Best Reads of 2021

This is the partner post to my Worst Reads of 2021 post and my most anticipated post to write this year. I love looking back at all of the books I’ve read in a year and reflecting on which ones I loved most. I read a lot of great books this year, so I selected my top ten from my favourites and these are the books that made the cut. It’s an eclectic collection which includes fantasy, non-fiction, classics, historical fiction and literary fiction. There are even some books on this list I haven’t had chance to speak about yet so I’m looking forward to sharing them with you! 😄

Emma – Jane Austen

Emma was the fourth Austen novel I read and my favourite to date. It follows Emma Woodhouse, who has an affinity for love-matching with some funny and dramatic consequences. Emma is a strong protagonist that is arrogant, flawed and relatable. It’s not a very plot-driven book, but the characterisation, social commentary and Austen’s beautiful writing style made it a very enjoyable read. I particularly loved the friendship between Emma and her best friend Harriet. Read my full review for Emma here.

Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett

This was the Halloween pick for my monthly book club. It’s the third Discworld book I’ve read and I absolutely loved it. It follows three witches who find themselves at the centre of a royal plot. This was a fun read from beginning to end. Pratchett’s imagination, wit and uniqueness in his world-building and characterisation is outstanding and so fun. There’s crazy witches, ghosts, political plots, time travel and amusing plot twists. It’s all kind of ridiculous, but in the best possible way, and I look forward to continuing with the Discworld series.

This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

I feel like I’ve already spoken about this book time and time again, but I guess that’s just confirmation of how much I loved it. This sci-fi novella tells a mind-bending tale of two time-travelling agents amidst a war that connect through a series of letters. It’s a flowery book that definitely won’t appeal to all readers, but I was completely swept away in the world and the characters love story. I found it to be a completely unique book in its writing style and world-building, and was like a real breath of fresh air. Read the full review here.

If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio

This book was a pleasant surprise for me; another book club pick that I wouldn’t have picked out myself but really enjoyed. It’s a dark academia with an interesting plot and Shakespearean influences. Despite rather one-dimensional characters I absolutely loved the plot, suspense, mystery and queerness wrapped up into this tale. I thrived on the explosive drama of the book and loved seeing the thematic, plot and stylist inspiration that was taken from Shakespeare’s works. Read the full review here.

In the Dream House – Carmen Maria Machado

Despite reading multiple non-fiction books this year, this is the only one that made it into my top ten. This autobiographical tale draws on Machado’s experience of having been in a queer abusive relationship. Through the framework of queerness, she explores themes of domestic abuse and the ways in which the queer community is often excluded from discussions around abuse in relationships. Despite being autobiographical, Machado writes in a storytelling manner, taking the reader on a complex and sometimes disorientating journey through her memories. It’s an emotional, educational and impactful memoir that will always stay with me. Read the full review here.

The Dragon Republic – R. F. Kuang

The second book in The Poppy War trilogy shattered any stereotypes that say the second book in a trilogy/series tends to be the weakest. It was action-packed, with a tight plot, fantastic world-building and surprising plot twists. The book (like the entire trilogy) was dark with very heavy themes throughout but the emotional stakes were so high. Although there were slower parts in terms of the pacing, the ending was explosive and I loved the relationship that was developed between the main character Rin and her enemy-turned-friend, Nezha. Read the full review for The Poppy War trilogy here.

The Passion – Jeanette Winterson

Another surprising read, The Passion is a historical fiction set in the Napoleonic Wars which follows two characters – Henri and Villanelle – whose fates collide leading to an unlikely relationship and journey. I absolutely adored this book. I was swept away by Jeanette Winterson’s stunning prose, writing style and storytelling. Despite how short it is in length, I was invested and connected to the characters and story. It tackles the complex theme of what passion truly means, how passion manifests in different forms, how it can drive our actions, and how it make us act against our conscience, logic and morals. I’d love to re-read this again in the future because the symbolism its seeped in requires a second, more careful read.

