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? πŸ˜‚ 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 πŸŽƒπŸ‘» 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 KaigenΒ 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 πŸ™ˆ 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.

The Outsiders – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: S. E. Hinton
Genre: Classic
Publication year: 1967
Audience: 12+
Content warnings: Abuse, neglect, gang violence, bullying, criminal activity, major character death, arson, violence, murder, grief, suicide.

Synopsis

Set in the span of two weeks, The Outsiders, follows 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis and his friends the “Greasers”. When a gang war breaks out between the “Greasers” and “Socs”, a series of tragic events follow.

What I liked

  • The social commentary
  • Fast paced plot
  • Character development
  • The friendships between the characters
  • The emotional stakes of the story

What I disliked

  • Nothing?

Plot and Structure

As stated in the synopsis, this book is set in a two week period and is structured chronologically. The plot can be best described as a gang war and friendship drama. The main character, Ponyboy and his friends, are part of the Greasers who are enemies with another gang, the Socs. After an altercation takes place between the Greasers and the Socs, a series of dramatic events unfolds with devastating consequences. The gangs are defined by social status and class with the Greasers coming from the working class and the Socs from the middle/upper classes. It’s a fast-paced, relentless plot which keeps building and building, creating high emotional stakes and multiple climaxes. Although I enjoyed the plot and it kept me invested in the overall story, it was the characters, friendships and social commentary which I loved the most.

Writing Style

Since S. E. Hinton was only a young teenager when she wrote this, the writing style is very simple and accessible. It’s a YA book and the writing style is accessible for all age groups and reading levels. I wasn’t in love with the writing style, but it was solid and in-keeping with the overall tone and plot of the story. It wasn’t very descriptive in nature but closely examined the characters’ thoughts and emotions, particularly of Ponyboy as the POV character. But despite the concise writing style, I felt that S. E. Hinton sprinkled in some wonderful quotes and metaphors which tugged on my heart strings. She was also able to convey the complexity of the class issues she was exploring in a beautiful and clear way. Considering just how multi-layered the themes were in this book, they were presented in a relatable and authentic way with little exposition.

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.

Characters and Relationships

The characters in this book stole my heart. Reading this for the first time as an adult enabled me to connect with the characters way more than I think I would’ve if I had read it as a teenager. I was able to put into context just how young these boys were and how awful the neglect, abuse and instability they were enduring was. I immediately felt a sense of love, protectiveness and empathy with these boys who were all lost in their own way and looking for a place to belong. I just wanted to give them a big hug!

Most of them are orphans or have absentee/neglectful parents, no positive adult role models and are school drop-outs (except Ponyboy). They’re living in an impoverished neighbourhood where there’s a lack of opportunity, high crime rates and on-going gang feuds. Although the characters are far from perfect, in many ways they’re victims of circumstance making them incredibly sympathetic. Perhaps the saddest part is that they’re aware that the lives they’re living were unfulfilling, miserable and toxic, but they don’t have the tools to break the cycle and choose a different path.

Each character is well-developed, authentic and has a different way of dealing with their situation. Darry sacrifices his own hopes and dreams to elevate those of his younger brothers (Ponyboy in particular); Soda masks his pain with his “free-spirit” attitude and optimism; Dally is apathetic and hardened to a world that he acknowledges is cruel and unfair; Johnny wants things to change but doesn’t know how to change things so goes along with it because the gang is all he has; and Ponyboy actively challenges their lifestyle and plans to escape by succeeding at school and moving out of the neighbourhood.

Ponyboy as a POV character was so insightful and relatable. Despite only being 14 years old, he has wisdom beyond his years and is able to reflect on situations from a fresh perspective. Where his brothers and friends are blinded by their prejudices, he tries to remain open-minded and optimistic even in the most hopeless of times. Seeing the world through his eyes was equal parts hopeful and heartbreaking. Ponyboy is the future and the potential for him to break the cycle feels close yet so far.

Dally, the typical “bad boy” archetype, had me rolling my eyes at the start. I’m not a fan of this archetype at all but S. E. Hinton exectued it so perfectly by creating a flawed, complex and sympathetic character. Dally being a “bad boy” is not just a mask to hide his vulnerability but part of who he is and a reflection of the philosophy he has developed as a result of the hardships he has faced. At no point is his behaviour or attitude justified, but we do get to see other sides to him and to understand his actions and motivations.

