Jo Talks Books: On My Changing Genre Preferences

Hi everyone! I totally meant to get this discussion post up for you all in August, but between my sister visiting and catching up on reviews I was behind on due to moving in July, it just didn’t happen! I’d like to try and keep to a monthly posting schedule with these through to the end of the year, but we’ll see how busy I am.

Anyway, my reading habits have been going through a lot of changes in the last couple of years, I’ve talked a bit about format changes and how I’ve transferred more into listening to audiobooks than reading paperbacks or hardbacks (though never in a full discussion post, so maybe that’s something I will do in the future!) but I’ve not really talked in much detail about how my genre preferences have changed, especially over the past two years, so that was something I really wanted to explore today.

As you’ll all probably know if you’ve been following me for a while, I’ve always been a big fantasy reader. It’s been my favourite genre since I was a kid, and always the one that’s dominated my reading lists. It encapsulates so much of what I love about reading, that sense of escape and wonder, and of course magic. The idea that you could open the pages of a book and travel to places that didn’t exist in your own world, but for the hours or days you were reading a book, they felt absolutely real to you? It was always something that was incredibly appealing to me, and honestly, it still is.

However, over the last couple of years or so, really since the pandemic, my relationship with fantasy has been changing slightly. I don’t think that Covid had anything in particular to do with it, after all, I read the most books I ever have during 2020, and that year was pretty much completely dominated by fantasy because if there was one year where we all desperately needed the escapism, that one was it!

But in 2021, and now in 2022, my reading preferences have been wandering away from fantasy a bit more. My reading in 2021 was still mostly fantasy, but it was a much more even split that it has been in previous years, usually I would read about 75% fantasy and maybe 25% other genres (though even that is probably a stretch), where in 2021, it was almost a 50/50 split, with just over 58% of my books being fantasy reads and just over 41% being from other genres. That might not seem like a lot, but for me, it’s definitely a big transition. Then this year, granted, I’ve not read as much as I would have liked to anyway, but only 4 out of the 14 books I’ve read so far this year have been fantasy, and the books I’ve planned to read for the rest of the year are largely from other genres as well.

So what’s prompted the shift? And what are my genre preferences now, if not fantasy? Well, I think a lot of the shift has come down to my changing relationship with YA. Almost everything I’ve read this year has been adult fiction, and I’ve previously written a few years back about feeling like I was starting to grow out of YA, which is definitely a feeling that’s only grown over the years. I’m now 26, a good ten years older than most YA protagonists, and even in fantasy, where the heroes aren’t dealing with school and exams, I definitely still feel the disconnect in their ages and mine. After so many years of reading YA fantasies, they’ve all started to feel quite same-y to me, I don’t find the same excitement in them as I used to, and tropes that I used to enjoy as a teenager now make me roll my eyes in exasperation (though I will admit, I used to roll my eyes in exasperation at a lot of romance tropes as a teenager too!).

But Jo, you say, there’s a whole wide world of adult fantasy out there, just because you’re not as keen on YA fantasy anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t still read fantasy? Well correct, but as someone who has been primarily a YA blogger for many years, I find it much harder to find adult fiction recommendations, and though I have some adult fantasy authors I like, I’m just far less familiar with the world of adult fantasy as I am to YA. Though I always check out the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section when I go into bookshops, I never know what to get, as aside from Samantha Shannon and VE Schwab, the names generally aren’t all that familiar to me! I would definitely like to expand my pool of adult fantasy author options, and thankfully, quite a few of my favourite YA authors have started venturing into adult fantasy as well, so hopefully over the next few years, I will be able to build my list of adult fantasy authors a bit more but it does feel a little intimidating when you have all these options but you’re not really familiar with any of them.

I also think after so many years, I may have just got a little burned out on fantasy? Whilst I’ve always dipped my toe into other genres, fantasy books have dominated my reading life pretty much ever since I could read. When you spend most of your life reading one thing, you do start to wonder what else is out there, and I’ve found with audiobooks that I’m more willing to try books that I otherwise might not have done, which has meant exploring different genres that I’ve not read as much of over the years. I will always love fantasy, but it’s felt like the right time to expand my genre pool a bit, and explore some of the genres I’ve liked, but not read as much of over the years.

So what are my genre preferences now then? Well, over the past couple of years, it seems to have come down to two: historical fiction and non-fiction. I’ve always liked historical fiction, but it’s always been something where I’ve just read the odd one here and there, enjoyed it and then shifted swiftly back into fantasy. But after reading The Rose Code by Kate Quinn last Spring, I just felt this urge to read more historical fiction, and the more I’ve read, the more I’ve enjoyed and the more I’ve wanted to read, so it’s been a kind of self-fulfilling cycle. I’ve found so many really great options of books in the historical fiction genre that fit where I am now, with young women around my own age. I’ve always loved history and it’s been great to indulge that a little more over the past few years. It also felt like quite a natural progression, as I’d been reading more and more historical fantasy in the years leading up to 2020, so switching from that to straight historical fiction, didn’t feel like a huge stretch.

I also just really, really love how many options there seem to be out there of books about real-life historical women who did these incredible things but just didn’t get the recognition they deserved, and that’s something I’ve loved having the opportunity to explore. Historical fiction for me is a great happy medium between fantasy and contemporary, because you’re reading about things that actually happened and places that really exist, but historical fiction books tend to have a lot more action and adventure in them than contemporary (particularly if you’re reading about something like wartime spies) so I get the excitement I want, but in a more realistic setting.

There’s also just such a wide range of options with historical fiction: obviously I’ve read quite a lot of WWII fiction because that just seems to be endlessly popular, but there are so many different time periods to cover and this year alone, I’ve covered WWI, WWII, the inter-war period and the rise of the Nazis, everything from the 1910s to the 1960s in Life After Life and currently the 60s, 70s and 80s women’s movement in Canada with Looking For Jane. I do tend to read a lot of WWII fiction and I would like to try and expand a bit more out of that, but the point is, the options are out there and so far, I’ve not found the historical fiction I’ve read as same-y as I found a lot of YA fantasy.

And then we have non-fiction. This one I will admit was kind of a surprise to me, because I’ve never really been a huge non-fiction reader (and fiction is still making up the large majority of what I read and probably always will) but after reading Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming back in 2019, I started to seek out more non-fiction to read. It’s been a bit of a slow building process, but I’ve steadily been reading more and more of it each year. I find that non-fiction actually always ends up being amongst my highest rated books, so it’s something I’ve been actively trying to seek out more.

I’ve been leaning mostly towards memoirs, as they’re generally narrated by the author themselves and I really love it when authors narrate their own audiobooks, especially when they’re telling their own story. I was always under the misconception that memoirs were boring, but over the last few years, I’ve found some really fantastic ones, and naturally when you enjoy something, you want to seek out more of it. Chanel Miller’s memoir, Know My Name, which I read earlier this year hit me harder than I think any fictional book ever has.

I’ve also want to educate myself more on topics that I’m interested in, so non-fiction is perfect for that. I’ve read a couple of Laura Bates’ feminist non-fiction books over the past couple of years, and really loved those, so I want to try and get through more of the feminist non-fiction on my shelf in the next few years. There’s so much out there to learn about and non-fiction definitely satisfies my curiosity, I’ve always liked learning new things, just not necessarily in an educational setting!

Non-fiction I think has also provided me a nice break from fiction, they tend to be shorter (not always but generally) than most of the fiction books I read, and something for instance, like Lauren Graham’s Talking As Fast As I Can provided some much needed levity after a few quite heavy going books! I’ve been trying to switch up my genres more in the last couple of years, not read too many of the same genre in a row and I think it’s really helped me enjoy what I’m reading more than when I would read the same genre back to back.

I’m sure I will always love fantasy, and don’t get me wrong, there are so many fantasy books still on my TBR that I’m really excited to read. But I’ve found it quite exciting after all these years of mainly sticking with one genre to try dipping my toes into different ones and seeing what I like. I want to continue experimenting with my reading tastes, and seeing what I like in different genres, especially genres like mysteries which I’ve always liked but not really read much of. I did a post earlier this year about wanting to move away from planned TBRs and just read whatever I’m feeling like, and I think a large part of that is leaning into different genre choices and if I like something different to what I “normally” read, then just going with that. I do wonder if because I’ve been reading and enjoying YA for so long, that I haven’t really got to know what my reading tastes as an adult are like, and I think over the past two years that I’ve been starting to do that, it’s just had slightly different results that I’d expected!