Royal Assassin – Robin Hobb

Another sequel from a fantasy has made it onto this list and this time it’s from Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy. I spent the entirety of November solely reading this book and loved every minute of it. This chunker of a book is slow-paced and emotionally heavy, but by god, it’s worth it. Fitz is one of the most complex protagonists I’ve read in fantasy and the characterisation and development of all the characters is outstanding. For many, this book would probably be too slow paced but I loved just hanging out in this world. Hobb’s writing is so immersive and stunning. Her prose and ability to convey the most complex of relationships and emotions has connected me so deeply to the characters and the world. I can’t wait to read Assassin’s Quest and complete the trilogy, although I’m not looking forward to having my heart ripped out 😭

The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie

The Heroes is the second standalone book in the First Law series. It’s a military fantasy set during a three-day battle between the North and the Union set 8 years after the original trilogy. I wasn’t convinced that a three-day battle would be enough to sustain a 500-page but it blew it out of the water. With an expertly crafted plot which slowly builds to a gripping climax, Abercrombie’s trademark characters that you love to hate and his thought-provoking prose, it was a recipe of bookish goodness. Usually battle is one small part of a book, but dedicating an entire book to it, gave a unique and raw perspective on war. It doesn’t just depict the action in battle but every moment leading up to it and the aftermath. It shows military planning and tactics, the boring moments of waiting for a battle to begin, camaraderie, prisoners of war, negotiation, burying the dead, the trauma of war, resolution and everything in between. This is one of the few books of 2021 that kept me reading all night because I just had to know what was going to happen.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

Now we come to my absolute favourite book I read in 2021. This is a queer literary fiction book spanning decades beginning in the 1940s and ending in 2015. It follows the life of Cyril Avery, a gay man born in the Catholic Republic of Ireland. It’s a slow-paced book but rightly so because of the weight of the themes that it tackled. This book had a significant emotional impact on me and is difficult for me to convey in words. It’s an emotional and harrowing tale of queerness, love, friendship, loss and family that touched my heart. It’s an example of the importance of own voices stories, because John Boyne’s personal experience seeps through the page here, making it feel authentic and raw.

There we have it – my best reads of 2021! 🙌🏻 It was tricky to narrow it down to just 10 but these were the ones that stood out for me in terms of the enjoyment I had with the reading experience and/or the impact they had on me. I hope you enjoyed reading and that it may give you some recommendations for books to read in the new year, if there are any on this list you haven’t read yet.

Happy holidays 🎄, my lovelies and keep reading.


Worst Reads of 2021

Happy Holidays one and all! 😊 I hope you are keeping safe and well this festive season. 2021 is nearing its end which means only one thing – reflecting on everything I read this year and sorting through my worst and best reads of the year. Fortunately, there are only 6 books that made it onto this list, which suggests I have had a good reading year (yay) and here’s to an even better reading year in 2022. These are in no particular order and aren’t bad books, but simply the books that didn’t work for me.

How to Disappear – Gillian McAllister

This book follows a family torn apart after their 14-year-old daughter witnesses a crime and they are forced to enter into witness protection. Typically, I don’t do crime thrillers but since I’m still in the early days of reading again, I wanted to continue to be open-minded and experimental with what I read this year. I picked this up on the Kindle store for 99p but despite the generally good ratings and reviews, it just wasn’t for me. I found the plot predictable and boring, and the characters completely one-dimensional. I also struggled with how illogical the characters behaved and how much I had to suspend disbelief to be fully immersed in the plot. Read the full review here.

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Coraline is a very well-known story so a plot summary isn’t necessary. Suffice to say, I had high expectations going into this book and it simply didn’t deliver. As a children’s horror, it’s effectively creepy and disturbing, with a moral lesson underpinning it – don’t take your parents/family for-granted. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get along with the nonsensical plot and didn’t connect to the story. But I did love Coraline’s character. She’s a brave, courageous young girl and a great character for children to read about and look up to.

Persuasion – Jane Austen

I love Jane Austen and never expected that one of her books would make it onto a list like this, but boy, Persuasion was a slog to get through. Branded as a second-chance love story, it follows Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old unmarried woman who has a chance to reconnect with her long lost love when he lands back into her life. The plot is meandering, slow and essentially non-existent. It lacks the characteristic charm and wit I’ve come to expect from Austen and features some of the most forgettable and bland characters I’ve encountered in Austen’s works. It was a tricky book for me to finish because I so desperately wanted to give up, but my love for Austen is what pushed me to continue until the end. Read the snapshot review here.