Obviously, it goes without saying that I loved the relationships every bit as much as the characters. They’re kids that have had it tough and deserve a chance, but to the rest of the world they’re delinquents and wasters. Nobody sees or hears these kids and nobody cares. It’s heartbreaking to see how little they matter in the wider world and how aware they are of that. For most of them, all they have to live for is each other. Since many concepts of masculinity are synonymous with detachment from emotion and a lack of intimacy with other males, I loved that the characters were sensitive, emotional and deeply connected to each other. These guys love each other and they might not always openly express it, but their devotion to each other is obvious from their actions. The loyalty, compassion and sacrifice that these guys make for each other made me cry…more than once! It’s a prime example of found family trope done right.

Concluding thoughts

The Outsiders both touched my heart and broke my heart. S. E. Hinton’s achievement in writng this at 17 years old cannot be understated. She captured the complexities of life in the wider context of class, inequality, violence and crime so vividly. It gets to the heart of what it is to be forgotten, side-lined and unloved, and through the stories of Ponyboy and the gang, reflects the lives of many young working class boys who are being left behind by society today. The complexity of the characters and their relationships with each other was palapable, and the heart and soul of the story. As the reader, you form a deep attachment to them because you see how little the world cares about them. Despite how short the book is, it’s so tragic, raw and honest that it makes for an unforgettable read and is one of my favourites. The characters will stay with me for the rest of my life and the injustice and the class inequalities that are explored resonated with me so deeply based on my personal experience and the work I do with disadvantaged young people.

I’d recommend The Outsiders if:

You’re looking for a short, face-paced modern YA classic which is full of drama, friendship and emotion, and explores complex themes surrounding social class and masculinity.

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

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The First Law Trilogy – Book Series Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Genre: Fantasy
Books: #1 The Blade Itself; #2 Before They are Hanged; #3 Last Argument of Kings
Publication year: 2006-2008
Audience: 18+
Content warnings: War, graphic violence and injuries, torture, mutilation, gore, death, trauma, misogyny, kidnapping, imprisonment, explicit sexual scenes, rape. Since this trilogy is grimdark it contains lots of dark themes so there may be some I’ve missed from this list.

Synopsis

The First Law universe is a dark, politically unstable world characterised by war and unrest. The trilogy follows 6 POV characters on their respective journey’s as they navigate the conflict and political games that will determine their fates.

What I liked

  • THE CHARACTERS!!
  • Character dynamics
  • Strong character development
  • Writing style and prose
  • World building
  • Dark themes
  • Morally grey characters

What I disliked

  • Slow pacing
  • Lack of plot
  • Open and rushed ending

Plot and Structure

This trilogy is known for not being big on plot, but that’s not to say that there is a complete absence of plot. Similar to most multiple-POV fantasy stories, the trilogy has six plot threads running through it focused on the six main characters. At various times throughout the three books, the characters’ stories intersect with thrilling results. The plot is focused on two central conflicts – the one between the Union and the North and the second between the Union and the Gurkish Empire. It’s primarily a war-focused plot, analysing the conflicts that take place from military, political and social perspectives.

Despite getting off to a relatively slow start in the first book, I really enjoyed the plot. There were lots of twists and turns, political intruige and fantastic action scenes. The plot was built upon more with each book, but I personally enjoyed the plot in Before They Are Hanged (Book #2) most. Although the fantastical elements were low, there was enough to keep me intruiged and I liked learning about the world’s magic and history. The ending was somewhat underwhelming and rushed. It was too open-ended for my liking and I felt that there were some characters that were done an injustice and questions that remained unanswered, but I appreciated that the ending generally fit with the tone of the world. It was bittersweet to say the least.

Structurally, each book is divided into two parts with alternating POV chapters between Logen Ninefingers, Sand dan Glokta, Jezal dan Luthar, Collem West, The Dogman and Ferro Maljinn. It’s narrated in chronological order for the most part with a handful of flashbacks relevant to establish the plot and characters’ back stories. The diverse personalities of the POV characters and their different stations and locations provided a broad perspective on the world and plot as it unfolded. I enjoyed every POV character, which is rare for me, and an attestment to how well Joe Abercrombie writes characters.

World Building and Magic

The world building in this trilogy was incredible. It’s one of the most detailed worlds that I’ve been able to create in my imagination; from the side alleys to the grand buildings and vast deserts, I see it all in vivid detail and felt as though I was living in the world with the characters. Abercrombie took the time to establish the world, drip feeding the information throughout the three books at a steady pace. Yet from the very first chapters I felt anchored in the world and had a strong sense of how it looked, smelled and felt. Through his writing, Abercrombie drew on all of the senses which connected me to the world even more. Although it’s a very dark and unpleasant world, it’s one of my favourite fantasy universes that I’ve read to date.