So that’s a little insight into how my genre preferences have changed over the past couple of years, though if you’re a long-time reader of my blog you maybe might have noticed that I’d been reviewing and talking about slightly different types of books than I had been previously, and I just wanted to talk a little bit about that, as it’s been a bit of a shift in my reading life over the past couple of years. Have you found own genre preferences changing as you’ve got older? Do you have any recommendations of good adult fantasy books for me (preferably by female authors)? Or any good historical or non-fiction books, since that seems to be what I’m favouring at the moment? What’s your favourite genre at the moment? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday #387

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these, I’m super excited because on Thursday, I’m finally going to see the stage show of Moulin Rouge which I’ve been wanting to see basically ever since they announced it was going to be a thing. I am worried my expectations might be slightly too high, but I’ve heard really good things, so hopefully I will enjoy it as much as everyone else has (and if not, I still always have the film!).

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, so time for another Top Ten Tuesday courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. Today we have a cover topic, and it’s Typographical Book Covers, which was suggested by Mareli @ Elza Reads. I have to admit, I didn’t think I’d have many when I first saw the topic, the books I own tend to lead more towards illustrations than typography, but it actually wasn’t a hard list to put together at all, and a really fun one to do, so thanks Mareli! I took this to mean book covers where the text was the main focus, so some of these have more of a design on them than others, but the words are the main focus of the cover for all of them:

  1. P.S. I Love You-Cecelia Ahern

I wasn’t totally enamoured with this book, but I do love the cover, the style choice for the typography is lovely, I always like the italicised style text and I think it fits really well with the colours and the rest of the design of the cover.

2. Pure-Julianna Baggott

My favourite thing about the typography on this cover is the way that the characters’ fusings are integrated into the lettering: you have Pressia’s grandfather’s fan, you have Pressia’s dolls head, Bradwell’s birds….it’s such a clever little feature that you definitely appreciate more when you’ve read the book. I also just think it’s very striking, with the flame letters on the black background; I actually hadn’t heard of the book when I picked it up and I was initially attracted to it on the strength of this cover!

3. Hamilton and Peggy!: A Revolutionary Friendship-L.M. Elliott

I like that the typography here is trying to lean into the 18th Century setting of the book, and as I mentioned above, I do enjoy some cursive. This one has a little bit more going on than the one above, but I felt like it still worked because the typography is clearly central to the cover design.

4. The Enchanted Sonata-Heather Dixon Wallwork

My absolute favourite thing about the typography on this cover is the way that music is integrated into the typography, the treble clef making up the “S” in Sonata is such a brilliant idea!

5. Daughter of The Burning City-Amanda Foody

The typography on this one really adds to the circus feel of the cover and what I love most about it is that it feels really unique? I can’t say I’ve seen too many covers with typography like this one and I really like that.

6. Caraval-Stephanie Garber

All of the UK Caraval trilogy covers follow a similar pattern with the typography being the focus of the cover and then having this starbust-like effect in the background and I really love it. The typography itself is fairly simple with the italicised style but I feel like that works because the burst of colour in the background really makes it leap off the page. Out of the three covers, I think this one is definitely my favourite because I think the background design makes the typography stand out more than for either of the other two covers, the contrast of the red and gold against the white letters is brilliant.

7. A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder-Holly Jackson

The typography on this cover kind of looks like handwriting (to me anyway!) which I think works well given the school setting. I love the whole idea of the murder board making up the cover and the whole contrast of the black type and white background with the red string definitely makes the cover pop.

8. Know My Name-Chanel Miller

It’s not the most fancy typography I’ve featured on this list, but I think the fairly basic type works well for this book, it’s about such a heavy topic that it would feel wrong if they’d gone for a more flowery design. I also love the contrast between the white type and and the golden lines, I feel like that definitely makes the cover quite striking. Also though it’s not the typography, I just wanted to mention that I really love the golden lines on the cover which represent kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing pottery with powdered gold and lacquer, it feels so perfect for this book to have that imagery of celebrating things which have broken.

9. By A Charm and A Curse-Jaime Questell

I love how striking the typography on this cover is, the pink colour definitely helps, but the lettering is also just so fancy, your eyes are immediately drawn to it. The contrast of the bright pink letters on the black and white background also works really well because it means that your eyes are immediately drawn to the type.

10. This Savage Song-VE Schwab

I’ve used the UK covers for almost all of these (where applicable if the UK cover is different and/or the book has one) but I like the US cover for this book so much better than the UK one. The typography is much cooler, the text looks like a white ribbon (to me) and I absolutely love that and it stands out so much more on the red background than I feel the red does on the white background on the UK cover. The typography on this one is just much more interesting to look at!

So there we go, those are some typographical book covers! I definitely feel like I lean more towards the italicised style of typography, but I hope I got a range of different kinds of designs in there for you. Have you read any of these books? Which typography is your favourite? Do you prefer text heavy or image heavy book covers? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next week with another Top Ten Tuesday, we’re talking Favourite Bookstores to belatedly celebrate National Bookshop Day in the UK, which is on Saturday. I’m excited for this one as I’ve been to a lot of great bookshops so it should be a fun one to do.

Quarterly Rewind (June-September ’22 edition)

Hi everyone! We’re already on to our third quarterly rewind of the year, WHAT? I’ve had an incredibly busy summer, what with moving house, my sister coming over to visit from Australia and various events, along with of course, my seemingly never ending job search.

Anyway, today is the autumn equinox, the first official day of autumn (though for me Autumn begins on the 1st September because I refuse to be a summer baby, I am so much more of an autumn person!). That means it’s time for another Quarterly Rewind, the feature where I wrap up the current season on my blog, and take a look forward to what’s to come. Today I will be wrapping up summer, and looking forward to what I have to come this autumn. This post will cover 21st June-22nd September:

Image From This Summer

This is a recent picture, from my birthday last week when mum and I went on a spa day at the Harbour House Hotel in Richmond.

Favourite Quote From A Book You Read This Summer:

“Perhaps that is the draw of books…..to show us the way even when we think the path is too dark to see.” -The Librarian Spy, Madeline Martin

There are so many wonderful (and honestly also quite harrowing), moments in this book and this one was one of my favourites.

This Summer In One Word:

Busy!

Most Popular Review(s) of Summer:

I’m a little behind on my reviews (Quelle Surprise), and actually haven’t reviewed any of the books I read over the summer yet as I still need to catch up on them. In a first for this feature, both reviews I posted over the summer of books I read back in May and June had the same number of views, so I’ll be sharing my reviews of both Portrait of A Thief and When Women Were Dragons here:

Top Two Books I’ve Read This Summer:

I’ve not read as much as I would have liked this summer, usually summer is my best reading time but being between jobs and not having the commute to work means that I’ve just not read as much as I was reading back in January/February when I was commuting to work almost every day. This does mean though that it was fairly easy to pick my two favourites of the summer as there were two I liked better than the other one I read:

  1. Talking As Fast As I Can-Lauren Graham

I’ve been meaning to read Lauren Graham’s memoir for years and just never got around to it, but after my most recent Gilmore Girls rewatch this summer (yes I know, I did it in summer, not Autumn, I’m a rebel!), I felt in the mood for it. I definitely recommend it if you’re a Gilmore Girls fan, it’s super funny and gives a lot of insight into what it was like filming both the original series, and the Netflix revival.

2. The Librarian Spy-Madeline Martin

This was one of my most anticipated releases for this year, so I’m happy to say that it lived up to expectations! Madeline Martin is definitely one of my new favourite authors and I’m so excited for her next book, in what seems to be a niche of “WWII book-themed historical fiction”.

TV Shows I’m Looking Forward To This Autumn:

Autumn is the best time for TV, so I couldn’t very well leave this section out! All my favourite shows have either already returned or are returning this week, so I’m very happy!

  1. The Great British Bake-Off

Okay so this started last week but I had to include it because IT’S BAKE OFF SEASON. The time of year when we gleefully watch lovely people getting very stressed over cake. It’s the kind of low stakes drama that I thrive on and it’s just such lovely, cosy autumn TV.

2. Strictly Come Dancing

YES STRICTLY IS BACK TONIGHT! There’s nothing that brings joy to the cold autumn and winter evenings like the glittery warm hug that is Strictly and I can’t wait for it to get started again.

3. All Creatures Great and Small

Another one of those shows that feels like a warm hug, this started back up again last week and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for the residents of Skeldale House.

4. Ghosts

I’m talking about the original British show here, not the American remake. I have heard that the American one is quite good, but I’m generally not a lover of American remakes of British shows, so I’m not sure if it’s one I’m ever going to watch. Anyway, that was a complete sidetrack, point is, I’m super excited to see what shenanigans the ghosts get up to in the new series!

5. Resident Alien

WE FINALLY HAVE AN AIRDATE FOR PART TWO OF SEASON 2! I’m so excited, my mum and I finished watching the most recent episodes back in June, so we’ve been waiting a while to find out what happens next and it finished on quite a big cliffhanger.

