anything. Nothing is real with us.

In this story, Hinton humanises the people we have a tendency to dehumanise in our society. We can look at the actions of the characters in The Outsiders and say, “They’re terrible people that deserve to be locked up; they’ve lied, fought, killed, committed arson etc.”, but that’s an injustice to those characters because it fails to consider the context and context is always important. Ponyboy, Dally, Johnny, Soda, Darry and Two-Bit are young boys – children – who are impoverished, living in unsafe homes with volatile family units, absent or neglectful parents and communites that are plagued by substance abuse, crime and poverty. This does not justify the characters actions but it does humanise them and that’s important for so many reasons.

I could picture hundreds and hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities, boys with black eyes who jumped at their own shadows. Hundreds of boys who maybe watched sunsets and looked at stars and ached for something better. I could see boys going under street lights because they were mean and tough and hated the world, and it was too late to tell them that there was still good in it, and they wouldn’t believe you if you did. It was too much of a problem to be just a personal thing.

In our society, we rely so much on boxes and categories and labels. We want everything and everyone to slot neatly into the binaries that we’ve created – male or female, black or white, gay or straight, good or bad, rich or poor – but none of these labels or binaries can ever fully capture the nuances of our lives or what makes us who we are. And that complexity of what it is to be human in a world that repeatedly forces us into various boxes and demands that we conform to those boxes or risk social isolation or loss of identity, is what Hinton achieved with this novel. She took a stigmatised group (young, white, poor males) and a stereotypical situation (crime, murder), and approached it from an angle that deconstructed these things to humanise the characters, without glossing over their awful actions.

Dally is a perfect example of this. He’s multi-layered. On the surface a stereotypical violent, criminal and self-serving jerk. But also a young kid that has lived an unstable life without parental guidance or care, who was forced to physically toughen up to survive in prison and was incredibly vulnerable. He valued self-preservation but was fiercely loyal and capable of selflessness and sacrifice for his friends. His relationship with Johnny encapsulated his vulnerability and reminded us how alone and unloved Dally is. Once Johnny was gone, he could no longer bear to live in the world. This fact alone demonstrates how devoid Dally’s life was of love and meaning, and his fate was heart breaking because of how young he actually was. His backstory and relationships with his friends doesn’t work as an excuse for the dark parts of Dally’s character but it did take him beyond the archetype of his character and deconstructed the stereotypes surrounding him, challenging even Ponyboy’s perception of Dally.

Dally didn’t die a hero. He died violent and young and desperate, just like we all knew he’d die someday.

Words hold so much weight and when we hear a word we immediately attach meaning to it. Labels and categories, in particular, can be very loaded words because they often come hand in hand with biases and prejudices. We categorise and label ourselves and others often based on surface-level information and those labels or categories come with a long history and very little context on an individual level. For example, we might assume that a person that has been to prison is morally corrupt, dangerous and perhaps “less than” someone that hasn’t been to prison. And in the moment when we are making that snap judgement, we fail to account for that person’s individual circumstance and identity beyond the “criminal” label. Once that label has been attached, we struggle to divorce our prejudices from the reality of context of what makes that person who they are, leading us to dehumanise them and perceive them as a living embodiment of that stereotype.

That’s why people don’t ever think to blame the Socs and are always ready to jump on us. We look hoody and they look decent. It could be just the other way around – half of the hoods I know are pretty decent guys underneath all that grease, and from what I’ve heard, a lot of Socs are just cold-blooded mean – but people usually go by looks.

For me, The Outsiders is about challenging these stereotypes. The novel goes beyond what it appears to be on the surface to provide social commentary on the norms and stereotypes that exist in our society and challenges them in a humanist way. It reminds us that despite our differences and the words, labels and categories we use to “other” each other and separate ourselves into subgroups, there’s an essential human connection between all of us, that we should always prioritise. This involves taking the time to focus less on our differences and more on our similarities, to challenge our prejudices and our judgements, to view people with openness, compassion and empathy and to account for the whole person beyond labels. The characters of The Outsiders represent the voices and lives of so many poor children that are abused or neglected, shunned and ostracised from society, that are derogatorily labelled before they’ve even reached adulthood and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ponyboy is the exception to that rule. He is the hope in the book, the one whose eyes are opened to this reality. He sees beyond the limits of his class to connect with Cherry and sees his brothers and friends as people, not just Socs or criminals. Ponyboy is the catalyst for the message about the importance of seeing beyond stereotypes to see the person and enables the reader to connect to that same message.