There was a lot of ambiguity around the magic system. More was revealed about the function of magic and the First Law the series is titled after – which outlaws contact with the Other Side – in the second and third books. Most of the information about the magic system was established through history and a lot of it was left unexplained. As a fan of soft magic systems, I personally liked this. The magic was prominent at times but for the most part it was a low hum in the background; I could sense it but it wasn’t tangible. Overall, the magic system was a lower priority in comparison to the characters and world building.

Writing Style

Joe Abercrombie writes with intention and is meticulous with how he chooses his words. His writing is carefully chosen to match the setting and characters. Each character had their own manner of speaking characterised by different sentence lengths, colloquialisms, dialects, phrases and patterns of thinking. I am yet to read another author that so distinctly differentiates between their characters. His flair for writing dialouge is equally fantastic. It’s sharp, witty and engaging. The style wasn’t flowery but eloquently conveyed the tone and emotion of the story and characters. There was extensive descriptions of the setting which enabled me to build clear images of the setting and world but it wasn’t too indulgent. Description didn’t overshadow the other elements of the writing and the balance between the various aspects was balanced well. Abercrombie also has a talent for writing war and action. All action and battle scenes were detailed, fast paced and thrilling. Likewise, his ability to write gut-punching and captivating scenes is fantastc. There are so many memorable scenes from this series that will stay with me for a long time. Overall, the attention to detail in Abercrombie’s craft was apparent. From dialogue to descripton to prose, it was concise, strongly written and it immersed me in the world and story completely.

Round and round in circles we go, clutching at successes we never grasp, endlessly tripping over the same old failures. Truly, life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

#3 Last Argument of Kings

Characters and Relationships

The characters were the triumph of this trilogy. They were simply phenomenal. Each one was complex, morally grey and awful yet oddly sympathetic. I couldn’t help but develop a love-hate relationship with them. They were compelling and unpredictable, but also completely consistent and fully fleshed out. Even when characters took turns I didn’t expect (which happened a lot!), it was authentic and believable. Each character had a complete arc and journey across the three books which was well written, developed and executed. Their development wasn’t linear, and some characters regressed in many ways, but that was very fitting with the nuance of the characters and is also reflective of the reality of being human. Growth is hard and messy and doesn’t happen easily. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.

There wasn’t a single poorly written character. I loved every single one of them. The only character that felt a little weaker to me was Ferro, which was disappointing since she was the only main female character. In fact, my biggest critcism of Abercrombie’s characters is that there was a complete lack of female characters and the ones that were featured felt less developed than the male characters. However, having read two of the First Law standalones (Best Served Cold and The Heroes), I know that this is something he improves on later on in the series.

Admittedly, the characters won’t be to everyone’s tastes because they are so terrible. Unless you really enjoy characters that are genuinely terrible and morally corrupt, you won’t connect with these characters. They did awful things, sometimes for survival but sometimes simply because they could, because they wanted to or because it was the easier choice. They’re not the type of characters that are relatable or that readers can necessarily empathise with, but I became invested in them as people that were unfortunate to be born into such a volatile world that forced them to extremes for the purpose of self preservation.

I could take the time to individually analyse each character because there’s so much to say, but I will just mention my personal favourites – Logen, The Dogman, Jezal and West. These characters surprised me and developed immensely across the trilogy. Despite their flaws and darkness, there was a core sense of humanity that I connected with. That’s not to say the other characters weren’t as equally strong, because they were. The characters stand out in my mind as some of the best in fantasy. In the future, I plan to write character analyses on some of the First Law characters, so keep an eye open for that, if you’re interested.

Because the characters were so great, the character relationships wrote themselves and were so fun to read. Before They Are Hanged (Book #2) was my favourite book for this because of the new, unlikely friendshps that were made. I really enjoyed the dynamics between the Northmen – Dogman, Threetrees, Grim, Black Dow and Tul Duru. Despite their friendships being shallow on the surface, since their bond was formed on a need for survival, the dependence, loyalty and cooperation between them was touching. There wasn’t much emphasis on romantic relationships which I appreciated, since I can sometimes find that romance is shoe-horned into fantasy unnecessarily. I also liked that the romantic relationships that did form weren’t idealised and were actually quite un-romantic. It was in keeping with the tone of the book.