Two New Obsessions This Summer:

  1. Agatha Raisin-I watched all four seasons of Agatha Raisin at the end of August/early September and it’s safe to say I’m completely invested in Agatha and all of her escapades. I really hope there’s a Season 5 because I need more!
  2. House of The Dragon-Like many, many people, I’ve been watching House of The Dragon since it started back at the end of August and I’ve been very gripped. I’m very interested to see how the story moves forward from the next episode with the older actors playing Rhaenyra and Alicent.

Three Things I’m Looking Forward To This Autumn:

Slightly less things on here than I had for the summer, but they are three very exciting things!

  1. Seeing Moulin Rouge on stage

YES IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING. I’m going to see Moulin Rouge at the theatre next week, and I can’t wait. I’ve been wanting to see this ever since they announced the production was coming to the West End and I just really hope that it’s as good as I’ve been picturing in my head!

2. Going to Australia

My family are spending Christmas in Australia this year for the first time (but I arrive in the period this quarter covers, so I wanted to include it here), and I’m really excited. I’m dreading the long flight, but we haven’t all spent Christmas together since before my sister moved out there, so it should be really lovely.

3. Jodi Picoult book event

Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan are coming to the UK for a tour supporting their new book Mad Honey, and I’m super excited because I’ve not been to a Jodi Picoult book event since her one in Glasgow for Small Great Things (I guess she didn’t come to Scotland on her tour for A Spark of Light or I would have gone!), and that was back in 2016, so I’m super excited as her events are always so great, she’s such a great speaker and she always has such cool stories to tell about the research she did for her book.

Five Most Popular Blog Posts This Summer:

Another mixed bag of posts this time and the first time my review of Addie LaRue has been out of the top five since last year! We’re back to the list being mostly Top Ten Tuesdays after a top five without them last time, but we also have a discussion post and a Book Vs Movie, which feels great as those posts don’t always get as much love as I would like them to!

  1. Book Vs Movie-My Sister’s Keeper

I have to admit, I’m kind of stumped as to why this one is my most popular this time around, it’s a fairly old post back from when I first started doing Book Vs Movie in 2019, the only thing I can’t think of is that I may have mentioned how much I hated the movie when talking about My Sister’s Keeper when I did the Banned Books post for Top Ten Tuesday a few weeks ago and that led people to seeking it out? Anyway, I’m glad there are lots of other people out there also furious with how dirty they did My Sister’s Keeper with the movie.

2. Jo Talks Books: Can Reading Be An Addiction? Is That Necessarily A Bad Thing?

This one was on my top five list in my last Quarterly Rewind, and it seems to have maintained the popular momentum, and even gained more as its moved up! I still don’t really know what’s made it so popular, I’ve not linked to it in any recent posts, but I’m glad that it’s getting the love!

3. Top Ten Tuesday #376

This Top Ten Tuesday is back from July, and it was when I shared a Summery Book Covers list. No surprise that this one did really well, my cover posts are always super popular, which I do appreciate as it takes so much longer to do image posts with the new Block Editor on WordPress than it did before!

4. Top Ten Tuesday #380

This is a post from back in August, where I shared some more of my favourite Funny Percy Jackson Chapter Titles (my spin on Humourous Book Titles) and it was such a fun list to put together, so I was so pleased that so many of you seemed to love it as much as I did!

5. Top Ten Tuesday #381

This is a post from last month where I talked about Books I Love That Are Over Ten Years Old. It was a mammoth list that took a long time to put together, but I was so pleased by the feedback I got on it, and it was so great to share the love for some of my favourite older books, so I’m glad that you all seemed to enjoy it so much!

Three Posts I Enjoyed This Summer:

I have to admit, I totally flaked on bookmarking any posts from other blogs to share in this Rewind, so this section is going to be taking a break this time around, and hopefully when I do this feature again in December, I will have something to share with you guys!

Five Shows I Enjoyed This Summer:

  1. Agatha Raisin

I mentioned this show up in the “New Obsessions” section of this Rewind, so of course it’s in this part too. Agatha Raisin is just such a fun, cosy, brilliant show and I hope it continues for many years to come as I so enjoy seeing what mad adventures Agatha and the gang get up to with each new case!

2. House of The Dragon

Again, I mentioned this one earlier, but I’ve been really enjoying the prequel series to Game of Thrones over the last month, definitely more so than the latter series of Game of Thrones. We’ve got 5 episodes left, and we already know there’s a Season 2 coming, so I’m interested to see where this season leaves off, and what more there may be to come in the future.

3. Everything I Know About Love

I had vaguely heard of Dolly Alderton’s memoir, but never read it, but I heard such good things about the show that I had to watch it. AND I LOVED IT. I loved that this show put friendship front and centre in a way that most shows don’t, and it was so painful watching Maggie and Birdy grow apart. I really hope there is a Season 2 because it can’t end like that!

4. Only Murders In The Building

I rewatched Season One of this before diving into Season Two a couple of days ago, and a) Season One was just as good as I remembered, but also b) Season Two was EXCELLENT. I just love this show so much, it ticks so many of my boxes: quirky, funny, charming and the mysteries are great, I’m so happy that there’s going to be another season.

5. Love, Victor

I watched the final season yesterday, and though I will say that it felt like kind of a rushed ending, I do appreciate that it didn’t try to keep running past its expiration date like a lot of high school set shows and I’m glad things ended in a satisfying way for all the characters.

Five Things That Happened This Summer

I had a very busy summer, so I definitely couldn’t stick to just two or three this time!

  1. YALC

Yes, YALC was back in person after two years of being online due to the pandemic and it was so, so great! It was so lovely to be there again and I made a great new friend, got lots of books and naturally made a fool of myself in front of authors I like because before this year, I hadn’t been to an author event in three years and so I’m back to square one of being nervous and awkward! I will say that I massively missed having Hannah there this year though and it wasn’t quite the same without her, so I’m obviously hoping she’ll be back next year.

2. My sister visiting from Australia

It was so lovely to have my sister back in the UK for a few weeks, and I can’t wait to be out in Australia with her, her partner and my parents over Christmas.

3. Commonwealth Games

I really loved seeing the Gymnastics at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, even if we missed the start because of issues with the queue and had to leave before we got to see Team England on the final rotation, it was still a fun evening out.

4. Theatre trips

I’m combining two in one here as I’ve been to see two great shows in September: the first was Jack Absolute Flies Again at The National Theatre, which is definitely one of the best last-minute theatre ticket decisions I’ve ever made, it was so much fun and my mum and I had a fantastic night. The second was Grease last Saturday to celebrate my birthday which was also a brilliant night, and shout out to Cameron from the Champagne Bar, who is definitely not reading this (and I did thank him in person at the time) because he was so lovely and left a little birthday note for me with our drinks.

5. My birthday spa trip

I had such a lovely birthday this year, my mum and I’s trip to the Richmond Harbour Hotel and Spa was really lovely and I had such a great day, if you’re in or around Richmond and looking for a day trip for a birthday or other special event, I really recommend them because it was a lovely day out.

Six Songs I Listened To Way Too Often This Summer:

  1. All Too Well (10 Minute Version)-Taylor Swift

I didn’t think this song could ever be topped, and then she released the long version!

2. El Tango De Roxanne-Moulin Rouge

Every time I watch this film (which is a lot, it’s one of my favourites), this is the song that gets stuck in my head, particularly the part Ewan McGregor sings as he’s walking out of the hall of dancers (yes, I’ve seen it that many times I can name the specific part).

3. Shivers-Ed Sheeran

This one comes up on my iPod shuffle a lot.

4. Your Song-Moulin Rouge version

Another one that comes up on my iPod a lot, and one I just like to listen to, I now have three different versions, the one from the movie, and the two from the stage show!

5. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You-Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons

This is one I always love listening to because it reminds me of my favourite part of 10 Things I Hate About You.

6. We Go Together-Grease

Honestly, since I saw the show last week, this is the song that’s been stuck in my head, which I wasn’t really expecting!

So there we go, that was my summer! It’s been a bit of a manic one, but I’ve been having a great time being back in London, and definitely appreciate it here more now than I did when we moved, since I was only seven! What have you enjoyed most on my blog this summer (or winter for my Southern Hemisphere readers!)? What have you been up to? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday #386

Hi everyone! Hope you’ve had a good week since I last did one of these, I went to see Grease at The Dominion Theatre on Saturday and it was absolutely amazing! My mum paid for us to have the Champagne experience as a belated birthday present which was really lovely and just added to what was a really great night. It’s on until I think the end of October, so if you get the chance to go, I highly recommend it, it’s a really fun night out.

