Reading is HARD!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a discussion post (read my previous discussion post ‘Book Hype: is it ever worth it?” here) and recently I’ve been struggling with motivation to write, so thought I’d kick back and take it easy with a discussion post. And today, I want to talk about how goddamn hard reading is, because I feel like it’s something we just don’t talk about enough in the book community. Each month book bloggers, YouTubers, TikTokers and Instagrammers share their wrap-ups having typically read 5-15 books, portraying reading as an easy and chill pastime, but there’s a reason why most people I know don’t read regularly: IT’S HARD.

Even for a regular and seasoned reader, reading isn’t easy. It’s an ongoing challenge for me that requires high levels of energy, commitment and planning. It also constantly feels like I’m falling short of my goals and lacking in motivation and consequently not enjoying reading as much as I should. This year in particular has just been so MEH for me so far with reading and has become very challenging because of that. These days I find myself spending more time thinking about difficult reading is than actually reading 😂

Generally, reading requires so much time, motivation dedication and attention from a reader over a prolonged period of time. In that way it’s like any other hobby but I feel like reading doesn’t get the same recognition as for example playing a sport does. A sportsperson requires physical strength, skill and stamina, they need to commit to attending practice, strive to continue improving their technique and be mentally resilient. Physical strength aside, on a basic level reading requires all of the same things that playing sports does. Reading is a skill; one that needs to be practiced and honed over time, there are techniques one can develop to support their reading and boy oh boy, does it require a f*ck tonne of mental resilience. So although anybody that’s literate can pick up a book and read that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy or that they’ll retain what they’ve read or even enjoy it, because that’s much harder to achieve than the basic act of reading a text.

There’s little appreciation for how much is required to actually pick up a book every single day, read it, process it, engage with it and retain it. Before someone even reads a book thought has to be given to which book to read, and spoiler alert, there are A LOT of books out there to choose from. We talk about “choice paralysis” on streaming platforms like Netflix, but with books it’s an entirely different level. A quick Google search estimates that there are around 170,000,000 books in the world based on data from 2019 🤯 So even before you’ve attempted to read, the process of just choosing a book can be a challenge!

The proof is in the pudding when it comes to how challenging reading is, because so many (if not all) readers regularly experience reading slumps. There are hundreds of posts and videos online giving book recommendations and general advice on how to avoid slumps (you can read mine here) and the reason for that is because reading is hard. That’s literally the reason why I also did an entire series (check out the Breaking into Books series here) for new readers that focuses on the in-depth processes involved in becoming a regular reader. I know that for me reading slumps happen because I’ve lost energy, motivation and desire to read. That can be triggered by low mental health, being busy, reading a few books that have been duds, being distracted by other stuff (I’m looking at you Heartstopper 😂) and a million and one other things. But ultimately it comes down to the fact that (yep, you guessed it) – reading is hard.

This year so far I’ve read 14 books with an average rating of 3.36. It’s been a pretty slow and mediocre reading year so far which has been characterised by a lot of slumps and a general lack of joy in reading or motivation to read. I’ve been trying my hardest to find The Book (you know, the one that’s going to steal my heart and be a glittering 5 star read that pulls me out of my slump and restores my faith in books) and working to stick to my reading routine as best I can but it’s tough 😔

So I guess the point of this post is to say that no matter how much of a reader you are, how much you’ve read or typically read, whether you’ve been reading for years or have only recently started, if you’re struggling to find motivation to read or to meet reading goals or to just pick out a book to read, know that you’re not alone. Remember that reading is hard; it’s a challenging hobby to have and it requires its own unique skills and mental/emotional determination to make it a part of our daily/weekly lives. It doesn’t just happen and there are going to be times when it feels much harder than others. But no matter how hard reading is, the pleasure of reading is unmatched by anything else and it’s worth enduring and struggling through the slumps and demotivation to find that next magical read 🙌🏻

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Summer Bird Blue – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Genre: Contemporary
Publication year: 2018
Audience: 12+
Content warnings: Character death, loss of a loved one, grief/loss, car accident, abandonment by a parent (temporary), depression and violence.

Synopsis

Following the loss of her sister in a tragic accident, 17-year-old Rumi is sent to Hawaii to live with her aunt. She begins to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and heal, with the help of friends, old and new.

