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 Brontë (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 🏳️‍🌈

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 — 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 ❤️ 🧡 💛 💚 💙 💜

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Persuasion and Villette – Snapshot Book Reviews

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

Persuasion

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐

Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Classic
Publication year: 1817
Audience: All ages
Content warnings: Sexism.

Review

Persuasion is widely regarded as one of Jane Austen’s best novels and one her strongest works. It follows Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old unmarried woman whose life is thrown into a tailspin when her former lover, Captain Wentworth returns to her hometown. Characteristic of an Austen novel, it’s light on plot and very slow paced with a focus on characters and character dynamics.

Of the four Austen novels I’ve read (the others being Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey) this was my least favourite. Whilst I usually enjoy the slow pace, this was too slow. It was meandering and uneventful. I also found myself getting lost in the large cast of characters all of whom were indistinguishable from one another. As a protagonist Anne was bland and difficult to connect with in comparison to Emma and Lizzie.

The second-chance romance was a refreshing change from the other Austen romances. However, the romance wasn’t much of a focus until the end. My lack of connection to the characters also made it difficult for me to connect to the romance. The ending felt rushed and unearned.

Unfortunately, Persuasion was not an enjoyable reading experience for me. Although I’ve enjoyed all of the other novels I’ve read from Austen, I found it difficult to find redeemable qualities with this one. It lacks the fun, wit and lightheartedness that I have come to expect from Austen and the lack of plot paired with my inability to connect to the characters ultimately meant that it didn’t work for me.

I’d recommend Persuasion if:

You are an Austen fan that enjoys slow paced classics with large casts and a second chance romance.

Villette

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Author: Charlotte Brontë
Genre: Classic
Publication year: 1853
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Sexism, misogyny, depression, mental illness, paranoia, grief, verbal abuse, anti Catholicism.

Review

Villette is Charlotte Brontë’s third and final novel. It tells the story of orphan, Lucy Snowe as she moves to the fictional French town of Villette to pursue her independence and a new life. It’s a slow paced story which is primarily a character study of Lucy Snowe; a polarising and complex protagonist. My reading experience was very mixed, with some parts boring me to tears and others compelling me to read more.

The slow pacing was difficult to get through at times and the relentless passages of French repeatedly pulled me out of the story. Nonetheless, I was strangely enamoured by Lucy’s character, despite her being a generally unlikeable person. I particularly enjoyed the unreliable narration from Lucy and how her memories, biases and conscious decision to withold certain information provided insight into her character. It also prevented me from ever fully grasping the truth, leaving lots of room for interpretation and analysis.

Villette is destined to live in the shadow of Jane Eyre, and whilst generally readers are more likely to favour the latter, the former has a lot of merit. Charlotte’s writing style is encapsulating; her descriptions are wonderfully visual and her ability to capture emotion is fantastic. There was a fascinating exploration of mental health and despite the toxic love interest, I appreciated that there was a portrayal of unrequited love and an ending which didn’t fulfil the cliche “happily ever after” trope. Overall, this is a feminist tale of a young woman, alone in the world seeking purpose and belonging.

I’d recommend Villette if:

You’re looking for a slow paced classic set in France with a complex female protagonist and themes of feminism, love, loss, mental health and finding purpose.

Have you read Persuasion or Villette or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Audiobooks: Awesome or Awful?

Readers seem to conflicted when it comes to audiobooks – some love them, some hate them, some are indifferent – but there’s a general consensus that audiobooks are an amazing resource for accessibility and increasing the amount we’re able to read. They’ve opened so many people up to reading that may not have discovered the pleasure of reading without audiobooks. Personally, I have a complex relationship with audiobooks, so I wanted to explore this and share 3 reasons why I think audiobooks are awesome (pros) and 3 reasons why I think they’re awful (cons), and give my own verdict on what I think about audibooks.