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, so that means another Top Ten Tuesday courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is our annual Autumn TBR list, and I have to admit, I didn’t do as well as I hoped on my Summer TBR, only reading three out of the ten books I listed there (though I read off list as well, so I suppose that’s partially my fault!). I’m hoping this autumn TBR will be slightly more successful for me:

  1. Good Girl, Bad Blood-Holly Jackson

I admit, I started this one over the summer but I did put it on pause as I was feeling more into my audiobooks. I’ve got a few long journeys over the autumn, not least my flight to Australia in December, so I’m hoping I might dive back into this one then.

2. Looking For Jane-Heather Marshall

This is my current read, which I just started last week. I’m not very far through yet, but I’m enjoying it so far. After so many WWII reads, it’s nice to be immersed in a different historical time period for a change, and in a different setting as I’ve hardly read any books that are set in Canada. This one also feels super timely as its focus is on an underground abortion network in the 1970s and 1980s, given everything that has gone on with the rolling back of reproductive rights in the US this year, this definitely feels like an important book to read.

3. The Mad Girls of New York-Maya Rodale

I know this one was on my Summer TBR and I didn’t get to it, but I am really determined to read it before the end of the year as it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2022. I’m so happy that this book exists and that hopefully more people are learning about Nellie Bly and the amazing work she did!

4. Bloomsbury Girls-Natalie Jenner

Apparently book themed historical fiction is one of my new favourite sub-genres! I wasn’t quite feeling anything in the WWII or post-WWII period after reading Life After Life and The Librarian Spy, but I definitely want to get to this one soon as it sounds right up my street. This will also be my second book with a main character called Evelyn this year!

5. Ten Steps To Nanette-Hannah Gadsby

This one’s on the longer side which was why I didn’t get to it over the summer, after reading Life After Life, I didn’t really want to dive into another 15-hour behemoth! I’m really excited to read it though, Hannah Gadsby is so funny and I loved Nanette so much that I can only imagine really enjoying this one.

6. The Night Of Knives (The Steel Prince Vol 7 & 8)-VE Schwab

I’d like to finish the second arc of VE Schwab’s Steel Prince comics this year, they have been so useful in completing my Goodreads Challenges over the past couple of years! As far as I remember, Vol 6 left off on quite the cliffhanger, so I look forward to seeing what happens in Vol 7.

7. The Rebel Army (The Steel Prince Vol 9-12)-VE Schwab

Yes, this autumn is going to be my time for comics! I’ve had VE Schwab’s comics on my list for years, so I’d quite like to finish off the adventures of Maxim Maresh this year, if I can.

8. ExtraOrdinary Vol 0-4-VE Schwab

And if I’m not feeling completely burned out on comics by the time I’m done with The Steel Prince, I also have VE Schwab’s Vicious comics to read, I love The Villains duology so much, so I’m really excited to dive back into this world in comic form.

9. Once Upon A Broken Heart-Stephanie Garber

I’ve been doing terribly on physical books over the past couple of years, but this one is definitely high on my priority list, and I’m even more excited for it after seeing all the excitement over Ballad in the past few months.

10. How To Survive Your Murder-Danielle Valentine

I saw this one on a TTT list a while back, and the title was just so intriguing that I had to add it to my TBR. The whole idea of a girl travelling back in time to solve her sister’s murder sounds really fun and though I’m not usually a horror reader, the mystery of this sounds so cool that it’s worth risking the certain gore.

So there we go, my planned Autumn TBR reads! Once again, I highly doubt I’ll read all of these, but I would like to at least finish all the ones I plan to listen to on audio-which is only five, so that should be fairly doable! How about you? What’s on your Autumn TBR this year? Have read any of these? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next week with another Top Ten Tuesday, we’re doing a cover topic this time, which is exciting, it’s been a while since we’ve had one of those! It’s Typographic Book Covers, and to be honest, I’m not sure how many books with this kind of cover I’ve read, but I guess we’ll find out!

Top Ten Tuesday #385

Hi all! Hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these. It was my birthday yesterday, and I had a lovely day, my mum and I went to a spa in Richmond, which was really nice, we had a really nice lunch and then spent the rest of the day using the spa facilities before having our treatments, I enjoyed a very relaxing back pamper!

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, so that means another Top Ten Tuesday courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic was supposed to be Book Titles With Geographical Terms In Them but honestly, I’ve not really read many, so instead I thought I’d do a different title themed topic, and share Books With The Something of Something and Something title theme. I thought that being a big a fantasy reader, I would have read way more of these than it actually turns out I have, I had to include a few that are on my TBR because I didn’t have enough that I’d actually read (that weren’t part of the same series!). Anyway here we go:

  1. Children of Blood and Bone-Tomi Adeyemi

This title is definitely one of the most fantasy titles to ever fantasy, with the incredibly common title theme and using both “Blood” and “Bone” which are two of the most commonly used words in fantasy titles. I did really enjoy the book though, it was a really fun read, I loved the characters and the world. Sadly the sequel ended up being a bit of a disappointment, but I have high hopes for the final book in the trilogy (whenever that comes out!).

2. Girls Made of Snow and Glass-Melissa Bashardoust

For once a title including the word “Girl” or in this case “Girls” that isn’t a mystery title as they seem to really love their “Girl” titles! I really wish I’d like this one more than I did, because it was an interesting idea to explore the stepmother/stepdaughter relationship in a Snow White retelling, but the plot didn’t live up to the promise of the premise.

3. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin-Roseanne A. Brown

It’s a pretty title, though I have to admit, it’s been a while since I read the book, so I can’t quite remember what the relevance of the title was to the story! I really loved the characters from this book, particularly Malik, his struggles with anxiety were so well handled, and it’s one of few fantasy books I’ve read that actually deals with mental health (strange for a genre where so many characters go through such trauma) Sadly, much like with Children of Blood and Bone, the sequel didn’t quite live up to the first book for me.

4. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes-Suzanne Collins

When I first saw the title, I did think it was a bit of an odd choice, considering that the Hunger Games trilogy titles were all so short. However, now having read the book, it’s definitely very fitting for the characters. Honestly, whilst I didn’t dislike this book as much as some people seem to have, I wasn’t clamouring for a Hunger Games prequel, and wouldn’t have been disappointed if Suzanne Collins hadn’t done one. Having said that, it wasn’t a bad book and there were parts I enjoyed about it, even if it’s probably my least favourite book from The Hunger Games world.

5. A Court of Thorns and Roses-Sarah J Maas

This was the first title to come to mind when I thought of the topic as Sarah J Maas has become so synonymous with this title scheme over recent years (though it probably goes back to A Song of Ice and Fire, and maybe even further back than that, I don’t know), although it seems like the next few books in the series won’t follow the exact same pattern if A Court of Silver Flames is anything to go by. I’m more of a Throne of Glass fan than an ACOTAR fan to be honest, I did really enjoy A Court of Mist and Fury, but I’ve still yet to finish the initial Feyre trilogy.

6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone-Laini Taylor

Another very classic fantasy title, as all the words in this title (Daughter, Smoke, Bone) are really popular ones in fantasy titles. I really enjoyed the first book of the trilogy, I loved the whimsical feel of it, and I really enjoyed the Prague setting. Sadly, Days of Blood and Starlight had me so annoyed that I still have yet to finish the trilogy!

7. A Curse So Dark and Lonely-Brigid Kemmerer

Another very fantasy feeling title, given the prevalence of dark curses in fantasy books! This one sadly didn’t work as well for me as I know it did for many others, but I did appreciate that Brigid Kemmerer did something different with a Beauty and the Beast retelling as so many of them can often feel so same-y. I also really enjoyed Harper as a main character and it was wonderful to see a disabled character taking centre stage in a fantasy novel, as we don’t see it often enough.

8. The Game of Love and Death-Martha Brockenbrough

I’ve not read this one yet, but I do love a book title that does exactly what it says on the tin. Apparently this book imagines “Love” and “Death” as real figures, who have been engaged in a millennia long war using humans as their pawns and that just sounds like such a fun idea. I’m looking forward to seeing if this book is as fun as it sounds like it will be.

9. Queen of Coin and Whispers-Helen Corcoran

This is another one that’s still on my TBR. From the title, I’m imagining a queen that presides over a very gossipy kind of court, though I’m not sure where the coin bit comes in! I’ve heard good things about this one, so hopefully it ends up being one I enjoy.

10. A Shiver of Snow and Sky-Lisa Lueddecke

Honestly, this is one of those fantasy titles that does seem like it’s come out of a fantasy title name generator! Other than the book having a snowy setting, I don’t get much more from the title. Still I was very drawn to the beautiful cover and I’m looking forward to reading the book and discovering more of what the book’s about.

So there we go, those are just some of the many, many books with the Something of Something and Something title scheme! Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments!