What I liked

  • Writing style
  • Emphasis on friendship and family
  • Diverse representation
  • Deep exploration of grief
  • The questioning sexuality storyline / aromantic and asexual representation

What I disliked

  • Under-developed characters
  • Lack of plot
  • Over emphasis on emotion/grief in places

Plot and Structure

The story follows Rumi as she deals with the loss of her best friend and younger sister, Lea. It’s not a particularly plot heavy book, it’s an intense look at grief and loss, and how we can begin to rebuild ourselves when our world has been completely shattered by the loss of someone that is fundamental to who we are and to our lives. It focuses mostly on Rumi’s emotions and healing process. Despite not having a strong plot, narratively, it was strong and had a clear focus. It felt like Akemi Dawn Bowman knew exactly what she wanted to achieve with this book and that every part of it was intentional.

It opens with the tragedy that sets the scene for the rest of the book. It’s mostly set in the present where Rumi is living in Hawaii with her estranged aunt and follows Rumi as she battles against the grief of losing her sister and her mother’s absence. Alongside that, we see the development of the relationships that she forms in Hawaii and how these people help her to heal. There are also flashbacks scattered throughout of Rumi’s life growing up with her family which help to flesh out Lea and the significance of the sister relationship that is at the heart of the story.

Writing Style

I really liked the writing style. Whilst this is clearly a YA book aimed at a younger audience, it had some beautiful metaphors and prose that conveyed the intensity of emotion present throughout. There were a lot of quotes I resonated with and found to be very meaningful. However, there were some metaphors that were a bit cringe and the writing was repetitive in places. The main weakness of the writing for me was that the emotion was emphasised too much. Grief is an overwhelming and all consuming emotion but the emotions were over-written and it bogged down the narrative too much. There needed to be more space from the raw emotions to enable the characters and other aspects of the story to breathe. The character development and plot was hindered in part because the grief was inescapable and constantly brought to the forefront. Nonetheless, I appreciated how Bowman was able to get to the crux of the intense emotions that teenagers often face and how lost in their own feelings and thoughts they can become. Rumi’s grief isn’t any ordinary grief; it’s heightened by her age and the lack of self that often happens to teenagers who are figuring out who they are.

And maybe that’s like life. You live for a moment—one single moment. And then you don’t matter. Because there are years of the past and years of the future, and we’re all simply one tiny blip in time—a surge of water waiting to leave our mark on the sand, only to have it washed away by the waves that come after us.

Characters and Relationships

I adored what Bowman did in terms of centring platonic relationships and how she really took the time to delve deep into Rumi’s inner-most thoughts and feelings. Rumi’s relationships with her sister, elderly neighbour, male friend, aunt and mother are the most important relationships in this book and it was so refreshing to read a contemporary YA that wasn’t focused on romance. As a character, Rumi was perhaps one of the most relatable characters I’ve read in a long time to the point that it felt like I was reading about my teenage self at points. Unfortunately, the other characters never felt fully realised to me and were rather one-dimensional. Their purpose was to serve Rumi’s development and journey in supporting her through her grief. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just means that the wider cast of characters were lacking in any real depth or development.

The depiction of sibling relationships was one of my favourite aspects of this book. As the eldest sister myself, I could see how shaped Rumi was by being the eldest sister and how that informed the relationship she had with Lea. Throughout the book Lea is considered to be Rumi’s soul mate and the most important person in her life. Just like Disney’s Frozen this book subverts expectations that a young girl’s “one true love” is a romantic male love interest and instead portrays it as being sisterhood. I also loved reading about Rumi’s relationship with her friend Kai and seeing her battle against the blurred lines between friendship and romance, and how this impacted her exploration of her sexuality.

Generally, I loved the exploration of sexuality throughout and how Rumi’s character and her relationships were all tied up in a wider story of her exploring aromanticism and asexuality. It’s the first time I’ve read a fiction book that explores this so succinctly. It can be difficult to write storylines that involve questioning sexuality without it feeling forced, but in this case, Rumi’s questioning of her identity and sexuality fitted well with the wider story of loss. Losing Lea is what put Rumi in a real position to truly start exploring those parts of her that had always been there but that she had brushed under the carpet. I plan to do a separate post about the depiction of aromanticism and asexuality in the book soon, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on this 👀

Generally, the relationships were very sweet and drove the story forward well, but the characters (except for Rumi) lacked the necessary depth to enable me to connect to them on a deeper level. So whilst I enjoyed reading the character dynamics they weren’t as satisfying as they could’ve been. I think if Bowman had invested more time in developing the characters and less on the grief part of the story, it would’ve come together much better. Since the relationships were so pivotal in helping Rumi to begin to heal, it felt like they deserved more time and attention.