It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Sword of Kaigen – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: M. L. Wang
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Theonite
Publication year: 2019
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: War, violence, gore, rape, trauma, depression, suicide, major character death, death of a child.

Synopsis

The Sword of Kaigen is a high fantasy novel inspired by 19th-century Japan. It follows mother and son – Misaki and Mamoru – from the powerful Matsuda family, all of whom are jijaka’s who have the ability to wield water for combative purposes. When conflict breaks out in their small town of Takayubi, the Matsuda’s must fight to protect what they love.

What I liked

  • Complex characters
  • Character development
  • World building
  • Exploration of family
  • Writing style

What I disliked

  • Slow pacing
  • Choice of POV characters
  • Dense worldbuilding

Plot and Structure

The plot was military-centric with elements of family drama, romance and female empowerment. The characters were more of a driving force for the plot than the plot itself. I did find it difficult to grasp exactly what the cause of the war was, who the enemy was and why they were attacking, so I wasn’t too invested in the plot for that reason. I was more invested in the themes surrounding the plot and characters rather than the plot itself. There were high stakes throughout, but the plot did feel quite disjointed. There were shocking moments and it maintained intruige throughout. However, there were lulls in the pacing numerous times. The beginning was a very slow start and around the mid-point it lost my attention and I ended up putting it down for a few weeks before coming back to it. Ironically, the last half of the book picked up hugely and I became more invested as the focus shifted more towards the characters.

Structurally, the tone shifted dramatically making it feel like there were three distinctive parts. In the first third, it was focused on the younger POV character and his time at school; the second third was focused on the war and battle; and the final third focused on the characters emotions and process of dealing with the aftermath of the fighting. Generally, it was chronological but with some flashbacks to Misaki’s past. Although I appreciated the flashbacks for Misaki’s character development, they did sometimes feel a bit haphazard and didn’t fit within the wider story. I also didn’t particularly like that her past mainly served as a romantic sub-plot which was unnecessary and didn’t add much to her character or the story.

World Building and Magic

Considering this novel is a standalone, the world-building was fantastic. So much was packed into the 600 pages but it rarely felt like there were info dumps. The culture, norms, hierachies and gender roles were well established, but
I would’ve liked more context for the history and politics of the world, particularly around the conflict and government structure. These things were hinted at or mentioned in passing but needed more focus. I struggled at multiple points to distinguish the different families, countries, towns, cities, languages and cultures in the world. Since it is Japenese-inspired I also struggled with more minor language uses and phrases. There was a handy glossary in the back, but reading the Kindle edition made this less accessible and more difficult to go between as I was reading. Nonetheless, objectively the world-building here was phenomenal.

The magic system was rooted in elemental magic and those that possess this magical ability are called Theonites. There are two types of Theonites – Jijaka that manipulate water and Fonyakalu that manipulate wind. The magic system wasn’t outlined in extensive detail, but anybody that’s read my previous fantasy reviews will know that I prefer softer magic systems so I was happy with this. Different characters wielded their abilities in different ways and had varying levels of power, which was used creatively in battle. I loved how the Matsuda’s magic was characterised as a part of them and how connected their magic was to their environment, connecting them to their heritage and homeland. I also liked that the magic wasn’t used as a substitute for combative skill, but to elevate their abilities. It’s not a unique magic system, but was fun, interesting and blended well within the wider world. Sometimes the use of magic in fantasy can feel clunky, but it seamlessly fit within the story here. It was an important aspect of the world, but didn’t dominate everything at the expense of other worldbuilding details.