Concluding thoughts

The First Law is a dark, gritty, character driven fantasy trilogy set in a rich universe inspired by medieval Europe. Despite a slow burn plot, it’s a thrilling, compelling and encapsulating story with plenty of twists and turns. I was diappointed by the lack of female characters, but the trilogy makes up for it with the complex, dynamic and intruiging cast of characters it does have. It also makes up for this short-coming in other areas such as its attention to detail, world building, character development and well crafted writing style. Abercrombie’s sharp minded wit and dark humour makes for some brilliant dialogue, character moments and character dynamics. All of this comes together to create an immersive, exciting and unforgettable read which kept me on my toes and made me feel the broad spectrum of emotions from elation to sadness to anticipation and shock. Overall, this trilogy is centered on the characters and is a must-read for character driven fantasy readers like myself.

I’d recommend The First Law trilogy if:

You’re looking for a character driven grimdark fantasy with low magic, complex morally grey characters and a dark world akin to George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Have you read The First Law or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Pride Month Wrap Up

At the end of May I shared my Pride Month TBR and I wanted to give an update on the books I read in June. So, I read five LGBTQIA+ books last month, four of which were from my TBR and one which was a birthday gift from a friend. Here are my summaries of the books and my thoughts on them all ✨ spoiler free ✨ .

In the Dream House

Carmen Maria Machado

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2019

In the Dream House is the first book I read from my TBR and it blew me away. It was an emotional and hard-hitting read with the author Carmen Maria Machado, recounting her experience of being a domestic abuse victim in a same sex relationship. The writing style was unique and encapsulating, and Machado’s voice swept me away in the story of her life. It’s value in raising awareness of abuse in queer relationships cannot be understated and this is one I’d highly recommend for everyone, particularly those interested in LGBTQIA+ topics and rights. You can read my full review for In the Dream House here.

The Passion

Jeanette Winterson

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 1987

Reading The Passion was a wonderful experience. 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. Set in the Napoleonic Wars, it follows two characters – Henri and Villanelle – whose fates collide leading to an unlikely relationship and journey. The characterisation of Henri and Villanelle was incredible. Winterson was able to establish them so well within 150 pages that I came away feeling a deep affinity to both characters. Their dynamic was authentic, complex and emotional, and anchored the entire story.

It’s very steeped in metaphors, symbolism and thought-provoking prose, so I don’t think a book as complex as this can be fully comprehended or appreciated on one read. I plan to come back to it re-read it at a slower pace, taking the time to sit with the words and fully reflect on the language and meaning. I was so close to rounding this up to 5 stars, but it just lacked that full emotional gut punch that typically leads me to give a full rating. Nonetheless, I loved this book.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fannie Flagg

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 1987

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the story of a small fictional town in Alabama called Whistle Stop. It primarily follows Mrs Threadgoode, an elderly lady in a reitrement home, and her daughter-in-law, Evelyn as they develop a close bond and Mrs Threadgoode shared the history of Whistle Stop and its residents. The story spans across decades, weaving together past and present with chapters alternating between the present with Mrs Threadgoode and Evelyn chatting in the retirement home, stories from the past from residents of Whistle Stop and articles from the Whistle Stop newsletter, “The Weems Weekly.”

Thematically, this book explored a lot of things that are of interest to me – family, community, identity, feminism, lesbianism, racism – but unfortunately, I found it difficult to connect to the story or the characters. I appreciated what Fannie Flagg was trying to achieve but it didn’t have the emotional weight it should’ve and was generally a rather underwhelming read as a result.

We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ rights

Amelia Abraham (ed.)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2021

This book was bought for me by a friend as a birthday present and I devored it within two days. With a diverse range of voices from within the LGBTQIA+ community, this anthology of essays is wide-reaching and explored a variety of issues that queer communities are currently facing and have endured throughout history. It’s an intersectional approach to LGBTQIA+ rights with queerness being explored in the context of race, disability, faith, culture and legislation. As with all anthologies, there were some essays that I connected to and enjoyed more than others, but generally the quality was high.