Concluding thoughts

Summer Bird Blue is a heart-wrenching and heartwarming story of loss and healing. It’s an ideal read for young readers as it explores so many of the painful things teenagers face such as unexpected death, identity crisis, abandonment by a parent, anger, having complicated feelings for friends and questioning your sexuality. The focus on platonic love and relationships is a breath of fresh air and the exploration of identity and sexuality an important conversation to be had in any YA book. Undoubtedly, the depiction of an aromantic asexual character is what will continue to draw readers to this book and is what shines most about it, but this book is so much more than that and is fully deserving of the credit it receives. It tackles such a hard and heavy subject with sensitivity and grace, balancing the hopelessness of death with the hope of healing.

I’d recommend Summer Bird Blue if:

You’re looking for a YA tale on the theme of grief that centres sisterhood, friendship and family and features an aromantic asexual main character.

Have you read Summer Bird Blue or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Spring Flowers Book Tag

Spring is here! That means little lambs in the fields, the clocks going forward, lighter mornings and evenings, sunshine, gardening, Easter, leaves regrowing on the trees and flowers coming into bloom 🌸🌼🌺 and what better to mark this than the Spring Flowers book tag? It’s been a while since I did a book tag (the last one was the Spooky Scary Book Tag from October) and they’re always a great way of incorporating and chatting about a range of books into one post that I wouldn’t necessarily otherwise get chance to speak about.

This tag was originally created by Dreaming of Ink and Paper, but their blog is no longer available. I found it at Zee Zee With Books, where you can find all of the original questions for the tag. I changed one of the questions to better suit myself, that’s marked with an asterisk.

Daffodil

A book about found family*

Nevermoor – Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor The Trials of Morrigan Crow is the first book in a charming middle grade fantasy series. I’ve read the first two books in the series and love how much emphasis is placed on found family. The main character Morrigan is estranged from her parents and when she’s swept away to a magical world, she has the opportunity to create a family of her own. The relationship Morrigan has with her adopted father, Jupiter is so heart-warming. Likewise, the friendships that Morrigan builds with the other characters and the roles the characters take on in her life are so lovely to watch develop. This is a must-read series for readers that love reading about found family and friendship.

Foxglove

A book you pretended to like

The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

I never pretend to like books, because I don’t see the point. If I don’t like something, I don’t like it and I’ll always be honest about that. So I didn’t necessarily pretend I liked The Lord of the Rings but I certainly acted like I liked it more than I actually did simply because I WANTED to love it so much. I’m the biggest fan of the film trilogy and so when I read the books only a couple of years ago in my mid-twenties, I wanted to feel that same spark of passion and love. When I didn’t have that feeling, I felt like I’d somehow betrayed the series or that I wasn’t a “true” fan. But as groundbreaking as this story is, it simply didn’t click for me. I plan to do a re-read in the future to see if my perspective changes, but my first read left me feeling very Luke warm.

Lilac

A book about first love

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier

Not necessarily the book someone would expect to see for this particular prompt, but that’s exactly why I wanted to include it. My Cousin Rachel is a domestic thriller/mystery/gothic romance/historical fiction and combines all of this so incredibly. Rachel is the object of affection for the main character Philip who falls hard and fast for Rachel, who is the first and only woman he has ever loved. Unfortunately for him, Rachel comes with a lot of mystery and secrets. This romance is not plain sailing and is wrapped up in one of the most suspenseful plots and intense writing I’ve read in a long time. Daphne du Maurier once again shows her talent for crafting an intriguing romance amidst a genuinely captivating mystery.

Hyacinth

A book with a sad ending

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

I’m such a sadist and revel in reading emotional and sad books, so there are so many books I could’ve put here 😂 Giovanni’s Room sticks in my head as having a particularly sad ending. After reading it, I kept thinking about it and then recommended it to my manager. He read it soon after and I woke to a text from him at 1am on a Saturday telling me he’d just finished and couldn’t stop sobbing at the ending, which really says it all. This book is a phenomenal exploration of sexuality, identity and love and doesn’t hold back any punches. James Baldwin is not afraid to push against expectations and to remain true to the story’s ending, no matter how sad it is and it’s an ending that’s raw and real, and feels fitting for the overall narrative even if it’s not the happily ever after readers typically want.

Peony

A book that made you feel embarrassed

Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman 

Now, I know this is a very popular and well-loved book in general, but I really didn’t like this book. Despite stunning writing, I couldn’t see beyond the absolutely CRINGE sex scenes. I mean the whole thing with the peach 🍑…just no (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about, if not, count yourself lucky 🤣). I understand that young adulthood can be a time for blossoming sexuality and that Elio’s attraction to Oliver is very potently physical and sexual, but the way it didn’t float right for me, and instead of finding those scenes sexy, they were just cringe and awkward.