I will have another TTT for you all next week, it’s another annual one as we’ll be sharing our Autumn TBRs, so you’ll all get to hear about how terribly I did with my Summer TBR and I’ll get to share another overly optimistic list of books I’m going to read!

Top Ten Tuesday #384

Hi all! I hope you’ve had a good week since I last did one of these. I’ve had a pretty fun one, my mum and I went to a wine tasting at this local bar near us on Wednesday night which was a lot of fun, and then on Friday we went to see Jack Absolute Flies Again at the National Theatre, which was absolutely brilliant. I don’t tend to go see plays as much as musicals, but this one was really great, so funny that we were basically non-stop laughing for two hours!

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, so that means another Top Ten Tuesday courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic was supposed to be Books I Loved So Much I Had To Buy A Copy For My Personal Library, but honestly, I have relatively few of these: I have such limited shelf space that if I read a book in audio or e-book format, I’m unlikely to buy a physical copy as well, unless I need it to complete a series. So instead, I’m doing one of the topics suggested for the Back To School freebie last week, and talking about my Favourite Banned Books. Personally, I think the whole idea of banning books is ludicrous, and I actually did a whole discussion post on a similar topic a few years back, which you can read here, if you want to. But alas, it seems that some people don’t agree, and so I’ve had a look at some lists of frequently challenged books, and picked out some of my favourites to share today:

  1. My Sister’s Keeper-Jodi Picoult

My Sister’s Keeper has apparently been banned in schools numerous times, for including drugs, violence, suicide, offensive language, sexually explicit behaviours and homosexuality. To all of which I say huh? By the time kids are teenagers, they have been, or will be familiar with all of the things mentioned as reasons for the book being banned, and will quite possibly have experienced a lot of those things themselves. I was 12/13 when I read this one, and had no issues understanding, nor was I disturbed by the content, and I reckon this book would actually be a really interesting one for class discussion as it covers so many interesting moral and ethical issues. Plus it’s just a really great story!

2. The Hunger Games-Suzanne Collins

All three of the books in the Hunger Games trilogy have been on the ALA banned books list (and I think more than once). Apparently some of the reasons for challenges include it being anti-family (did these people read the book? LITERALLY THE WHOLE REASON THAT KATNISS VOLUNTEERS FOR THE GAMES IN THE FIRST PLACE IS FOR HER SISTER.), insensitivity, offensive language, occult/satanic themes and violence. I have to admit, I don’t really get the satanic complaint. Of course, the books are violent, violence and war are main themes in the books, but I wouldn’t say it’s anything that the teenage audience the books are aimed at couldn’t handle. I think I was 15/16 when I read this one and I absolutely flew through it because it was so absorbing, and again, there’s a lot to unpack that would be really interesting for class discussion particularly when it comes to topics like revolution and overthrowing the government.

3. 13 Reasons Why-Jay Asher

This one came into the top ten challenged books after the Netflix series first came out, so I do wonder if there was a little bit of a crossover with that, as the Netflix series was much more graphic than the book when it came to some of the issues portrayed like Hannah’s sexual assault, and her eventual suicide. The book has mainly been challenged over its depiction of suicide, and whilst I do understand some of the issues with the way suicide is discussed in 13 Reasons Why more now than I when I read it as a teenager, that’s not a reason to ban it, it would be far more helpful to discuss the issues presented by the book than it is to outright ban it.

4. Black Beauty-Anna Sewell

This one is probably one of the most ridiculous ones on the list, in terms of the reasoning for banning it. Black Beauty was banned in South Africa in the Apartheid era because the title included the word “Black”. I truly have no words.

5. Charlotte’s Web-EB White

One of my favourite books as a child, Charlotte’s Web was apparently banned by a school in Kansas in 2006 because “talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural”. REALLY? REALLY?

6. Nineteen Minutes-Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult’s books are apparently quite frequent targets for bans in schools in the US! This one has been targeted due to the subject matter of school shootings, offensive language, for containing a date rape scene amongst other complaints. Considering the prevalence of school shootings in the US, it seems like that’s actually quite a relevant topic for teenagers and again it seems ridiculous that books are challenged for swearing and sexual content, like many teenagers haven’t experienced either of those things in their own lives! I can’t remember how old I was when I read this one, but I know I read it before I turned 18 as I took it to my first Jodi Picoult book event back in 2014.

7. Unwind-Neal Shusterman

Unwind has been challenged for various reasons, including the fact that it contains offensive language and includes topics such as sex, child abuse, suicide and drug abuse and is not intellectually challenging enough. I’ve already covered a lot of the topics raised as issues for this book for many of the other books in this post but I also have to thoroughly disagree on the last point as I thought Unwind was a really thought-provoking book. It covers a lot of really interesting topics about life and death and the right to life, organ donation, abortion, bodily autonomy etc, so in terms of the topics raised, I definitely found it an intellectually challenging book and think it would raise a lot of interesting discussions in a classroom setting.

8. A Court of Mist and Fury-Sarah J Maas

This was on a list of books banned by Walton County Public School Libraries in Florida earlier in the year, and apparently a Virginia legislator tried to ban Barnes and Noble stores from selling it without parental consent. I’m assuming this one came under fire due to sexual content, and whilst yes, I would agree that it should be shelved as an Adult book rather than YA, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with teens consuming sexual content if they choose to and sexual content is no reason for censoring a book. The whole idea of children and teens needing parental permission to buy books is something that makes me very uncomfortable, seems like a very slippery slope to not allowing kids to read any content that their parents may disapprove of: eg banning books with any LGBTQ+ content due to homophobia.

So there we go, those are some of my favourite books that have been banned or challenged (largely in the US, I did look to see if I could find any UK banned books lists but it seems to be less of a thing here, which I’m very glad about!) and what I thought about them. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments!

I will have another TTT for you all next week, but once again, I’m going rogue as I wasn’t feeling the Books With Geographical Terms In The Title, it turns out I’ve not read many of those! I’m still sticking along the title theme, and choose Something of Something And Something Book Titles as that still seems to be an incredibly popular title scheme for fantasy books!

Top Ten Tuesday #383

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these, mine was once again fairly quiet, but I did have my first riding lesson at my new stables in London which was really nice, it’s taken a while to find somewhere and the last time I rode before last week was back in June, so it was nice to be back on a horse again.

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, so that means another Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is a Back To School Freebie, so I’m doing a follow-up topic to the Best Books I Read In My First Two Years At Uni at few years ago, and today will be sharing the Best Books I Read In My Last Two Year of Uni. As with the previous topic, I’m only counting books I read during the academic year, so this will cover books I read from September 2017-May 2018 (3rd year) and September 2018-May 2019 (4th year). So here we go, the best books I read at Uni in my last two years:

  1. Chainbreaker-Tara Sim

I love the Timekeeper trilogy so much, and will be banging the drum about how incredibly underrated and brilliant it is, probably for the rest of my life. It amazes me that if I wasn’t a book blogger, I probably would never have read this series, as it was never released in the UK, I only had the chance to read it through Netgalley and Edelweiss. I powered through this one towards the end of the autumn semester in 2017 and was slightly miffed that I’d done my Best Books of 2017 just a couple of days before I finished it as this was without a doubt my favourite book of 2017.

2. The Exact Opposite of Okay-Laura Steven

This book was my company on my commute to and from Dundee when I was doing my work experience at DC Thomson during February reading week 2018. I zoomed through it and had finished it by the end of that week, it was such a joy reading Izzy’s story that I was always looking forward to the train journey at the beginning and end of each day so that I could join her again.

3. The Language of Thorns-Leigh Bardugo

This was the perfect book for exam season as I was able to dip in and out of it between revising and it was nice and short. I’m not usually a fan of short story collections, but Leigh Bardugo is obviously a master, and I loved her take on the Grishaverse’s version of fairytales. The illustrations in this book were also just gorgeous and really added to the stories!

4. Vicious-VE Schwab

It’s me, of course there would be a Schwab book in here somewhere! Honestly, Vengeful definitely would have made the list too if I’d read it after it came out, but I didn’t get to it till the summer after I graduated Uni. Vicious was such a fun read, Schwab really excels at writing villains and this book and Vengeful shows the height of her powers in that area, nearly everyone in this series is heinous, but I LOVE THEM ALL. I read this book coming off of two quite chunky ones, and it was just what I needed as a refresh at the start of a new academic year.

5. Firestarter-Tara Sim

When I read the final book in the Timekeeper trilogy, I was coming off a run of a couple of fairly mediocre books, I hadn’t read a book I’d really enjoyed since Vicious and I hadn’t had any five star reads at all in 2018, so I was desperate to find something I really loved! Thankfully, Firestarter was just what I needed, it was a heart-wrenching, gut punch of a final book in a trilogy and honestly one of my favourite series finales of all time.