It was a very emotional read and I cried multiple times, but it was also hopeful and empowering. Although there was a lot of representation, I did feel that there could’ve been improvements with this. There was a high proportion of essays written through the lens of being gay, trans and non-binary, but a clear absence of multisexual identities including bisexuals, pansexuals, omnisexuals and polysexuals. There was also only one chapter about asexuality and none about aromanticism. Although ths is a lesser known identity, there are plenty of asexual and/or aromantic public figures and activists that could’ve contributed to the anthology. Nonetheless, I appreciate that with 35 essays there’s limited time and space and overall, it did a brilliant job at capturing the core issues in LGBTQIA+ activism and the diversity of the community.

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Identity and the Meaning of Sex

Angela Chen

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2020

This book was a fascinating and insightful read. It’s an journalistic perspective on asexuality within the context of Western society which is rooted in what she coins as “compulsory sexuality”. I wasn’t a big fan of the writing which felt clunky and jumped from one topic to another haphazardly, but Angela Chen opened up very important converations which apply to everyone regardless of sexual orientation. She uses asexuality to question the societal norms and expectations placed on people around sex and relationships, asking why sex is assumed to be such a focal point of all of our lives when for many people (asexual and non-asexual), sex simply isn’t a priority in our lives.

As a Chinese American, Chen adopted an intersectional perspective of asexuality looking at disability, race and religion and how those characteristics can interact with asexuality. She did a good job at capturing the diversity of the ace spectrum and debunking common myths surrounding asexuality. She also offered some food for thought and provided me with the opportunity to evaluate the ways in which socal norms and compulsory sexuality has impacted me as an asexual woman. However, it wasn’t a particularly mindblowing read since it felt like it was targeted more at non-asexuals as an introduction to the issues that asexuals can and do face. Having said that, asexuality is widely misunderstood, overlooked and stigmatised both in and out of the LGBTQIA+ community so to see books like this being published is essential for raising awareness and building momentum within the ace community.

Overall, I had a great experience reading these books and I’m looking forward to reading the other books that are on my Pride Month TBR but that I didn’t manage to get to in June.

Have you read any of these books or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag

So, we’re half way through 2021. Where has the time gone?! I don’t know about anybody else, but this year has flown by for me. We’ve been living with COVID for over a year now and it’s been good to see the UK slowly getting back to some normalcy. I celebrated my 27th birthday just over a week ago and will be setting off on a UK caravan holiday this weekend (hoping for lots of sunshine and looking forward to dipping my toes in the sea for the first time in over 8 years!). But enough of that, today I’ll be doing the Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag. I’m excited to reflect on what I’ve read so far this year and share t with you all.

This tag was originally developed by Earl Grey Books and Chami on YouTube.

Note:

  • All books on this list are books I’ve read this year in 2021 or books I want to read.
  • I have reworded/condensed most of the questions.
  • I’ve changed a couple of questions to suit my own preferences. All questions that have been changed are marked with an asterix.

Best book

The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie is one of my favourite fantasy authors and The First Law one of my favourite trilogies. The Heroes is the second stand-alone novel set in The First Law universe and it blew me away. Spanning a three-day war, this book is a meticulous examination of the damaging impact of war. Abercrombie’s stellar character work shone as always and although it was a slow started, the action and plot was built up fantastically with an explosive conclusion.

Best sequel

The Dragon Republic – R. F. Kuang

The Poppy War was one of my favourite books of 2020 and The Dragon Republic had a lot to live up to, but it accomplished it. It built upon the world, characters and plot that was established in the first book and elevated it to the next level. I didn’t love it as much as The Poppy War, but the ending will be a moment that will stay for me for a long time #PlotTwist. You can read my full review of The Poppy War Trilogy here.

New book series you want to start*

Stormlight Archive – Brandon Sanderson

As a fantasy reader, I feel like a fraud for having not read the Stormlight Archive. Sanderson’s works are raved about in every corner of the fantasy community and this series is championed. One of my close friends adores this series and is constantly begging me to read is so I can jump on the Stormlight train. I’m excited to learn about the characters I’ve heard so much about like Kaladin and Dalinar. I just hope that it meets my expectations, which are very high based on the great things I’ve heard.

Most anticpated read for the second half of 2021*

The Sword of Kaigen – M. L. Wang

The Sword of Kaigen exploded in the fantasy community this year. It’s a self-published stand-alone fantasy which has been highly praised by readers and reviewers. I recently starting reading it but have put it aside to focus on other books I’m currently reading, but I am beyond excited to sink my teeth back into this and have a feelng it will be a favourite 2021 read.