Tulip

A book with the most beautiful declaration of love

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

I know, I know, I’m predictable 😂 But of course I had to choose Wuthering Heights because this book has the most beautiful and heart wrenching declarations of love that I’ve read in literature. The intensity of Cathy and Heathcliff’s love and how entangled they are is felt with every declaration of love. Quote time!

“My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!

Their declarations of love are melodramatic and show their devotion to each other to the point of loss of self. It’s not the type of love people should strive for because it’s toxic, codependent and unhealthy, but the power of their love is undeniable and these quotes are stunning and some of my favourite book quotes of all time.

Crocus

A book that made you laugh out loud

This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay

This biography from junior doctor Adam Kay covers a lot of very raw and heavy topics related to the UK’s health system and the reality of working as a doctor in the NHS. But amongst the sadness and seriousness, there were some truly hilarious moments in this book. I listened to the audiobook and always find that comedic moments come across better because of the tone of voice and manner in which it’s verbally performed. Since Adam Kay himself narrated the audiobook that I listened to, he knew just how to make the comedic moments hit right and I tittered out loud more than a few times. Whether it was spending his hours signing people’s passports or trying to educate a man who believed his wife would gave birth via her uretha, Kay plays on the ignorance and lack of education around gynecological health utilising irony and dry humour.

Pansy

A book that challenged you to think about a heavy subject

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

Set in a cafe in Lahore, this book explores complex themes through a monologue from the main character, Changez. It was such a hard-hitting and thought provoking which focused on topics of imperialism, racism, Islamophobia, white privilege and the conflict between the East and West. As a Pakistani man and Princeton graduate, Changez’s intersectionality of privilege and inequity provides a fascinating perspective with which to discuss the impact of the aftermath of 9/11. His love and abhorrence for the US is tangible and the internal conflict that wages inside him as someone that has benefitted from the US’ promise of the American dream but that has also has suffered from their imperialism and the destruction that the US has brought to his home country.. As a white British person that has never lived through war, this book helped me to connect to these issues on a new level and was invaluable to me.

Daisy

A book about a strong female friendship

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

There is no other book I could’ve chosen. This is the greatest example of female friendship, love and solidarity that I have ever read. It’s the story of two women who from their first meeting are set in opposition to one another as wives of the same husband. Yet their shared suffering, abuse and tragedy bonds them so deeply and their relationship eventually blossoms into something so beautiful. They are one another’s strength; they carry each other through the hard times and although circumstance and tragedy is what initially bonds them, their relationship becomes so much more. It’s a complex relationship characterised by loyalty, honour, sacrifice and devotion. This story shows the power of female friendship unlike any other book I’ve read and how it can quite literally save women’s lives in certain circumstances.

There we have it – the Spring Flowers Book Tag. If you’d like to do this on your blog, please do, the more the merrier 😊 I hope you’ve found time to enjoy the spring sunshine as much as I have this week. I’m so excited for spring this year and was so content to have seen the blossom on the trees for the first time ☺️

Happy Spring, my lovelies and keep reading.

Conquering Classics #2 – Classic book recommendations for beginners

Do you want to read more classics but aren’t sure where to start? Have you attempted to read classics before but felt they weren’t for you? If so, the Conquering Classics series is for you! This is the second post in an ongoing series with tips and advice on how to read classics for beginners. You can read the first post ‘Tips for Reading Classics’ here. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing five recommendations for where to begin with reading classics.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Subgenre: Gothic
Publication year: 1890
Synopsis: When a portrait is painted of the devillshly handsome Dorian Gray, he is forced to take a closer look at himself and realises that external beauty is rarely a precursor for the beauty within.

Despite being written over a century ago, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a very accessible read. The plot is straightforward and the exploration of morality, vanity and arrogance continues to strike a chord with modern audiences. It’s an atmospheric and haunting tale which provides an in-depth character study on Dorian Gray and has a very memorable ending.

1984 by George Orwell

Subgenre: SciFi
Publication year: 1949
Synopsis: Set in a post-apocolyptic Britain, Winston Smith grows disillusioned with the totalitarian, repressive political system under Big Brother and dreams of a new, better world.

1984 is the pillar of dystopian scifi fiction. Because it was published in the 20th century, the language is more familiar than that which is featured in many pre-20th century novels. Its depiction of dicatorship and government control is interesting and terrifying, and still plays on the fears many of us have today about the future of our world.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Subgenre: Gothic horror
Publication year: 1872
Synopsis: Laura and her father live a solitary and quiet lifestyle in the wilderness of Styria, until they offer refuge to Carmilla as their house guest. Mysterious and secretive, Carmilla is not all she appears to be.