To Sir, With Love – E. R. Braithwaite

This was on the reading list for the introductory readings for my masters and I couldn’t get hold of it, so when I saw the audiobook was available at my library I was delighted. This is an autobiography from Braithwaite about his experience of teaching at a public school in inner-city East London as a wealthy black man. It provides social commentary around class and race in 1950s Britain. I wasn’t able to appreciate its merits because of Braithwaite’s matter-of-fact writing style which prevented me from connecting to his story. I also intensely disliked Braithwaite’s elitism, snobbery and judgement. Most of all, I was repulsed by Braithwaite repeatedly sexually objectifying his female colleagues and the underage girls that were his students. It’s this that really left a sour taste in my mouth and made it my least favourite read of the year.

Peter and Alice – John Logan

It’s sad that this play is on the list because I feel like it doesn’t deserve to be. Peter and Alice is a short play written about the characters of Peter Pan and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. It explores the creation of these characters and the trauma surrounding them, including cameos from the authors that created them. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a particularly strong affinity for either Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland, but I didn’t get this play. It felt like it was trying to tell a complex, emotional story but whatever that story was, I didn’t connect to it. It isn’t a bad play, but I don’t think I’m its target audience. I also think that I would’ve appreciated it more as a performance than a written play.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg

This is a historical fiction book which tells the story of a friendship between Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged housewife, and Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman in a nursing home who shares stories about her past in Whistle Stop, Alabama. It was a very anticipated read for me but didn’t turn out to be what I expected. I would definitely read more of Fannie Flagg’s books because I liked her writing style, but I didn’t connect to the characters or the story. I liked some of the themes that were explored around ageing, gender and racism but it lacked something for me personally.

There we have it – my worst reads of 2021. Tomorrow I’ll be posting my Best Reads of 2021, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

I hope those of you that celebrate Christmas have had a wonderful time 🎄🎅🏽 and those of you that don’t celebrate are able to have a rest over the final weeks of 2021 🙌🏻

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.


If We Were Villains – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: M. L. Rio
Genre: Mystery / Dark Academia
Publication year: 2017
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Major character death, murder, violence, PTSD, depression, suicide, self-harm, slut-shaming, homophobia (mentioned), transphobia (mentioned).

Synopsis

Following his release from prison, Oliver Marks recalls the events that led up to the crime that landed him in prison, making some shocking revelations along the way.

What I liked

  • Writing style
  • Plot
  • Setting and atmosphere
  • Shakespearean influences
  • Depiction of queer relationships/identity
  • The ending

What I disliked

  • Under-developed characters (in some instances)
  • Predictable plot

Plot and Structure

The story follows Oliver and his friends who are students at a prestigious Shakespearean acting university. Beginning with Oliver’s release from prison as an adult, it returns to the past to reveal the events that led up to the death that landed Oliver in prison and to uncover whether Oliver really was the murderer after all. The plot was somewhat predictable, but no less enjoyable for it. It was well-paced and thoughtfully mapped out, with enough clues scattered throughout to keep me engaged and well-timed reveals that ensured the mystery wasn’t dragged out unnecessarily. The conclusion was emotionally hard-hitting and tragic but satisfying in true Shakespearean style.

Structurally, it takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s plays and is broken down into acts and scenes rather than chapters. Those that are familiar with Shakespeare’s works will recognise how heavily influenced the book is by Shakespeare from the themes to the language, characters and structure. The majority of the story is set in the past when Oliver was at school but does alternate between past and present. The structure serves the plot which was constantly moving. Generally, it’s very plot-focused with the plot driving the characters forward rather than the other way around.

Writing Style

I loved M. L. Rio’s writing style. Her passion for language and Shakespeare shone throughout the book; her writing is beautifully emotive and authentically honest. The descriptive nature of her writing style created a vivid imagery of the setting and her ability to craft an atmospheric tension throughout reminded me of Daphne Du Maurier. Similarly, her capacity to convey human emotion through the internal processes, behaviour and actions of the characters is incredible. I felt deeply connected to Oliver because his emotions were tangible throughout the story. My one criticism would be that some of the dialogue between characters sometimes felt awkward or stunted, but I really put this down to the fact that the characters and their relationships weren’t always fully developed.

Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster.

Characters and Relationships

As a character-driven reader, the characters were the biggest con of the book for me. There were 7 main characters that formed the friendship group that were at the centre of the story. Excluding the protagonist Oliver and his best friend James, the other characters were underdeveloped and felt like caricatures. Every character fit a stereotype whether it was the “mean girl” or the “nerd” etc. and this occasionally led to some troublesome prejudices and bigoted comments. However, these characters weren’t written to be fully-realised individuals, they were written to fulfil a purpose within the narrative, and that’s exactly what they did. This meant that I was able to overlook the lacklustre characters, even as a character-driven reader, because they fit within the type of story that they were in and served the plot well. Oliver’s development also made up for the other characters.