Biggest disappointment

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg

This had been on my TBR for a while and I was expecting feel-good small town vibes with friendship, found family and romance. Although I did like this book, it just wasn’t what I wanted or expected going into it. It reads more like a historical drama and the disjointed timeline and wide cast of characters was difficult to follow at times. Generally, it was an okay read but rather forgettable.

Biggest Surprise

Ballad of Reading Gaol – Oscar Wilde

I’m not a poetry reader. As much as I’d like to be, I struggle to connect to or understand poetry. Quite frankly, I feel too stupid for it. However, I adore Oscar Wilde’s writing style so decided to listen to the audiobook on a whim through my library and fell in love. Wilde’s use of language and ability to craft an emotive, complex and rounded story of his time in jail through poetry was staggering. Having the audiobook to set the rhythm of the poetry helped me to become immersed in it completely and I’d like to read more poetry in the future in this format.

Favourite newly discovered author

Robin Hobb – Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy)

Despite having only read one of her books so far, I can already sense that Robin Hobb is an author I’m going to love. Her world-building and character work immediately pulled me in. Whilst Assassin’s Apprentice was slow paced, I appreciated Hobb’s attention to detail and the time she took to flesh out her characters and allow the reader breathing space to become anchored in the world.

New favourite relationship*

Rin and Nezha – The Poppy War Trilogy

I know I’ve already spoken about this trilogy, but it deserves to take another spot on this list. The enemies to friends to lovers to enemies relationship between Rin and Nezha was compelling and I became deeply invested. Kuang created such an intruiging, complex dynamic between these two characters and developed it well. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way the relationship was concluded, but nonetheless enjoyed following their relationship a lot.

Book that made you cry

We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ Rights – Amelia Abraham (editor)

We Can Do Better Than This is a collection of essays from LGBTQIA+ individuals who share their experience of their queerness and their hopes for the future of LGBTQIA+ activism. The diversity and breadth of voices in this book was beautiful but the topics that explored were hard hitting and made me cry multiple times, sometimes with sadness and sometimes with joy. It was a very impactful read and the words and stories in this book will always stay with me.

Book that made you happy

Emma – Jane Austen

Emma is one of those books that could cheer me up no matter what mood I was in. It’s light-hearted, fun and dramatic. Emma as a character is incredibly flawed but endearing and her incessant meddling is entertaining to watch. You can read my fulll review of Emma here.

The most beautiful book you’ve bought or recieved

Wuthering Heights – Emily BrontΓ« (Folio Society Edition)

My brother bought this for me for my birthday and OMG, I’m in love. The illustrations in this book are stunning and although I already own two copies of Wuthering Heights, my motto is you can never have too many copies of your favourite books.

A book you want to read by the end of the year*

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

I love the Nevermoor series and have enjoyed the first two books immensely. The world is whimsical, fun and charming. These books are like a warm hug. It’s one of my favourite fanatasy series currently and I’m excited to dive back into the world and follow Morrigan’s adventures. The only reason I haven’t read it yet is because I have to wait until October 2022 for Book 4 and I want to reduce the wait as much as I can.

Favourite book to movie adaptation

Wuthering Heights (1939)

I’ve made no secret of my love for Wuthering Heights and because of how much the book means to me, I didn’t have much faith that I would enjoy an adaptation of it. This film does get a lot of things wrong and isn’t a very accurate portrayal of the book, but I still really enjoyed it. The acting was strong and the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff was encapsulating. I generally don’t watch classic films, but really enjoyed the old-school style and felt that it being in black and white fit with the tone and the setting of the moors perfectly.

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Final Empire – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Mistborn (The Final Empire, Book #1)
Publication year: 2020
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Abuse, murder, violence, major character death, slavery.

Synopsis

The Final Empire is set in a dystopian world characterised by a red sun, showers of ash and rolling mists. Kelsier recruits a ragtag crew of allomancers to undertake the greatest heist in history to overthrow the Lord Ruler and free the oppressed peoples, Skaa.

What I liked

  • Vin’s character
  • Setting and world building
  • Unique magic system
  • Entertaining

What I disliked

  • Writing style
  • Prose
  • Slow pacing
  • Poor/slow character development
  • Complicated magic system
  • Too much exposition

Plot and Structure

The plot was a fairly standard fantasy heist plot – what you expect is what you get. A group of individuals are brought together and work to overthrow the Big Bad – the Lord Ruler – by using their allomancy and a cunning plot. There were some surprises along the way but overall it delivered on the premise very well. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it; it was good but not necessarily to my tastes. There were a lot of pacing issues until around the 70% mark, at which point the plot went into over-drive and the action soared. I really enjoyed the last 30%, but unfortunately, the first three quarters were very slow and dragged in parts.