Carmilla is a gothic horror novella which is known for being the main influence for Dracula. It’s short enough that it can be read in an hour or two and is the ideal read if you’re interested in Dracula but don’t want to commit to a 400+ page novel. Like all gothic novels, it’s atmospheric and slow-building with an open ending, but provides a flavour for the slower, more intentional writing style that’s common in classics.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Subgenre: YA
Publication year: 1967
Synopsis: Ponyboy and his band of misfit friends navigate the trials and tribulations of being teenagers in a this dramatic coming of age tale.

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know how much I adore The Outsiders. It’s a heart-wrenching tale which is accessible for all readers because it’s targeted at a younger audience and was published in the late sixties. Although it won’t necessarily familiarise you with the style of earlier classics, it’s the ideal place to start if you want something that’s more reflective of modern day.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Subgenre: Romance
Publication year: 1818
Synopsis: Catherine is a romantic at heart who is obsessed with gothic novels. When she’s introduced to eligible bachelor, Henry Tilney, she gets swept away in her romantic fantasies with unexpected and hilarious results.

When you hear people speaking about Jane Austen you’ll hear a lot about Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Persuasion, but rarely Northanger Abbey. Yet I think this is the ideal place to start with Austen and a great place to start with classics in general. Not only is it the first novel Austen ever wrote, but it’s a short, charming and funny read. It perfectly captures the tone of polite Victorian society and satirical humour which is commonly featured in 19th century classics.

These five books introduced me to the classics genre and helped me to overcome my high-school aversion to classic literature. They’re all short, accessible reads which will enable you to familarise yourself with some of the language, themes and settings that can commonly be found in classic novels.

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Farseer Trilogy – Book Series Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy
Books: #1 Assassin’s Apprentice; #2 Royal Assassin; #3 Assassin’s Quest
Publication year: 1995-1997
Audience: 18+
Content warnings: Death, animal death, grief, child abuse (mentioned), torture, drugs, trauma, depression, PTSD, sexual assault, suicide, parental abandonment. Since this trilogy is high fantasy and explores complex themes, there are likely to be other genre-typical content related to violence and death etc.

Synopsis

The Farseer Trilogy is the first trilogy in the epic fantasy series, Realm of the Elderlings. It follows FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the heir of the ruling family of the Six Duchies, on his journey through childhood and adolescence. Along the way Fitz grapples with the political tension surrounding the throne, his magical abilities, the conflict between family loyalty and duty, and being an orphan in a dark world.

What I liked

  • THE CHARACTERS!!
  • Character relationships and dynamics
  • Focus on familial and platonic relationships
  • Strong character development
  • Attention to detail
  • Writing style and prose
  • World building
  • Interesting magic system

What I disliked

  • Slow pacing
  • Lack of plot
  • Unsatisfying endings
  • Unrealised potential
  • Lack of focus on certain characters and relationships

Plot and Structure

The general plot underpinning this trilogy surrounds the Farseer family, Fitz’s paternal family and the royal family in the kingdom of the Six Duchies. The bastard son of the King’s eldest son, Fitz’s presence in Buckkeep Castle creates tension with his youngest uncle, Regal. Solely told from the first-person POV of Fitz, this trilogy is an intense character study of Fitz. It’s not plot heavy, it’s the story of Fitz’s family and kingdom through his eyes, and explores themes of loyalty and duty, family and sacrifice.

Despite getting off to a relatively slow start in the first book, I enjoyed the plot, particularly in Royal Assassin (Book #2). There was lots of tension built across the three books and conflict between the characters was expertly woven in a multitude of ways. Although each book focused on different stages of the overall plot, there was a continuity that made it felt like one cohesive story. The type of action I’d typically expect in high-fantasy wasn’t present here, nonetheless, the complex character dynamics, how this intersected with the fragility of the Farseer’s power in Buckkeep and other character sub-plots, was more than enough to keep me invested in the plot.

Structurally, each book is divided into multiple chapters beginning with sections of narration about the history of the Fareer’s, Buckkeep and other world-building information. The fact that Fitz is the sole POV character is perhaps unique for a high-fantasy trilogy like this but it worked incredibly well. Fitz is at the centre of everything that happens throughout the three books; it is his existence and presence that shakes the foundation of the Farseer’s future and the events that unfold involve him. It’s interesting to reflect on how the singular POV impacts the perception the reader has of the world and the other characters, and the extent to which Fitz can sometimes be an unreliable narrator.