(Before we get started, let’s take a moment to appreciate my genius alliteration with the title of this post 😉😂)

Audiobooks are Awesome Reason 1: They’re convenient

Audibooks are Awesome (pros)Audibooks are Awful (cons)
1. They’re convenient

Most of us lead busy lives with jam-packed schedules and as much as we’d love to devote hours every day to reading, it’s simply not feasible. Audiobooks are much easier to fit into your day whether it’s during the commute or whilst cooking dinner, there are endless times throughout the day where we can blast a few minutes of an audiobook and get some reading done with minimal effort.
1. They’re expensive

Subscription services like Scribd and Audible offer cost effective solutions to listening to audiobooks but audiobooks are generally still an expensive luxury. Prices vary depending on the book but the average price of an audiobook is between £20 and £30 which is double/triple the price of a standard paperback. For avid readers that read a lot or that are into epic series with multiple books, purchasing audiobooks can cost a small fortune.
2. A more immersive reading experience

With the right narrator(s), production, music and sound effects, audiobooks can completely transform the reading experience. I listened to an audiobook of The Hobbit last year and let me tell you, it was the best and most memorable reading experience of my life. The use of voices, sound effects and music brought the world to life and made me fall in love with the book and story in a way I might not have if I’d physically read it. Overall, audiobooks can jazz up a book, making it more entertaining, immersive and impactful.
2. Some audiobooks are poor quality

For all of the incredible audiobooks and talented narrators, there are some stinkers too. Whether it’s because they’re free or the narrator simply doesn’t do it for you, I’ve listened to many audiobooks that have been let down by poor microphone quality, noise interference, odd narration choices and casts of characters that are just too big (I’m cursed with an ability to distinguish voices from one another, particularly if they sound similar, so I’m forever confused by audiobooks with a full cast of characters). Unfortunately, readers that can’t afford to pay for audiobooks are more likely to land on free audiobooks which are poorer quality.
3. They make reading more accessible

This is undeniably the biggest perk of audiobooks. Whether someone doesn’t have time, struggles with comprehending physical texts, has a visual impairment or other disability that makes reading impossible/difficult, audiobooks provide the opportunity for everyone to read. Personally, I don’t have difficulties with physically reading but audiobooks have been a saving grace for me on more than one occasion when I’ve been too busy to read or unable to read for mental health reasons.
3. They’re harder to comprehend

Ironically, whilst some readers turn to audiobooks to improve their comprehension, audiobooks massively decrease mine. I’m not an auditory person so concentrating on an audiobook, comprehending and retaining what I’ve heard is a huge challenge for me. I’ve listened to some audiobooks and couldn’t tell you the first thing about those books beyond the basic premise because I’ve forgot. Generally, when I look through my back-log of books that I’ve read there’s a clear correlation between my memory of books and the format I read them in, and audiobooks are consistently the books I remember least.

Verdit: Are audiobooks Awesome or Awful?

They’re alright. They’re neither awesome nor awful but somewhere in the middle. Some books are better in an audiobook format and audiobooks provide more flexibility and accessibility for reading. However, personally, I will opt for a physically copy over an audiobook 9 times out of 10 because it provides a better reading experience for me.

What are your thoughts on audiobooks? Do you think they’re awesome or awful or somewhere in between? What are your pros and cons for listening to audiobooks? I’d love to discuss this more in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

In the Dream House – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Publication year: 2019
Audience: 18+
Content warnings: Domestic abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, body shaming, adult/minor relationship, homophobia, biphobia, explicit sexual references, PTSD, trauma.

Synopsis

In this abstract and surreal memoir, the author shares her experience of being in a long-term abusive lesbian relationship. Drawing on themes of domestic abuse, queerness and feminism, Machado seeks to raise awareness of abuse in queer relationships which is often excluded from domestic abuse discourse and activism.

What I liked

  • The audiobook narrated by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Writing style
  • Storytelling techniques
  • The themes that were explored

What I disliked

  • Nothing?

