Top Ten Tuesday #338

Hi all! I hope you’ve had a good week since I last did one of these, I had a rather manic few days at work towards the end of last week, it’s been incredibly busy at the vaccine centres since we started doing boosters, so I had several packed days and was very glad to have today and yesterday off! I’m also taking a well deserved break this week and going on holiday with my friends, which I’m super excited for as we’ve not all been on holiday together since before the pandemic and it will be nice to have a chance to relax and recharge, as I don’t think work is going to be slowing down any time soon.

Anyway, as it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic was meant to be Online Book Resources, but since the only ones I really use are Goodreads and Audible, I decided to change things up a little. Instead I’m going to be talking about The Last Ten Books I Added To My Bookshelf, as that’s an evergreen topic that’s new every time you do it, and it’s a nice easy one for me after a busy week of work! So here we go, the most recent additions to my bookshelf:

  1. The Bronzed Beasts-Roshani Chokshi-Added around 2 weeks ago

After a bit of a palaver with shipping, as I had originally ordered from Blackwells, then that order got cancelled, I then changed to Forbidden Planet but it went out of stock with them and so I finally had to resort to Amazon, though I really didn’t want to, they were the only place that had it in stock in the UK so I couldn’t be choosy! I can’t wait to see how the final instalment of this series ends up, I’m sure it’s going to rip my heart to shreds.

2. The Forest of Ghosts and Bones-Lisa Lueddecke-Added around 2 weeks ago

I won this in a giveaway and I’m super excited to read it, it’s inspired by Hungarian myths and I love reading books that are inspired by mythologies that I’m not so familiar with.

3. Once Upon A Broken Heart-Stephanie Garber-Added around 3 weeks ago

AGH I’M SO EXCITED FOR THIS ONE. I really enjoyed the Caraval trilogy and I’ve been excited to see what Stephanie Garber would do next for the last two years and I’m so glad that she decided to expand the Caraval world, as I definitely got the sense from Finale that there was more to explore. I can’t wait to meet Evangeline, to see more of Jacks and to see what part of the Caraval world we get to explore next.

4. The Silence of The Girls-Pat Barker-Added in September

After reading The Song of Achilles, I saw the sequel to this one in Waterstones and thought it looked quite interesting, so I checked out the first one online and thought it sounded like something I’d really enjoy. I’m all for books that centre in women in periods when they are often forgotten, and I loved Briseis in The Song of Achilles, so I can’t wait to see Barker’s take on her.

5. The Nightingale-Kristin Hannah-Added in September

I’ve been on a bit of a WWII fiction spree this year, and this is one I’ve been thinking about picking up for a while, as I love sister stories and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I’ve not actually read many books set during the Nazi Occupation of France in WWII, Code Name Verity is the only one which comes to mind, so I’m looking forward to seeing another take on that story.

6. The Love Hypothesis-Laura Steven-Added in September

I finally got Laura Steven’s most recent book, as I’d not seen it in any bookshops I’d been to since the pandemic until I made the trip to Waterstones Piccadilly last month. This is Steven’s first YA without Izzy O’Neill and I’m interested to see how I find it, but I’m sure it will be super funny and the idea of finding a scientific solution for love is certainly intriguing, though there’s very obvious consent issues there that I’ll be interested to see handled in the book.

7. Out of The Easy-Ruta Sepetys-Added In September

This is the last of Sepetys’ currently released books I have yet to read (I DNF’ed The Fountains of Silence as I couldn’t get into it). New Orleans in the 1950s is not a historical setting that I would say immediately screams me, but that’s kind of what I love about it? I love reading about time periods and places that I’m not so familiar, and I’m hoping that as with Sepetys’ other books, I’ll learn a lot about a less highlighted part of history.

8. Endgame-Malorie Blackman-Added In September

It’s the final Noughts and Crosses book! I started reading this series when I was eleven, so this ending is definitely going to be super bittersweet for me as it’s a series that has spanned fourteen years of my life. Though I didn’t love Crossfire as much as the previous books in the series, I’m definitely interested to see how Blackman ties everything up in this final book.