There were two main POV characters – Kelsier and Vin – and chapters alternated between the two of them, with snippets from history books at the start of each chapter to familarise the reader with the historical context of the present. Kelsier takes Vin under his wing and mentors her, teaching her how to wield and understand her allomancy. Throughout the story the two develop a father/daughter type relationship which was very endearing, but more about that later on in the review. Generally, the structure was clean, despite the slow pacing and served the plot well.

World Building and Magic

Sanderson is most well known for his world building and magic systems, and generally, he delivered. Despite being introduced to the world Scadrial (which is not explicity named in the book), I developed a keen sense of the world and felt very immersed in it. The descriptions of the setting enabled me to build up an intricate and detailed image of the world, to such an extent that I felt like I was walking through that world with the characters. I also really enjoyed the dysopian setting which added tension throughout. The history of the world was well established and sprinkled throughout adding to the authenticity of the world and firmly grounding me in the world. It’s through the history that the reader is able to understand what is happening in the present and why. It was an interesting world and one I’d be eager to learn more about.

The magic system – Allomancy – is central to the world and consists of groupings of metals which are used in a multitude of ways by Mistings or Mistborns to enhance and unlock certain abilities. I found the magic to be very polarising. On the one hand, it was a unique and interesting concept unlike anything else I’ve come across in fantasy. On the other hand, it was overly detailed, complex and technical. This comes down to personal preference, but I’d generally prefer a softer magic system in fantasy and this was a very hard magic system. The rules, effects, boundaries and laws involved with the magic were clearly established and reinforced throughout. It became a tad repetitive and was sometimes confusing, particularly in the beginning, due to the number of different metals there are and the different abilities they unlocked. Generally, I appreciated the uniqueness of the magic and how much time went into developing it, but on a personal level, it simply wasn’t for me and there was too much exposition around it which constantly pulled me out of the story.

Writing Style

My largest critcism of this book is by far the writing style. Sanderson’s language use was simplistic and written like it’s targeted at young teenagers rather than adults. The prose was plain and dry and prevented me from being able to get into the flow of the story. It was also very expository, reading like a mechanical process, which created a disconnect between myself, the characters and the story. I was constantly pulled out of scenes by the clunky writing, especially during action scenes which were so clumsily written that I had no idea what was going on. They read like an instructon manual of, “He did X, and then he did Y and in response, she did Z. Next, he did X again until Y happened and finally did Z.” It was tedious and completely unimmersive. This really comes down to a creative choice by Sanderson to invest his time and energy into world building and magic systems at the detriment of his prose, tone and overall writing style.

Our belief is often strongest when it should be weakest. That is the nature of hope.

Characters and Relationships

Like most other aspects of the book, the characters and relationships have mixed results from me. Generally, I liked the relationships and character dynamics more than the characters individually, except for Vin. Vin was the highlight of this book for me. Although her character draws on a lot of typical fantasy archetypes, her growth throughout this book was incredible. She’s a lovable character; sympathetic, brave and talented. A chosen one, but still real enough that she felt relatable. I also really enjoyed Elend – Vin’s love interest (who weirdly gave me Draco Malfoy Vibes) – for his charisma, intrigue and wit. He brought a freshness to the story that I enjoyed as one of the only other young main characters besides Rin.

Unfortunately, the other characters fell rather flat for me. Kelsier’s character was very underwhelming and I found it impossible to connect to him. I couldn’t even get a read on his character for at least the first quarter of the book, if not more. He seemed inconsistent and shady. The rest of the crew were all indistinguishable. I know their names, but that’s pretty much all I know about them.

Fortunately, I loved the character dynamics. I really liked seeing Vin and Kelsier’s relationship blossom. Kelsier acted as her mentor, teacher, friend and parental figure, and although I found it difficult to connect to him as a character in the moments he shared with Vin, he felt much more human. It was refreshing for the main female/male dynamic to be one of mentor and mentee rather than lovers. I appreciated not having the romantic entanglements between Vin and Kelsier. Speaking of romance, I adored Vin’s dynamic with Elend. Their relationship was well-built and the chapters featuring Elend were some of my favourites. Generally, I also enjoyed the dynamics between the crew, despite not vibing with them individually. The friendships felt authentic and I liked the way they bounced off one another.