Structure

Structurally this memoir was bizarre, but it really worked for me. It wasn’t presented in a linear way or chronologically but instead in fragmented pieces, almost like a jigsaw. Machado briefly touched upon this fragmented structure in the book itself and I think it was genius. It was refreshing, unique and raw. Psychology has proven that scientifically memory is very unreliable – we forget events, details become distorted and the more often we recall a memory the less accurate it becomes. Choosing to structure the book this way felt authentic in a way few memoirs do because it was an acknowledgment that memory is unreliable and that some incidents of abuse have faded from Machado’s memory or that she cannot recall specific details. It worked because it enabled her to tell her story and stay focused on the central themes of the book without going through a play by play of her life from birth until the present day in a stagnant, stylistcally dry style as many memoirs do.

Themes

The primary theme of this memoir was the abuse Machado endured for years at the hands of her long-term girlfriend framed within the context of queerness and feminism. She included research on domestic abuse in queer relatonships between women accompanied by discussions about the ways in which perceptions of domestic abuse have been shaped by heteronormativity and gender (e.g. domestic abuse = hetreosexual relationship between cis man and cis woman with the man as the abuser and woman as the abused) and how this, unfortunately, often exludes queer relationships from the discourse and research. She did a brilliant job at demonstrating the ways in which the lack of education and awareness of LGBTQ+ topics blinded her (and many others) to the abuse she was experiencing at the time. Her assumption that men were the perpetrators of abuse meant that the possibility of abuse being present in a same gender relationship was unthinkable to her.

In the Dream House served as a metaphor for the illusion of the perfect happily ever after that a lesbian relationship represented for Machado and for many other queer women. Chapter by chapter and piece by piece, she dismantled the dream house, revealing the ugliness that lay within and shattering any preconceptions she may have had prior to entering into this relatonship. Her insight into this experience was fascinating and touched upon the abuse and harm that queer people can inflict other queer people. She pointed out that whilst the LGBTQ+ community exists to protect queer people, sometimes it does not always provide the safe spaces and relationships that are expected.

Writing Style

I adored Machado’s writing style. It was definitely more flowery than I’d typically expect from a memoir, but absolutely stunning. There was a lot of symbolism, metaphors and similies paired with a deeply emotive style. Her writing was eloquent, thought-provoking and sincere. The narrative voice was uniquely hers, which was undoubtedly elevated by the experience of reading the audiobook, and despite the shortness of the book, I felt close to Machado as though I knew and understood her. I also loved that there was a self-awareness throughout with the author explaining or justifying her writing process such as her choice of structure, the unreliability of memory and the effect of trauma throughout time.

I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound.

Concluding thoughts

In the Dream House was an emotional and harrowing tale of domestic abuse in a queer relationship. Although it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable to read because of the emotional impact of the content, the structure and writing style were uniquely brilliant and captured the essence of the author’s story honestly and authentically. It provides educational value in regards to abuse in the queer community and the necessity for more education on LGBTQ+ relationships. I gained a deeper insight into a topic I was quite unaware of and I deeply connected to Machado’s storytelling style which capture the complexity of the human experience, emotion and memory. Her story, thoughts and arguments were eloquently presented and had a profound impact on me as a reader. Overall, the message from In the Dream House highlights the importance of raising awareness of the complexity of domestic abuse and of including queer people’s voices in the research, discourse and activism.

I’d recommend In the Dream House if:

You’re looking for a unique, thought-provoking, emotional memoir from a queer woman that touches heavily on gender and sexuality, advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and raises awareness of abuse in queer relationships.

Have you read In the Dream House or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

P. S. This is my first new 5-star read of 2021! 🥳

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Pride Month TBR

June is Pride Month 🏳️‍🌈 and every June I compile a TBR of LGBTQIA+ books. I don’t usually do TBR’s because I’m such a huge mood reader that I find them impossible to stick to, but Pride Month is the only exception. I love devoting a whole month to reading books about queer stories and voices. I won’t read every book on this TBR since there’s 17 books in total. I’ll simple pick what I fancy and add any I don’t finish to my ongoing TBR. I’m excited about all of the books on this TBR and can’t wait to read them. I’m particularly looking forward to reading own voices queer books.

Lesbian

Gay


Bisexual

Transgender

Asexual

Non Binary

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.