As the protagonist, Oliver was given the most development and despite being a deeply flawed and sometimes frustrating character, I connected with him and sympathised with him. I particularly appreciated the depiction of Oliver’s queerness which was presented as something that was simply part of him rather than something to be used as a plot-point. Although Oliver’s sexuality was never explicitly labelled, I felt it was one of the better portrayals of bisexuality that I’ve seen in contemporary literature and appreciated how M. L. Rio wrote the “love triangle” (I use quotations because it’s not technically a love triangle in the traditional sense) and Oliver’s romantic relationships.

In regards to relationships, most of the friendships within the core 7 were generally superficial and standard. There were a few friendships that received more attention and were endearing, such as Oliver’s friendship with Filippa, but there was one relationship which stole the show – the one between Oliver and James. This was a complex, well-written and tragic relationship. It’s this relationship which was at the core of the entire book and elevated it to the next level for me.

Concluding thoughts

We Are Villains is not typically a book I would reach for but was a pleasant surprise and one of my favourite reads of 2021. It’s a passion piece devoted to Shakespeare, drawing huge influence from Shakespeare’s works which are scattered throughout in the writing style, structure, plot, style and characters. This created an atmospheric, fast-paced dark academia steeped in drama, with a well-built mystery and satisfying ending. These components came together to make up for the shortcomings of the underdeveloped characters, which were used to serve the plot rather than being fully realised individuals. I appreciated the inclusion of queer characters and that these characters were able to exist as people without their identity being used as a plot-point. The plot is well written and well-paced with a fantastic pay-off. Overall, I immensely enjoyed reading If We Were Villains and feel that the book does a fantastic job at taking Shakespearean works and adapting them into an original story that appeals to modern audiences.

I’d recommend If We Were Villains if:

You’re looking for a dark academia with a well-written mystery, lots of drama, Shakespearean influences, queer romance and a tragic ending.

Have you read If We Were Villains or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Conquering Classics #1 – Tips for reading classics

Do you want to read more classics but aren’t sure where to start? Have you attempted to read classics before but felt they weren’t for you? If so, the Conquering Classics series is for you! This is the first post in an ongoing series with tips and advice on how to read classics for beginners. For years I had an aversion to classics because of how much I disliked studying classics at school. I avoided classics because I thought that they simply weren’t the books for me, but classics aren’t something to be avoided. Classics can be accessible and enjoyable for all readers with the right approach. With that in mind, in this post, I’ll be sharing my top 10 tips on how to get started with reading classics.

Tip #1 Find your niche

Here’s the thing: Classics” is not technically a book genre, it’s more of a category of books that contains every genre and sub-genre within it. A classic is widely regarded to be a noteworthy book that has made a significant contribution to literature, but there’s no singular or coherent definition of what a classic is. The only thing that truly ties classics together as a category is that the books were all written 50 or more years ago. Beyond that, classics come from a broad range of time periods, places and authors, with varying writing styles, themes, literary devices and plots. The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice are both classics, yet wildly different. So take some time to identify what you’re looking for in a classic and avoid relying on “The 100 Must-Read Books of All Time” type of lists. Classics cover every sub-genre that exists, whether it’s romance, sci-fi, crime thriller, fantasy etc., so you will always be able to find a classic that caters to your tastes.

Tip #2 – Start with modern classics (20th century)

20th century classics more closely reflect today’s world than books written pre-20th century, meaning you’re less likely to have difficulties in getting to grips with the setting, language, social norms, and themes. Well-known 20th century classics such as The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984 practically read like a modern text in terms of the language and writing style. They are also more likely to be shorter in length than the tomes of the 19th century, which brings me nicely to Tip #3.

Tip #3 – Opt for shorter classics

The key with classics is to slowly build yourself up in terms of length, because those hefty classics take a lot of commitment and brain energy. When I first decided to try classics I picked out The Count of Monte Cristo which averages out at a whopping 1200 pages! Don’t make the same mistake as me; take it easy to begin with. I’d advise going for books no more than 300 pages, and if possible, stick with novellas. For novella recommendations check out ‘My Favourite Novellas’ post, it includes a bunch of classics. I’ll also be recommending five classics for beginners in the next post in the Conquering Classics series, all of which are on the lighter side in terms of page count.