Writing Style

As a self published novel, the writing style really impressed me. It was clean with few grammatical errors and was incredibly well-edited. M. L. Wang’s writing style was immersive and detailed. She created vivid imagery of the mountain setting and provided detailed worldbuilding. When writing about the characters, it was highly emotive and emphatic. This was a positive in regards to enabling me to connect with the characters and empathise with them. However, at times too much time was spent on dissecting the characters every emotion and thought, becoming repetitive and losing its impact. The tone was melancholic, focusing on the depressive emotions of the characters and hopelessness of their situation, although towards the end the tone did become more hopeful. Overall, I really liked the writing style. It was clear, detailed and descriptive striking a good balance between dialogue, exposition and description.

Power was born into a person and lived in the wordless depths of their soul.

Characters and Relationships

This is where this book truly shone. The two main POV characters – Misaki and Mamoru – brought a fresh perspective to the fantasy setting through the eyes of mother and son. Their internal struggles contrasted each other. As a child, Mamoru’s worries and perspectives are more innocent and black and white, whereas Misaki’s worries weigh heavily on her and we see how this impacts her as a mother, and how in turn, this impacts her children.

Misaki stole the spotlight. She’s one of the best written and complex female protagonist’s I’ve found in fantasy for a long time; a complex female character that is physically, mentally and emotionally strong, yet vulnerable, flawed and emotional. She can be hard and she can be soft; forgiving and vengeful; loving and hateful; compassionate and unempathetic; cold and warm. She’s a myriad of conflicting things and her development throughout the book was a joy to read. I appreciated that motherhood was such a core component of her character and that her love and devotion to her children paired with her personal struggles at times impaired her ability to be the type of mother she wanted to be. I wish that more had been done with her flashbacks that went beyond a romantic sub-plot, because I actually felt like this didn’t fit with her character.

Unfortunately, I didn’t connect as much to Mamaru, and would’ve preferred to have other POV characters, such as Misaki’s husband, Takeru. Takeru had a lot of valuable insight to add to the story and although we did get one chapter from his perspective, he should’ve been introduced as a main POV character earlier on. Takeru was a mysterious character during first half, but towards the end more was revealed about his character and he really grew on me. His relationship with Misaki was so interesting and their dynamic was one of my favourite aspects of the book. The focus on these two as individuals and a couple is what made the second half work so well for me.

The family dynamics between the Matsuda’s was another strong point of the book. Misaki’s relationships with her children, her husband and her sister-in-law, Setsuko. The female solidarity and sisterhood between Misaki and Setsuko was a refreshing break from the dreariness of the story. Their scenes were always coloured with love, support and compassion. Generally, I really liked the portrayal of community and family.

Concluding thoughts

The Sword of Kaigen is a strong high-fantasy standalone with detailed worldbuilding, an interesting magic system and well written characters. Although the plot itself wasn’t captivating, the characters relationships and development propelled me forward with the story, even during the lulls in pacing. Some more detail could’ve added to the richness of the world and helped me to feel more invested in the plot, but the shift in focus to the characters and their relationships in the second half made up for my lack of enjoyment in the first half. The writing style was succinct and meticulous, connecting me to the characters and setting. My favourite part of the book was Misaki and the relationships she had with her family. Misaki has immediately jumped onto my list of all time favourite female characters. Her relationship was her husband was a fascinating examination of a loveless, toxic marriage and was a unique and refreshing take from the usual romances that are in fantasy. I did go into reading this book with high expectations and not all of them were met, but it was an enjoyable read overall and I would highly recommend it for fantasy readers.

I’d recommend The Sword of Kaigen if:

You’re looking for an Asian inspired, military, fantasy standalone that gives you The Poppy War vibes, has high emotional stakes, a depressive tone and a complex female warrior character.

Have you read The Sword of Kaigen or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Unpopular Opinions Book Tag

It’s been a while since I posted here, almost a month to be exact 🙈 Life has been busy which has left little time for reading and blogging. I was recently offered a new job starting in September and I’ll be going into my final year of my MA, so I’ll be a busy bee 🐝 but I’m hoping to read more this month and get back to posting at least once a week. Today I’ll be doing the Unpopular Opinions Book Tag.