6. A Spark of Light-Jodi Picoult

This is one of my favourites of Jodi Picoult’s more recent novels, I’ve had a bit of a mixed bag with her books since Small Great Things, I really enjoyed that one and this one but I wasn’t keen on The Book of Two Ways and I didn’t read Wish You Were Here because of the subject matter. This one I really enjoyed though, I felt like the reverse timeline worked much better than the confusing timeline in The Book of Two Ways and it was a really emotional but nuanced look at reproductive choice. Abortion is always going to be a timely topic, but I actually think this book is probably even more relevant now than it was in 2018, given what happened with Roe V Wade this year.

7. Enchantee-Gita Trelease

This is kind of a cheat one as I think I read most of it during the Christmas break from Uni, but I definitely read at least a little when I returned for the Spring semester, so I’m still counting it. It was one of my favourite books of 2019, I loved Camille and her dedication to her younger sister Sophie, and Trelease created such a wonderful atmosphere, it felt like you really were in 1789 France. I have to admit though, I’ve still not read the sequel, I did start it, but I’ve not really been in the mood for e-books, so I’ve yet to finish and I can’t find it on audiobook, which is quite annoying!

8. To Kill A Kingdom-Alexandra Christo

I loved this one so much, it’s one of my absolute favourite enemies to lovers romances and Lira was just the kind of unapolagetically brutal woman that I absolutely adore and the story kept me engaged from beginning to end, so much so that when it was over, it felt too short because I’d loved it so much I didn’t want it to end. That’s the perfect kind of book for me!

9. Becoming-Michelle Obama

I’d actually not read any non-fiction (that wasn’t school or Uni related) for years before I read this book, and this was the book that got me back into reading a bit more non-fiction, especially memoirs. I was worried I’d find it a little dry, but Michelle writes in such a candid and engaging way, that the almost 500 pages flew by! I’ve got Barack Obama’s most recent memoir too, but I’ve yet to read that one as it is A BEAST. Between To Kill A Kingdom and this, March 2019 really was one of my best reading months!

10. King of Fools-Amanda Foody

The second book in a trilogy is almost always the worst book, the bridge between the beginning and the end, the sticky middle, is always so hard to get right. Amanda Foody absolutely nailed it though, it’s a behemoth of a book, almost 600 pages and yet it never felt like it lagged, I never felt bored because there was always something happening. The female friendships in this book are something else, and I love how great Foody is at creating nuanced female characters, especially her female villain. Lengthy fantasy books usually take me ages to read, but I flew through this one in about a week and a half because I was so gripped and then cursed myself because of the cliffhanger ending and the fact I then had to wait over a year to find out what happened in Queen of Volts. I had this one as an e-ARC and left it as a treat to myself for finishing my Journalism project at the end of fourth year, and oh what a treat it was!

So there we go, those are the rest of the amazing books I read whilst at Uni (and that’s not even counting the books I read in my summer breaks, as I read some really great ones in the summers of both 2017 & 18 that definitely would have made the list otherwise!). Have you read any of these books? Do you have any favourite books you read whilst at Uni? Let me know in the comments!

I will have another TTT for you all next week, the topic is meant to be Books I Loved So Much I Had To Get A Copy For My Personal Library, but to be honest, I have very few of these, so instead I’m going to take one of the suggestions Jana put for this week, and do my Top Ten Favourite Banned Books as that seems like a fun idea to do.

When Women Were Dragons Review (Audiobook)

Book: When Women Were Dragons

Author: Kelly Barnhill

Narrators: Kimberly Farr & Mark Bramhall

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Alex and Beatrice talk about prom dresses.

Content Warnings: Infidelity, murder, gaslighting, sexism, misogyny, death of a parent, abandonment, cancer, grief, death, emotional abuse, homophobia, alcoholism, child abuse, toxic relationship, panic attacks, hospital/medical content, body shaming

So you know how I mentioned in my review yesterday that Portrait of A Thief was one of my most disappointing reads of 2022? Well, today we have my actual most disappointing read of 2022. Everything about this book should have been something I loved. Dragons. Feminist rage. Historical setting. Everything about this book really screamed me. But instead of a book packed with dragons and feminist fury, it ended up largely being a coming of age story of a fairly dull main character who didn’t really seem to drive the story forward much and despite being promised dragons, the dragons were actually a fairly small part of the book. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Alex Green is a young girl in a world much like ours. But this version of 1950’s America is characterized by a significant event: The Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales and talons, left a trail of fiery destruction in their path, and took to the skies. Seemingly for good. Was it their choice? What will become of those left behind? Why did Alex’s beloved Aunt Marla transform but her mother did not? Alex doesn’t know. It’s taboo to speak of, even more so than her crush on Sonja, her schoolmate.

Forced into silence, Alex nevertheless must face the consequences of dragons: a mother more protective than ever; a father growing increasingly distant; the upsetting insistence that her aunt never even existed; and a new “sister” obsessed with dragons far beyond propriety. Through loss, rage, and self-discovery, this story follows Alex’s journey as she deals with the events leading up to and beyond the Mass Dragoning, and her connection with the phenomenon itself.

My biggest issue with this book was….can you guess it? Yup, our old friend pacing is making an appearance again! One of these days I will not complain about slow pacing in books quite as much, but today is not that day. This book was so, so slow to get going, it only really got interesting when the dragons returned and by that point, you’re about 2/3rds of the way through the book and you’ve already invested a lot of your time & energy into a book that’s moving along at a glacial pace. It’s about a 15 hour or so long audiobook anyway, so it’s not exactly short, and the slow pace definitely made it feel a lot longer than it actually was, it took me a good month to finish it, which is not usual for me. We spent ages on Alex’s childhood, which wasn’t all that interesting to me, and yet the bit where the dragons returned was such a small part of the book which I would have loved to see more of!

Which brings me to one of my other big problems: LACK OF DRAGONS IN A BOOK SUPPOSEDLY ABOUT DRAGONS. I don’t know about you, but when I’m promised dragons, I want dragons everywhere. But the dragons hardly have any impact on the story until right at the end, and even then, we only get to see a certain type of dragon: the dragons that chose to return to their families. Why couldn’t we see the dragons that chose to have adventures, that chose to explore the seas and space? I was expecting the dragons to be the main point of this book and they kind of ended up being a side story to Alex and her terrible family life.

I didn’t love the memoir-esque style of the book, it’s written in the style of an older Alex’s memoir about her experiences, which meant that everything felt very passive and the emotional beats of the story felt somewhat lacking, because she wasn’t so much experiencing things, as just telling us what happened to her. That’s not to say that all memoirs are boring, in fact, I’ve been really enjoying memoirs in recent years but when I read fiction, I want to feel that emotional connection to the character and in this case, the memoir style felt like it acted as a barrier to really getting that emotional connection with the character.

I didn’t love either of the narrators, if they had been more engaging, maybe I would have connected with the book more, however both Kimberly Farr and Mark Bramhall had a style of narration that felt both flat and dry, and was honestly a bit of a chore to listen to.

The whole magic knot system just didn’t really make much sense to me, it was kind of confusing and not really properly explained, I didn’t really understand why it was relevant. It seemed as if maybe the knots stopped the girls from dragoning, but the author didn’t go into too much detail about it and I wish that she would have.

Alex was kind of dull as a main character, she seemed to have very little personality. I really couldn’t tell you much about her other than she is “sensible” and “likes maths”. I felt pretty indifferent towards her, which for me is the worst feeling to have towards a character: I’d rather hate a main character than feel indifferent towards them because at least then you have some sort of strong emotion towards to them. Alex’s passivity also seemed to be echoed through the style of the book, with everything being told to you rather than shown, which I guess is maybe good from a characterisation standpoint, but it’s very dull from a reader standpoint! Her sister Beatrice seemed like she would have made a much better main character, she’s obviously very young in the book, but she seemed like quite a firecracker who would have been much more fun to follow.

To be honest, all the characters felt kind of underdeveloped, they really needed more depth and nuance to them, it was like Barnhill had merely traced the outlines of each of the characters and plopped them onto the page without really considering much about them beyond those outlines. My favourite characters have all been ones that have real emotional depth to them, and that just felt very lacking in the characters in this book. The relationships in this book also felt kind of flat because the characters weren’t developed enough: I usually love sisterly relationships in books, but the one here didn’t really ring true because Alex and Bea just weren’t developed enough.

The one point I did feel bad for Alex though was when her father left her in charge of her young sister so that he could go and be with his new family. WHO ABANDONS THEIR DAUGHTERS LIKE THAT? Her dad was definitely THE WORST, leaving a 15 (I think?) year old in charge of her seven year old sister!