Tip #4 – Read children’s classics

This tip fits well with Tip #3, because children’s classics are generally short in length. In addition to being short, children’s classics are familiar to most of us and make for light-hearted and enjoyable reads. It’s a useful way to introduce yourself to some of the language and writing style’s used in other classics. There are so many amazing children’s classics out there that I would recommend which are great for adults including Anne of Green Gables, Peter Pan, The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia. For more recommendations for children’s classics check out my post where I share my favourite children’s books.

Tip #5 – Read slow

Many of the larger 19th century classics were serialised at the time they were written, meaning they were designed to be read in chunks over a prolonged period of time. A Tale of Two Cities wasn’t meant to be binge-read, it was written to be slowly devoured, like many other classics. However, even with shorter classics, it’s worth taking your time to read them. Classics often tackle dark, serious and complex topics or themes and indulge in flowery prose and long descriptions, so allow yourself time to sit with them. If you try to rush your way through, you won’t be able to gain the full appreciation for what you’re reading or connect to the deeper meaning of the story.

Tip #6 – Use the tools available to you

Classics can be challenging to read sometimes, so if you don’t understand a word, look it up in the dictionary. If you read a chapter and you’re confused about what happened, check out a chapter summary. If a reference is made that you don’t understand, do a little reading about the period/place it’s set in and familiarise yourself with it. There’s no shame in utilising the wealth of information that’s out there about classics to support your own reading of it. I often research classics I’m reading so that I’m aware of the key themes. Many classics also have introductions, notes and indexes to help readers to gain a firmer understanding of the book. If you’re reading fiction, you could also watch TV/film adaptations to get a general understanding of the plot beforehand, which I’ve found particularly useful for Shakespeare’s works.

Tip #7 – Buddy read or join a book club

Classics are the best books to read with others because there’s so much information, research and discourse surrounding them. These are the types of books that are designed to be at the centre of a discussion. Reading with others can help make the experience of reading classics fun and provide an opportunity to to critically engage with the book. Talking with others can also help clarify details you’re fuzzy on and gain a better understanding of the text through discussion and exchanging ideas/opinions with others.

Tip #8 – Let go of negative preconceptions

“They’re boring”; “They’re not for me”; “They’re too slow”; “They’re complicated”; “They’re overrated”; “I won’t understand them”. These are some of the reasons why I didn’t pick up a classic for pleasure until I was 25 years old, and are probably the same reasons others avoid reading classics. The problem is that like any other category of books, classics are so broad and varied that they can’t and shouldn’t be judged as a whole. Would you avoid reading every book written in the 21st century if you read one that you didn’t enjoy? No? Then why would you swear off every book written before the 21st century based on reading one book you didn’t enjoy? There’s no escaping the fact that classics won’t be for everyone and that some people simply won’t want to read them, but if you’re here reading ths then it means you want to at the very least try and to do that, so it’s important to let go of these preconceptions, or at the very least be open to challenging them.

Tip #9 – Appreciate classics for what they are

Building on from Tip #8, it’s important to take classics at face value. The way that authors write and the way readers engage with books now has completely changed since most classics were written. Entertainment has evolved, readers have different preferences and this means that it’s futile to compare classic literature to contemporary literature. Even if you read a classic from your favourite genre, it will be completely different stylistically to a contemporary from the same genre. With that in mind, if you’re picking up a classic for the first time ever or the first time in a while, go into it knowing that it most likely won’t be comparable to contemporary books. It’s likely that a classic will be slow in places and that there’ll be words you don’t understand or you have to go back and re-read a sentence because it was so long you lost track (I’m looking at you, Dickens 😂), but it’s worth it to go on the journey of reading a book you love.

Tip #10 – If at first you don’t succeed, try again

Very few things in life that are worth having come easily, the same goes for reading. Reading takes commitment, time and patience, and classics require this arguably more so than any other genre of books. You might not love the very first classic you pick up, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find others that you love. Classics can be an acquired taste and sometimes it takes time to fully appreciate them and see their value. It took me months of reading classics before I got to a place where I felt like I was really enjoying them, and they’ve become some of the most rewarding and enjoyable books to read.

That concludes the firt post in Conquering Classics series. I hope these tips are helpful to those of you that have been considering trying to read more classics. The next post in the series will be ‘5 Classic Book Recommendations for Beginners’.

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

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.