World Building and Magic

The world building in this trilogy was a slow-burner. Apart from the small sections of world-building at the beginning of each chapter, Hobb managed to generally avoid info dumping. Instead, details about the world were scattered throughout the three books and revealed when necessary. Hobb isn’t one to tell the reader every single thing about her world just because, it’s always intentional and with purpose. This has its pros and cons. On the one hand, I liked that the world-building was introduced slowly as it became relevant to the plot and the characters. On the other hand, even after reading three books set in the world, there’s still a lot I don’t know and mysteries left to unravel.

Although it didn’t bash me over the head with world-building, I felt grounded in the world. I could mentally picture the setting and experience the world through Fitz’s eyes clearly. But despite feeling connected to the physical appearance of the world, I didn’t feel very connected to geography, cultures or social structures that exist in the world. Because the story was so centred on the royal family and rather insular with geographical location (particularly in the first two books) there was little time spent on exploring fabric of the Six Duchies or other kingdoms outside of the Six Duchies.

The magic system is one of my favourites that I’ve read in fantasy. There are two main magics that form the system – the Wit and the Skill. Both magics are based on concepts of telepathy with the former relating to animals and the latter being exclusive to humans. Like the world, the magic system doesn’t have any hard and fast rules and the information about how these magics work is slowly built on throughout the trilogy. The Wit is a simpler form of magic which is easier to grasp, but the Skill has many complexities which I’m still grappling with. It’s a magic where much of the knowledge and understanding of it has been lost, so there’s still lots to discover. The magic is a central component of the story throughout because it’s part of Fitz and how he perceives and interacts with the world. As the plot developed, magic became more of an integral part to the plot rather than just a character trait of Fitz’s. I’m excited to continue learning about the Wit and the Skill, and also other types of magic that might emerge throughout the rest of the Realm of the Elderlings series.

Writing Style

Robin Hobb’s writing style is absolutely stunning and her technical ability in writing is phenomenal. This is an author that knows how to write and does it well. Her prose made me feel like I was submerging myself into a hot tub under the stars; a beautiful combination of physical warmth and beautiful visuals, that I could linger in all day long. It immersed me into the fantasy world, but also Fitz’s inner mental and emotional world. Her writing is very character focused and I reaped the rewards for that, because of how connected I felt to Fitz. There are few authors that can capture every single thing that goes into making a person, but with Fitz, Hobb did exactly that. His every thought, emotion, desire and motivation was meticulously crafted and laid out. There’s a clear stylistic tone to the way Fitz perceived and processed the world that was present throughout the writing. There was also an emphasis on emotion; a melancholy and to an extent depressive tone, that permeated through. I’m a huge fan of emotion in writing, so this was probably one of my favourite aspects of Hobb’s writing style, but it may not necessarily be to everyone’s tastes, particularly fantasy readers that prefer plot and action over character work.

Outside of character writing, the descriptive style of the writing also brought the world to life in a very vivid way. Although the descriptions of the physical surroundings weren’t unnecessarily long, they were detailed enough to enable me to build an image of the setting in my mind. Generally, Hobb has easily made her way onto my favourite authors list and I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Stop thinking of what you intend to do. Stop thinking of what you have just done. Then stop thinking that you have stopped thinking of those things. Then you will find the now. The time that stretches eternal, and is really the only time there is. Then in that place, you will finally have time to be yourself.

#2 Royal Assassin

Characters and Relationships

Unsurprisingly, the characters are the heart of this trilogy and character driven fantasy readers need look no further than Hobb. As the POV character, Fitz received the most attention and was consequently the most developed. An argument could easily be made for Fitz being one of the most complex and well-written protagonists in fantasy. So much was invested in him that it felt like he could walk off the page and into the world. He’s a character that I feel that I understand very deeply and relate to. Fitz was a joy to read about and I think it would be unlikely for anyone to read this trilogy and not come away in love with him. I’m excited to read more from him in future trilogies.

Although the other characters in the trilogy weren’t as well developed as Fitz, they all had nuance and some were even more likeable or intriguing than Fitz. The core group of characters mostly remained the same throughout the three books with some minor changes, particularly in Book #3. As a whole, the supporting characters were fairly complex and whole-rounded people. I wouldn’t necessarily describe them as morally grey but certainly flawed. My personal favourites were The Fool, Nighteyes, Patience, Burrich and Chade, all of whom are intriguing characters with complex backstories and motivations that were sometimes explored, but not always given the time and attention they deserved. The Fool, in particularly, had me glued to the page. The mystery surrounding them and the part they play in the wider plot and Fitz’s life story was fascinating and I cannot wait to read more from Fitz and The Fool.