Apparently this book was initially meant to be a short story, and after finding that out, my feelings towards the book made so much more sense, because all the way through I just was just thinking “this is so much longer than it needs to be”. It would have been a great short story, but the author expanded it far beyond its limits to be a novel, which meant that it ended up repeating the same points over and over. If it had stayed a short story, I reckon it would have been able to make its point much more effectively, but the point got diluted quite a lot over 15 or so hours!

I was expecting much more anger from a book supposedly about feminist rage, it seemed to put on this front of feminist rage, but never really go to the true depths of it. It also made very little sense that the women supposedly dragoned because they were tired of being exploited for their labour and yet they come back as dragons and are perfectly happy to just slot right back into their old roles? That seemed to go against everything the author had been trying to say up to that point about dragoning being a consequence of female rage. I was honestly expecting something more along the lines of the dragons burning the whole world down and everyone being wiped out, that would probably have been more fun than what we got! It felt like the author wanted to make a point about female anger, but was too scared to fully lean into the depths of it, and I feel like that’s quite common to be honest? Authors say they want to explore female rage, but they’re too afraid to actually show truly angry women.

The writing style was definitely overly flowery to me, it felt like it was trying too hard to be “lyrical” and I definitely had issues with the author using a lot of the same phrases over and over again.

I didn’t feel like Henry Gantz’s academic journal entries really added much to the book, every time one came up it felt kind of jarring, like we were being dragged away from the main story to hear this piece of dragon history that then ended up not being at all relevant? I was glad that his sections got fewer and further between as we went on through the book and honestly, I don’t think the book would have lost anything from them not being there at all.

There was definitely not enough of an intersectional focus in the book, there were no major POC characters, and only passing references to trans people when it came to dragoning-plus it ended up co-opting the civil rights movement for dragons rather than people. HOW ARE YOU DOING A BOOK SET IN THE LATE 1950s/EARLY 1960s AND ROSA PARKS DOESN’T EVEN GET A MENTION? It just seemed like such an oversight that you would set a book in this time period and use imagery from the civil rights movement, and give only a one line or so mention to lunch counter protests and marches? It definitely left me feeling a little icky that the author so clearly borrowed a lot from the civil rights movement and yet had no POC in her book whatsoever as far as I could tell.

With the lack of POC in the book, you also hit another issue with the whole dragoning being caused (in some cases) by rage thing, because if women dragoned when enraged, then surely a lot of major genocides would have been avoided: the slave trade, the genocide of Native Americans, the Holocaust etc. If just a few women had got angry, dragoned and destroyed the people who were trying to kill them, then those tragedies would probably not have happened? I mean I feel like a dragon would have definitely killed Hitler! I felt like Barnhill wanted to do an alternative history, but thought that just meant, history as it was, but just add a few dragons, and didn’t really think about exploring the consequences of what the existence of dragons might have meant for major world events.

This book also fell into one of my least favourite traps when it comes to situations like these: America-centrism. We don’t really get much sense at all as to whether dragoning is something that happens outside America (beyond a few brief mentions in Dr Gantz’s journal entries) and I would have liked to have seen at least a glimpse of what was happening in other countries, if the dragons were a purely American phenomenon (and if so why?) or if women were dragoning all over the world, and how other countries were dealing with that.

There was also a lot around the process of dragoning that was underdeveloped or even contradictory. We get many different explanations for dragoning, first it’s to do with the reproductive system, then it’s not, then it’s to do with rage, then joy, and there was no explanation that really made sense as to why it actually happened. I felt like the author try to handwave away the fact that she hadn’t really thought the whole process of dragoning through, under the guise of “scientific research” and the fact that “science is sometimes wrong”. Whilst both those things are true, in this case it felt like a smokescreen for “author hasn’t really thought about how this would work in practice and so I’ll throw out a few ideas and see what sticks, and if it doesn’t make sense, just fall back on the science can be wrong explanation”. The logistics of how dragons would be able to function in the human world also didn’t really seem to be thought properly through either.

I wish Kelly Barnhill had done more with the fantastical elements, it felt like she had all of these elements that could have been really cool: the dragons, the knot system etc but she didn’t really know what to do with them. It ended up feeling like contemporary coming of age novel with the odd dragon than a book about dragons which is what I thought it would be from the title!

I definitely felt like Alex forgave her aunt far too easily for abandoning her family, she was resistant at first, but seemed to do an about turn fairly quickly for the sake of convenience for the novel. If it had been me, I definitely would have taken longer to forgive my aunt for leaving me with my deadbeat dad who ended up abandoning his daughter and niece!

I also felt a bit iffy about the whole resolution to Marla and Bertha’s argument being Marla getting married and having a child even though she had previously indicated that this was something she didn’t want? It just didn’t feel like a great message to send, and kind of gave vibes of the “if you don’t want children, you’ll change your mind eventually” argument that I hate so much.

Overall, When Women Were Dragons would have had so much potential if it had remained a short story as initially intended. However as a full length novel, it was kind of a mess! It was so slow paced, it didn’t capitalise on the dragons anywhere near as much as it should have, everything about the characters and the world was underdeveloped and the lack of intersectionality, particularly the lack of Black people in the time period mentioned was especially jarring. I really wanted to love this one, but it ended up letting me down so badly. I can’t remember the last time I was this disappointed in a book.

My Rating: 2/5

My next review will be of my most recent read (that I’m reviewing, I read a couple of short non-fiction books that I won’t be writing reviews for as they’re just too short to really warrant the amount of time I spend on reviews!), Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I still need to do the notes for that one, so I don’t think it will be up till the beginning of next week at the earliest.

Portrait of A Thief Review (Audiobook)

Book: Portrait of A Thief

Author: Grace D. Li

Narrators: Eunice Wong and Austin Wu

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Irene and Alex talk about the heists.

Content Warnings: Colonialism, racism, mention of death of a parent, cultural appropriation, mentions of terminal illness, homophobia, grief, brief mention of police brutality

This was one of my most anticipated releases for 2022, as I’ve been wanting to find more stories about university students for ages (would have been great if I could have found more when I was still in uni, but still) and so when I saw this, university students doing a heist, it sounded so right up my street that I instantly added it to my TBR. Unfortunately, with expectation can come disappointment, and this book has ended up being one of my biggest disappointments of 2022 so far. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting, I was anticipating a fast-paced fun heist book, and instead, it was basically 11 hours or so of musing on identity and diaspora, with heisting used a backdrop.

Obviously conversations about disapora and identity and colonialism are really important, but when you’re reading a heist book, you do expect there to be more…..well heists! The heists were all kind of blink and you miss it and a lot more time was dedicated to the planning and musing, and well….the boring bits and instead of the fun, fast-paced read that I thought I was getting, I got a slow, musing kind of read, which is fine if that’s the kind of book you like. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of book I like! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.

Will Chen plans to steal them back.

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.

His crew is every heist archetype one can imag­ine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lock-picking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.

Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted at­tempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

One of the biggest issues I had with this book was actually the narrators, which is not a great thing if you’re listening to an audiobook! Both Eunice Wong and Austin Wu had a very flat style of delivery, which prevented me from becoming fully invested in the story as they both sounded kind of bored reading it. I also found that both of them used far too similar voices for all the characters, which meant I had trouble working out who was speaking at what point. Austin in particular was too quiet when speaking, which meant I found it hard working out what he was actually saying and had to turn my volume up way too loud on his chapters, and his voice for Lily in particular was super grating and sounded nothing like Eunice’s voice for her, which made things slightly confusing.

The writing was super repetitive and it felt like Li was trying too hard to be “lyrical”. I got so bored of the weather being described at the beginning of each chapter that I was fully ready to throw my phone across the room by the end if it was mentioned one more time. Li had several phrases that she would fall back on time and time again, and each chapter was structured in such a similar way in terms of the writing that by about halfway through I could predict how everything was going to go: musing on the weather, long rambling thoughts about disapora, some musings on cars/medicine/art/technology, depending on who the narrator was. I’m sure it’s mostly just a debut author thing and Li will probably grow out of it as she writes more books, but I definitely found the repetitive writing very draining here.

As I mentioned up top, for a heist book, there was surprisingly little heisting! At the beginning of the book, you’re expecting there to be five heists, so I was anticipating non-stop heisting action and for the heists to be the major part of the book. Instead, each of the heists were only a couple of pages each, it was definitely blink and you’d miss it kind of stuff and given that the heists were what I picked up the book for, I wasn’t best pleased that we got about five pages of heist action total, and several hundred of musings about identity diaspora. I did initially find the conversations about diaspora and identity interesting, but it was so constant, that after a while I just got bored. I also felt like the characters had such similar feelings about their relationships to China, aside from Lily who was a little bit more uncertain, it would have been nice if we’d been able to explore a wider range of feelings about diaspora within the group.