9. The Paris Library-Janet Skeslien Charles-Added In September

My friend Hannah read this book earlier in the year and said she really enjoyed it, so when Waterstones had a discount offer on, I decided to get this one. I’m really excited to read it, since as I said earlier in the post, I’ve been on a real adult WWII historical fiction kick recently. I also love finding out about aspects of WWII that I’ve not heard of before, and I’m not familiar with the history of the American Library in Paris, so I look forward to learning more about that and how the librarians were involved in the war. It also combines two settings I said I loved in my post last week, Paris and libraries!

10. As Good As Dead-Holly Jackson-Added In September

I’ve not actually read the second book in the series yet, so I really need to get on that, but if it’s anywhere near as good as the first book, I knew I’d be wanting the third book!

So there we go, the books I recently added to my bookshelf. Have you read any of these? Did you enjoy them? What books have you recently added to your bookshelf? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next week with another Top Ten Tuesday, this time it’s our annual Halloween freebie, never my favourite one of the year as I always find it hard to come up with topics. This time I’m going to go with Book Titles With Halloween Words In Them (think bones, ghosts, witches, monsters etc), which should hopefully be a fun one!

Top Ten Tuesday #337

Hi all! I hope you’ve had a good week since my last post, I had dinner with a friend on Wednesday night at one of our favourite Italian places in London which was lovely, I’ve not been there since before the pandemic so it was nice to go back.

Anyway, since it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Favourite Book Settings, and I’m sure these will be no surprise to a lot of you who have been reading this blog for a while and know what kinds of books I like to read, but here we go:

  1. Libraries

Naturally being a reader, I love any kind of book-related setting and I’ve read some really memorable books that are set in libraries, from the Great Library series by Rachel Caine (well the first two books at least) which are set in an alternate Great Library of Alexandria, to my current read Sorcery of Thorns, which involves a lot of magical libraries. There’s definitely something incredibly comforting and home-feeling about reading a book set somewhere with lots of books!

2. Boarding schools

I think this one is kind of a hangover from Harry Potter, and I’m less partial to school based stories now than when I was a kid, but there is still something I really love about boarding school settings. Boarding schools are usually these really big, old historical buildings (at least in books) and the idea of exploring that along with the characters is always a lot of fun. I definitely thought you were allowed much more freedom at boarding school through reading books when I was a kid than I later found out through being a day student at a boarding school (with boarder friends) was actually the case!

3. Circus/Carnival

There’s definitely something really magical about a circus setting, even if the book itself isn’t a fantasy, as the things that circus performers can do a really amazing. I also love the adventure surrounding these kinds of settings, as obviously they move around a lot, so you’re never in one place for too long and as someone who loves travel that has always appealed. There’s always so much to discover at a circus/carnival setting too, between all the different stalls, and I always end up feeling massively hungry reading about all the treats described.

4. Castles/Palaces

Yes, I know these aren’t the same thing, but I like them for a lot of the same reasons so I grouped them together. Castles and palaces are both really beautiful buildings, that have lots of rooms to explore, which make them really great settings for books. They also tend to have libraries, which is obviously catnip for this bookworm! They also tend to be very old which I love, since as a lover of history and a history graduate, I love learning about the history of these kinds of buildings!

5. Creepy old houses

I may not be a big horror reader, but I still love a creepy old house as a setting as they tend to be super atmospheric, and again, have a lot of secret nooks and crannies to explore, which is a great for a reader who loves adventure like me. One of my favourite examples of this is the old schoolhouse in Frozen Charlotte, and Charlotte Says, which becomes basically a character in itself in the books.

6. Bookshops

This is kind of a no-brainer for a reader, and quite connected to the library one, but I also love books set in bookshops. Bookshops are some of my favourite places to go, so there’s something very comforting about reading books set in them. My most recent example of this was The Last Bookshop in London, which I just reviewed on Sunday, Primrose Hill Books sounded like such a cosy and lovely shop and the audiobook just made me wish it was a real bookshop I could visit so much (there apparently actually is a Primrose Hill Books in London, though it’s not old enough to be one of the bookshops that inspired this book).