As with any character driven book, the character dynamics wrote themselves and were bloody brilliant. There was lots of emphasis on familial and platonic relationships and although there were romantic relationships featured, they were never a huge focus. Fitz’s familial ties with his grandfather, Shrewd and his uncle Verity, along with his surrogate father-figure, Burrich and great uncle Chade, made for some of the most interesting and enjoyable dynamics to read about. These men shaped Fitz and were hugely influential in his life in different ways. Likewise, his friendship with The Fool and Nighteyes, are so fundamental to his character that meeting and knowing these characters only deepened the connection I felt to Fitz. It’s these and the other character dynamics that shaped Fitz and drove the plot forward. Most of the relationships, although characterised by love, were fraught with tension, uncertainty and resentment. Many of these relationships weren’t plain sailing or easy for Fitz to navigate, but felt all the more authentic and relatable because of that. My one criticism when it comes to the characters and relationships would be that I felt that some characters and relationships were dropped in Book #3 that I really enjoyed reading about in the first two books and wanted more from. However, I’m willing to compromise with this since I know I’ll be returning to Fitz in later trilogies and will likely hear more from the characters that were sidelined in Book #3.

Concluding thoughts

The Faresser Trilogy is a melancholic, character driven fantasy set in a unique universe underpinned by political unrest and tension. Despite the slow pacing and lack of plot in some areas, it’s a captivating story of family, duty and sacrifice. Its first-person POV narrative provides an intensely emotional journey and connected me deeply to the protagonist, Fitz. Whilst the slow pacing was off-putting in places, this was balanced out by Hobb’s stunning prose and complex character work. The quality of the characters resulted in incredible character dynamics which explored the nuance of familial and platonic bonds and how this can shape the people we can become. The simplistic but intriguing magic system played a vital role in developing the characters, character relationships and plot, and was fun to learn about. Although the plot was at times neglected, the political tension and intrigue underpinning the trilogy was well developed and reached satisfying conclusions for the most part. These components came together to create a riveting and unforgettable fantasy story and character journey which took me on an emotional rollercoaster and left me feeling deeply connected to Fitz and his loved ones. I’m highly anticipating reading more about this world and to returning back to Fitz after finishing the next trilogy in the series.

I’d recommend The Fareseer Trilogy if:

You’re looking for a character driven melancholic fantasy with an interesting but simple magic system, flawed characters, strong platonic and familial relationships and a plot of political intrigue that explores the theme of family versus duty.

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

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

2022 Reading Goals

Generally, I’m not a goal-setting type of person and since I picked reading back up again, I’ve only ever worked towards my Goodreads goal to read a minimum of 50 books in a year. But the more settle back into reading, the more I find myself wanting to set goals to help guide my reading, prioritise books I will enjoy and also dip my toes into new types of books. With that in mind, here are my reading goals for the new year! 🎆

#1 Read more on Kindle

I asked for a Kindle for my birthday last year determined that I would get plenty of use out of it, but unfortunately, due to the fact that my library’s online catalogue isn’t accessible on there, I haven’t been reaching for it as much as I would like. Of the 54 books I read this year, only 9 were on Kindle (around 15%). In 2022, I want at least 35% of my reading to be done on Kindle.

#2 – Read more literary fiction

According to StoryGraph I like “fiction books that are emotional, reflective and dark” and as a genre, literary fiction hits that nail on the head. I genuinely love literary fiction but simply don’t prioritise it enough. I read only 4 literary fiction books this year and every single one of them was a four or five star read. In fact, one of them made it to the top of my Best Reads of 2021 list. This just affirms that I need to read more literary fiction next year. So in 2022, I want to read a minimum of 15 literary fiction books.

#3 – Read longer books (400+ pages)

I have a tendency to shy away from longer books because I find them intimidating. In the past, I also held the opinion that a fantastic story can be told in 300ish pages so why waste my time reading books that are double the length and filled with unnecessary details? I read 9 books this year that had over 400 pages and all of them were great books, many of which were some of my favourite reads of 2021. The more I read long books, the more I appreciate longer, slower paced books that are detailed. In fantasy, in particular, the longer the book the more space there is for strong world-building and character development which are two of my favourite things in fantasy. I’m not going to put a specific number on this goal, instead I’m going to set a broader goal to stop shying away from longer books and to especially not be deterred from reading a book I’m interested in simply because I’m intimidated by the hefty page count (The Way of Kings, I’m looking at you 😂).