The way the group planned the heist was completely ridiculous, with the whole using Zoom and Google Docs and encrypted chat rooms that the FBI WOULD NEVER be able to find, if they had done this in real life, I’m sure they would have been caught a whole lot sooner. I don’t really mind the idea that college students wouldn’t necessarily be super smart about being international art thieves, but it felt like Li wanted us to take the group more seriously than the narrative portrayed them to be.

It was a very slow paced story which meant that the book felt a lot longer than it actually was, 11 hours for an audiobook is on the shorter side for me and yet it felt more like a 15 or 16 hour audiobook because everything was just moving SO SLOWLY. The only bright side was that the chapters were relatively short, I think if they’d been any longer, the pace would have been unbearably slow, as it was, it was just annoyingly slow.

The characters all felt kind of flat, it was like the author had decided on their initial archetypes of con artist, thief, getaway driver, hacker and mastermind and didn’t particularly feel like developing them much beyond their archetypes. It didn’t help that their character archetypes were repeated over and over again until you just wanted scream WE GET IT. It’s always difficult when you have such a big cast to develop them all fully, but I would have appreciated it if at least one or two of them had been developed beyond their particular archetype.

The group dynamic was also a bit off: it felt like Li was trying to go for the found family vibes, but just didn’t quite get there. There were pairs within the group that got on well but on the whole it definitely did feel like five strangers (even though there were some in the group who did know each other/were related) thrown together for a job, who didn’t even seem to like each other much, let alone thought of each other as family, so when towards the end of the book, they were throwing that around, I just couldn’t buy it.

Having said this, the one relationship in the book that did feel really well done was the one between Daniel and his father. That whole arc of the two of them finding their way back to each other and reconciling the hurt and distance that had happened over the years was probably the best done arc of the whole book.

The fact that there was a group of five of them and that four of the five pair up and one has unrequited feelings for someone in the group definitely had me eye-rolling quite a bit. Seriously? In a group of five people everyone must have a romantic partner? REALLY? The only platonic friendship between a guy and girl in this was Lily and Daniel, and I guess Alex and Will but they had already dated previously. PLATONIC FRIENDSHIPS BETWEEN PEOPLE OF OPPOSITE GENDERS EXISTS DAMN IT.

I also had kind of mixed feelings about the whole Alex/Irene pairing because Irene was so awful to Alex for ages just for being Will’s ex (when they went on like two dates!), which seemed like a serious overreaction, and then she suddenly does an about turn and really likes Alex? It just didn’t feel particularly well built up and though I wanted to root for them as a couple, I just couldn’t because Irene was so awful in the beginning. I also felt like there was a missed opportunity with Will and Daniel? Will and Lily seemed to be paired up for no other reason than that Lily was the other unattached girl, whereas it certainly seemed like the author was setting up Daniel to have feelings for Will from the small insights we got into their childhood, till she suddenly changed it to Irene instead. I don’t know, I just felt a lot more chemistry between Daniel and Will than Will and Lily!

I was interested in the whole art repatriation thing as I did cover repatriation a little during my History degree, particularly during the module I did on Native American history, and I was hoping it would be explored a bit more, but it did all feel very surface level.

There’s a part of the book where Lily makes a crack about art degrees, I can’t remember exactly what the line was but it was definitely something along the lines of art majors don’t know anything, or don’t understand anything practical, and I just didn’t find it particularly funny. I wish we would stop pitting humanities and STEM degree subjects against each other and arguing that humanities degrees are worthless because it’s just tiring and stupid: both subject areas are useful in different ways and humanities students aren’t lesser because they didn’t do a STEM subject (rant over: I just have got a lot of this over the years as someone who studied humanities subjects and it gets tiring).

I have to admit, I wasn’t thrilled by the pandemic references, I’ve managed to successfully avoid most pandemic related media, and I just don’t think it’s massively necessary? It’s fiction, we can pretend the pandemic didn’t happen in your fictional version of 2021/2022!

I didn’t really understand why China Poly would recruit a bunch of university students to carry out such a high profile job, they have so much money they could easily hire pros, it didn’t make sense that they would choose amateurs to carry out a job that was clearly so important for them.

Li did capture the uncertainty about the future that many uni students feel, especially approaching graduation, very well which I’m assuming is because she still is a student herself! I did wonder why all of the group had to be from top universities though, I’m sure you could find hackers, thieves, con artists and getaway drivers outside of major top US universities.

Overall, Portrait of A Thief ended up being quite disappointing for me. It was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be. I thought I was getting a fast paced, action packed heist story and it ended up being a story about identity with some heisting in the background. I’m sure Li will greatly improve her characterisation, pacing and writing as she gets more experience, and it wasn’t a terrible debut by any means, it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I think this is another case of too high expectations leading to disappointment.

My Rating: 3/5

I’m a little behind on my reviews because we moved house and I misplaced one of my review notebooks (which had the notes for this review in!) and I only just found it, so bear with me whilst I catch up! My next review will be of When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill, which I’ve already read and done my notes for, so that one should be up fairly soon.

Top Ten Tuesday #382

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these. It’s been a fairly quiet one here, I’ve mostly been watching the European Championships on TV, it’s been a great summer for sport, and so nice that sport that I actually like has been on!

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, so that means another Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. Today we’re talking Completed Series We Wish Had More Books and I have to admit, this one stumped me a little. I don’t generally finish a series thinking I wish that there were more, and if I do, a lot of authors that I’d want more books from in the same world have either already announced a sequel series, or already done one! So in a change from last week’s list, this one will actually be quite short, as there weren’t too many I could think of:

  1. The Diviners Series-Libba Bray

I was generally quite happy with how the series wrapped up, but the epilogue with them listening to Hitler on the radio, definitely suggested that Libba Bray was maybe leaving the door open for a future 1930s/WWII era Diviners story and I would so love it if she did that, because I really don’t want to have to leave the Diviners behind completely!

2. The Pure Trilogy-Julianna Baggott

There were a lot of questions left open at the ending of Burn, the final book in the trilogy, and I don’t much like open endings, so I’d really like it if Baggott came back to this world one day. It’s been a while since I finished it, but there was a lot left up in the air about what happened to the Dome and the people inside, and whether they were able to survive outside it or not, so I would really love it if Baggott would come back to this world one day and answer some of my burning *pun most definitely intended* questions.

3. Breathe duology-Sarah Crossan

I wish this duology had actually been a trilogy, as there was a lot crammed into this second book and it felt like it would have been given more room to *sorry for the pun* breathe if it had been three books. It’s still a really good duology and I would definitely recommend it, but I would love it if Sarah Crossan decided to come back to this world one day to tie up some of the loose ends, and just so I got to be with Bea, Quinn and Alina again.

4. Heist Society series-Ally Carter

It feels like there have been rumours of Heist Society 4 for YEARS and yet nothing ever seems to come of it. It’s not that the third book leaves off on any major cliffhanger or anything, so the three books could work well as a completed series, but I definitely want more. For one thing, we need to know what the W.W. in Hale’s name stands for! For another, I just need more of Kat and her crew in my life.

5. The Shadow Game series-Amanda Foody

Amanda Foody has said Queen of Volts is the end of Levi and Enne’s story, and that’s fine, it definitely felt like a very completed arc for them. However, there are so many other characters in this series that could definitely star in their own books, and I would love it if Amanda decided she wanted to some standalone books in this world following different characters in the series. I am dying for books about Lourdes and Vianca, I would love stories following what happened during the Revolution and downfall of the Mizers, there are so many possibilities of different characters whose stories she could follow. Maybe a set of short stories in the world like SA Chakraborty did for Daevabad would be fun? I don’t know but if she decided to return to New Reynes in any form, I would be THERE for it.

6. The Crown’s Game duology-Evelyn Skye

This was another duology that I really felt should have been a trilogy, the second book just didn’t feel like a finale. Duologies I find are really hard to get right: trilogies generally have a very clear beginning, middle and end whereas duologies, I tend to find authors try to cram so much into the second book in order to have it end in two that it usually feels very rushed. The Crown’s Fate didn’t really do enough in the first half of the book, and then packed it all in towards the climax and everything was wrapped up far too quickly, it was like Evelyn Skye suddenly realised she only had a couple of chapters to end the book! I would have much preferred it if Skye had made this a trilogy, because as a duology, it felt very underwhelming.

So that’s it for today, it’s a short and sweet one! Have you read any of these series? Do you agree that you’d like more books in their worlds? What books did you have on your list this week? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next week for another Top Ten Tuesday, this time it’s a School Freebie, and I thought it would be a fun time to do a sequel to the Best Books I Read In My First Two Years At Uni topic I did about five or so years ago, so I’ll be doing Best Books I Read In My Last Two Years At Uni.