7. Any kind of historical time period

Kind of vague I know, but I love books set in the past. I love learning more about parts of history that I didn’t know about before, and even with historical periods that I’m more familiar with, there’s always something knew to learn. Historical fiction is like a little window to the past, through a fictional story, as a history nerd and a reader, I love that!

8. Wintery Settings

Cue inner Lorelai Gilmore, “I smell snow!”. I love snow, it makes everything look so beautiful and wintery settings of course have that in abundance. In addition I think I’m just a very wintery person, I love all the aesthetics of winter, being wrapped in cosy clothes, drinking warm drinks by a fire etc so wintery settings are always perfect for me and I squeal whenever I find books with them.

9. Paris

Yes, yes, I know, it’s super cliche but I love Paris as a book setting. I think it’s a really beautiful city, and there’s so much to do and see and explore, so I think it makes a great setting for a book (and is one of the settings in one of my WIPs, so totally not biased here at all!).

10. London

Again, probably quite cliche, but I love books that are set in London, as it’s a city I’m very familiar with, so I love seeing characters exploring places that I know or have been to many times, it’s a lot of fun reading a book and seeing a character in a setting that you’ve actually been to a lot in real life. It also works quite well the other way around as reading books set in London gives me places to explore when I visit (for instance, I ended up going to Seven Dials because it’s a setting in the Bone Season books!).

So there we go, those are some of my favourite book settings! Do we share any? Have you read any great books with these kinds of settings? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next Tuesday, the topic this time is meant to be Online Book Resources, but I honestly can’t think of many for that, so I’m going to be returning to a fairly simple one and talking about the Most Recent Additions To My Bookshelf, I did it last year, but it’s a good topic to come back to when you’re stuck for ideas as I’m always guaranteed to be able to come up with ten new ones!

The Last Bookshop In London Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Last Bookshop In London

Author: Madeline Martin

Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld

BECHDEL TEST: Pass-Grace and Viv talk about their war work.

Content Warnings: War, bombing depictions, death, grief, mentions of loss of a parent, loss of a child, misogyny, blood, discovery of bodies (not graphic), mentions of the Nazis

It’s very rare since becoming a blogger that I come across books that I’ve not heard much about before, but that’s exactly what happened with this one. I saw it on someone’s Top Ten Tuesday list a few months back, and it sounded right up my alley (bookshops, historical fiction, all very Jo) and it turned out the narrator who did The Rose Code & The Alice Network also narrated this one so I jumped on the chance to read it. It was a really lovely surprise, a very heart-warming story about the resilience of the human spirit, and in a change of speed for me, focused on the home front during the Blitz. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Inspired by the true World War II history of the few bookshops to survive the Blitz, ‘THE LAST BOOKSHOP IN LONDON’ is a timeless story of wartime loss, love and the enduring power of literature.

August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.

Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed – a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.

As I said at the top of the review, one of the reasons I was so excited to read this one was because of the narrator. I’ve mentioned before when reviewing The Rose Code and The Alice Network that Saskia Maarleveld is a wonderful narrator, and naturally the same is true here, she is such an impressive performer and really brings life into every book she reads, every character is so easily differentiated, her accents are on point and she kept me so engaged throughout. I know I’m going to be constantly looking for more audiobooks read by her because she’s one of my favourite narrators now!

It was nice to read a WWII book focused around ordinary people just doing what they could to get through. I love reading WWII books about spies and pilots and soldiers, don’t get me wrong, but the contributions of people not directly fighting on the frontlines in the wars were just as important, and it was nice seeing people just trying to muddle through as best they could. Also for all the fiction I’ve read on WWII, I think this was the first one I’ve ever read set during the Blitz, most WWII fiction I’ve read tends to focus more on the latter years of the war, so it was nice to see that different focus here.

I really liked the main character Grace, she was smart and brave, and so caring about the people in her community, so I found it really easy to root for her. I loved that her name was an obvious nod to Pride and Prejudice as well, that was a nice touch for a book all about books. Honestly, I actually realised after reading that she reminded me a lot of Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief, obviously Grace is quite a bit older than Liesel, but they have a lot of similarities: they both discover a love for reading after initially being non-readers, they’re both orphans and develop a surrogate father-daughter type relationship with an older male figure in their life, they both use their love of books to help their community during bombing raids (the scene with Grace reading in the train station reminded me of a very similar moment from The Book Thief) and Liesel is one of my favourite fictional characters, so I think those similarities definitely endeared Grace to me even more.