#4 – Start reading new series

This kind of links to my previous goal, because just like I have a tendency to shy away from long books, I also tend to shy away from big series. With completed series, if they have more than 3 books I will sometimes procrastinate starting it because I know how much of a big commitment it will be for me to finish that series. With series that are ongoing, I’ll avoid starting because I’m too impatient to wait for the new releases. Unfortunately, this means that I’m missing out on so many fantastic series, particularly since I’m such a big fantasy reader and most epic fantasy comes in the form of long-running series. So in 2022 I want to dive straight into those book series that I’ve had my eye on regardless of how many books are in the series or how long I have to wait in between releases! (again, I’m looking at you Stormlight Archives 😂)

#5 – Read more translated/non-Western fiction

This is part of a broader goal to diversify my reading to incorporate more literature from across the globe because it’s important to me that I’m reading books that reflect a variety of places, voices, experiences and cultures. I’ve noticed how overwhelmingly Western the books I read are and this is reflected by the fact that this year I read only 1 translated fiction and 1 book set in a non-Western country. In 2022, I want to read a minimum of 15 books that are translated fiction and/or that are set in a non-Western setting.

#6 – Read 5 books from my owned TBR

It might be surprising to many readers, but my owned TBR is very small, currently standing at a mere 14 books. This is mainly because I stopped purchasing new books due to lack of space and a desire to better utilise my library and second-hand book stores. That being said, I want to keep chipping away at my owned TBR to avoid becoming overwhelmed like many of my bookish friends are by the hundreds and hundreds of books they’re drowning in 😂
In 2022, I want to read a minimum of 5 books from my owned TBR (most of my owned TBR is also books on my Kindle, so this will help me with my first goal – killing two birds with one stone! 🙌🏻).

#7 – Continue reading LGBTQ+ books

LGBTQ+ books are some of my favourites and are books that I already prioritise. This year I read 15 LGBTQ+ books and as a queer woman it’s important to me that I continue to make space for queer books and queer authors in my reading. In 2022 I would like to read 20 LGBTQ+ books and to specifically read more own voices books featuring trans, ace and aro stories and experiences.

#8 – Better prioritise what I read

This goal is probably one of the most important goals I’m setting myself, because I’m still new to being an avid reader as an adult and sometimes my method of selecting books leaves something to be desired. Sometimes I pick books up on a complete whim and it results in a just okay read. I’d rather invest my time wisely into books I’m genuinely excited about and that I have high hopes for. To keep track of this goal I’m going to create a 2022 TBR which has all of the books I’m most excited to read or that I have been wanting to read for a while but have delayed reading, which brings me nicely onto my final goal…

#9 – Create a 2022 TBR list

As a mood reader, I typically don’t do TBRs. In the past, I’ve found TBRs too restrictive and impossible to stick to. But I feel like having a TBR with books I’d like to prioritise in 2022 that doesn’t have strict timelines on will really help me in reaching all of the other reading goals I’ve set. So in 2022 I will have a general yearly TBR which is designed to help me meet the other 8 goals I have set myself for the year.

There we have it – the 9 reading goals I’m setting myself for 2022! I’ve never set reading goals before so I’m not quite sure if these goals are realistic for me or completely pie in the sky 😂 I guess only time will tell! I’m looking forward to being able to reflect on these goals at the end of next year to see whether I was able to meet them and how they will impact my reading overall.

Do you like to set yourself reading goals? Have you set any for 2022? Let me know in the comments!

Happy New Year, my lovelies and keep reading.

Best Reads of 2021

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

Emma – Jane Austen

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

Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett

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

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

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

If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio

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

In the Dream House – Carmen Maria Machado

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

The Dragon Republic – R. F. Kuang

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

The Passion – Jeanette Winterson

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

Royal Assassin – Robin Hobb

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

The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie

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

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

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

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

Happy holidays 🎄, my lovelies and keep reading.


Worst Reads of 2021

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

How to Disappear – Gillian McAllister

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

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

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

Persuasion – Jane Austen

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

To Sir, With Love – E. R. Braithwaite

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

Peter and Alice – John Logan

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

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg

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

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

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

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.


If We Were Villains – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Synopsis

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

What I liked

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

What I disliked

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

Plot and Structure

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

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

Writing Style

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

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

Characters and Relationships

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

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

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

Concluding thoughts

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

I’d recommend If We Were Villains if:

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

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

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Conquering Classics #1 – Tips for reading classics

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

Tip #1 Find your niche

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

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

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

Tip #3 – Opt for shorter classics

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

Tip #4 – Read children’s classics

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

Tip #5 – Read slow

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

Tip #6 – Use the tools available to you

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

Tip #7 – Buddy read or join a book club

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

Tip #8 – Let go of negative preconceptions

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

Tip #9 – Appreciate classics for what they are

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

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

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

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

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.