This tag was originally created by The Book Archer on YouTube.

A popular book or series that I disliked

The Wayward Children Series – Seanan McGuire

I’ve seen this series recommended everywhere. It’s actually what led me to pick up the series. Whilst the concept was cool, the first two books I read completely lacked depth and I simply didn’t care enough about the world’s to continue reading. Even with them being short reads, I still didn’t feel compelled to spend any more of my time reading on.

A popular book or series that everyone else seems to hate but I love

I don’t have an answer for this one. I feel like generally, all of the books or series that I love are well-liked.

A love triangle in a book or series where the main character ended up with the person I did not want them to end up with

Twilight – Stephanie Meyer

Remember the days of Team Edward vs Team Jacob that quite literally defined most millenials teen years? Well, I was always in the latter camp waving the Team Jacob flag. I recently binged the Twilight movies on Netflix and it propelled me back to my angsty, teenage, Twlight-obsessed years and reaffirmed that Jacob and Bella make so much more sense to me than Edward and Bella. Let’s clarify, that both of these relationships have issues but Bella and Jacob’s connection is built on friendship and builds slowly over time, rather than being lust at first sight. He doesn’t control her or endanger her to the extent that Edward does and treats her like a human rather than a fragile doll that must be protected. I also find Jacob and Bella’s chemistry more natural and less forced.

A popular book genre that I hardly reach for

Thriller

Every now and again I’ll pick up a thriller novel on the slim chance that this will be the time where I’ll actually enjoy it, but unfortunately, it’s very rare. I find thrillers to generally lack in character development, substance and suspense. The main appeal hinges on the mystery itself, but very often the answers are either predictable or so damn hard that it’s impossible to play along as the reader. In the past, I’ve read thrillers that I have enjoyed only to be completely let down by the ending. Agatha Christie might be the exception to this rule, since And Then There Were None is by far the best thriller I’ve ever read, but it’s still not a genre I generally reach for.

A popular or beloved character that I dislike

Hermione Granger – Harry Potter

I know, I know. Shocking, right? Here’s the thing, I love Hermione. I really do. She’s such a complex, dynamic and well written female character that has had such a huge impact on young girls of all ages across the world. However, as a character, I just don’t like her. All of the flaws that Hermione has make her annoying rather than endearing to me. There’s no denying she’s a well-written and incredible character, but on a personal level she’s not my cup of tea.

A popular author that I can’t seem to get into

Brandon Sanderson

As a fantasy reader it feels like you can’t be part of the club unless you’ve read everything Sanderson has ever written because he’s so loved in fantasy circles. So far I’ve read Warbreaker and The Final Empire, and attempted Elantris. I really enjoyed Warbreaker but generally I find it so difficult to get along with Sanderson’s writing style. It’s so basic, clunky and completely lacks flow. His writing actually pulls me out of the story he’s trying to tell because it’s so glaringly bad at times. I’m still planning to read The Way of Kings, but itf it doesn’t go well, it might be time to call a day on Sanderson.

A popular book trope that I’m tired of seeing

The Chosen One

Do I really need to explain? It’s not only over-done, but annoying because as a concept it’s unrealistic. There are no “chosen ones” in real life. This idea that someone is destined for greatness and is naturally gifted at everything, adored by everyone and wins by default because they’re the Chosen One, is difficult for me to get behind..

A popular book or series that I have no interest in reading

Six of Crows

I think if I’d read this book when I was a teenager, I would’ve loved it. But as I’ve grown up and my reading tastes have evolved, I’ve really shifted away from YA fantasy. I just don’t think I would vibe with this book now. But hey, never say never.

A movie or TV show adaption of a book or series that I like more than the book/s

Dexter

Dexter is one of my favourite shows of all time (yes, even with that finale haha), but my experience of reading the books just didn’t live up to the show. The show is thrilling, suspenseful, fast paced but the books were dry. Generally, Dexter works so much better as a show because it’s visual and Michae C. Hall brings Dexter’s character to life brilliantly.

What are some of your unpopular book opinions? Share in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.