Concluding thoughts

The Final Empire is a book I went into with high expectations because of how highly regarded Sanderson and Mistborn are in the fantasy world. In terms of plot, it was satisfyng and built to a fast-paced fun last quarter and epic conclusion. The world building met those expectations and was completely immersive, vivid and encapturing. The magic system was intricate, unique, well developed and central to the world. Although the hard magic system and general emphasis on magic was not to my tastes, I was impressed and intruiged by the allomantic magic. Sanderson’s writing was a rather significant hinderance to the story due to its exposition and clunkiness. My favourite aspect of the book excluding the world building, was Vin. I adored Vin as a protagonist and despite finding it difficult to connect to the other chracters, I enjoyed their character dynamics. Overall, The Final Empire was an entertaining read with lots of promise but fell short of meeting my expectations based on the hype surrounding it. My issues with the writing and magic system are personal preferences, but have led me to the decision to not continue with the Mistborn series.

I’d recommend The Final Empire if:

You’re looking for a smooth transition into epic fantasy with complex world-building, an intricate magic system and entertaining heist plot.

Have you read The Final Empire or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Pride Flag Book Tag πŸ³οΈβ€πŸŒˆ

In celebration of Pride Month, today I’m going to be doing the Pride Flag Book Tag. This looks like such a creative, fun and colourful tag! I’m excited to do it and to share some of my favourite LGBTQIA+ books with you all that I may not have had the opportunity to speak about until now.

This tag was originally developed by Common Spence on YouTube.

Red – Life

A book with a spirited protagonist totally proud of who they are. Someone who gives you LIFE!

Black Flamingo – Dean Atta

Black Flamingo is a heart-warming story of pride and celebrating who you are. The protagonist Michael goes on a journey of self discovery and although he faces struggles along the way, he remains true to himself and isn’t afraid to stand up and be his most authentic self. His sense of identity and unwillingness to compromise himself based on the judgement or prejudice of others is inspiring.

Orange – Healing

A book that made you, as the reader, find a deeper meaning or catharsis in your own life.

Felix Ever After – Kacen Callender

Felix Ever After is a YA tale about a young trans guy called Felix. He questions his gender and sexuality throughout the story as he attempts to find the labels that best reflect his identity and to understand himself better. His process of exploring his identity and finding himself resonated with me on a personal level and helped me to better understand myself. This book will always be special to me because it was the key to finally opening me up to my own queerness.

Yellow – Sunshine

A book that fills you with so much joy it could brighten even your darkest day.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics – Olivia Waite

A wonderful, fluffy and romantic WLW story which gave me all the feels. The dynamic between the two main characters, Lucy and Catherine, is refreshing. Their relationship is honest, passionate and tender. I love that both women have their own dreams and insecurities and that they support and encourage each other to reach their dreams and overcome their insecurities. They develop hugely from meeting each other and reading their journey will never fail to warm my heart.

Green – Nature

A book that is set out of this world β€” a reality different to our own.

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

I’ve spoken about this book at least twice in previous posts, but I will never stop talking about it, because it’s so AWESOME. This story is so other-worldly, from the language to the setting and the overall story. Readng this book is like falling into an abstract dream that you feel but cannot quite see or touch. It has the added bonus of a wonderful queer romance which takes the enemies to lovers trope and executes it with breathtaking results.

Blue – Peace

A book where one of the characters finds peace with a difficult truth.

The Passion – Jeanette Winterson

The Passion is a recent read for me but I fell in love with it. One of the main protagonist’s, Villanelle, is a queer young girl who goes on one hell of a journey. She has to come to terms with multiple difficult truths throughout regarding loss and the injustices of the world. Her resillience and determination is admirable and I deeply connected to her character and journey.

Purple – Spirit

A book that deals with LGBT+ themes and religion.

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees tells the harrowing and emotional experience of Ijeoma’s experience as a gay woman living in Nigeria. Throughout Ijeoma battles against the illegality of homosexually and the conflict between her mother’s Christian faith and her sexuality. It’s not an easy read, but an unforgettable and powerful story nonetheless.

I wanted to share some LGBTQIA+ charities you can donate to in the UK, if you would like to:

This is not an extensive list. If you would like to donate, I would recommend doing your own research to find a charity that aligns with your ethics and does the work that you feel most passionately about.

Happy Pride Month ❀️ 🧑 πŸ’› πŸ’š πŸ’™ πŸ’œ

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.