I loved that this book showed a younger protagonist with strong friendships with older characters, it’s something I’ve definitely noticed seeing more in books I’ve read in the last couple of years, which is nice, especially as older characters tend not to be seen as much in fiction. Grace’s relationship with Mr Bennett in particular was really endearing, I loved seeing him go from not really wanting her around, and then slowly through the book, seeing them develop this father-daughter type of bond. I also really loved her relationship with Mrs Weatherford, it was lovely how much the two cared for each other, and how the helped each other with their grief over their respective losses.

Community was such an important part of this book, and I really loved that, seeing everyone coming together and helping out after bombings, picking up the pieces after their neighbours had suffered tragedies, that sense of collective spirit was really lovely to read about.

Primrose Hill Books sounded like such a charming shop, I wish it was a real place that I could visit, because I could definitely see myself getting lost in there. I didn’t realise until I was writing up my notes for this review and came across an interview with Madeline Martin that she’d based the story on the real life bombing of Paternoster Row, which was at the time the centre for publishing in London (I clearly only skimmed the synopsis for the book!). I didn’t realise that bookshops in London were so badly affected by the bombings in the Blitz, apparently an estimated 5 million books were destroyed in the bombing Martin describes in the book. One of the things I love about WWII fiction, is despite the fact that it does seem like the market is overloaded by it at times, I always come out of every book learning something about some event in the war that I’d never heard of before.

I loved seeing Grace fall in love with reading, it was great to see someone of a similar age to me (Grace is around 23), who hasn’t been a reader their whole life, learning to love books, it just goes to show that you can find reading at any age, you don’t have to be a child to fall in love with books. I also really liked that Martin did it through her finding a particular book that caught her attention, and made her want to read more, because I think that’s something every reader can relate to, no matter when you found books. This whole story was a real love letter to books and reading, and of course, I loved that.

I even, surprisingly for me, liked Grace and George’s romance. It’s fairly low key and doesn’t take up much page time, but to be honest, that’s probably why I liked it! They were very sweet together and I loved seeing them bond over books, but it didn’t overpower the main narrative.

Martin’s writing style is simple, but effective. I liked that it wasn’t overly descriptive, but still really managed to capture the emotions of the characters and the tragedies they faced. For all the heart-warming moments in this book, and there are many, it is still a war and there’s obviously a lot of incredibly emotional moments, and Martin’s writing with Maarleveld’s narration conveyed these in a soul-crushing way.

It was a very quick read, clocking in at just over eight hours, and I never felt bored. One of the downsides of this though, was that some of the characters and their relationships did lack depth. Viv is probably the most prime example of this, she’s basically just Grace’s “wild” best friend (“wild” here meaning wears red lipstick) and doesn’t really get much development in her own right. I really wish we’d got to see more of their friendship, as Viv disappears fairly early on to contribute to the war effort. This is one of very few books I actually do think could have benefitted with being slightly longer, as the last few chapters, plus the epilogue felt a little rushed, and whilst I appreciate it was mainly focusing on a small section of the war, I think if it had been slightly longer, some of the characters might have had a bit more time to breathe and develop.

There is a cat in this book. Just so you all know in advance, THE CAT IS FINE. THE CAT SURVIVES.

Mrs Nesbit, the rather nasty rival bookshop owner who comes to blows with Grace, really got on my nerves for a lot of the book, I would not have been as nice to her as Grace was. It was good to see her coming around by the end of the book though.

I will say that this falls into the same trap as a lot of historical fiction, in that the cast of characters are very white and heteronormative. I’m not taking the it’s historical fiction excuse anymore, the past was way more diverse than we give it credit for, especially in big cities like London, so there was no reason for Martin’s book to be filled with just white, straight people.

I did feel that the ending was a little too sickly sweet and neatly wrapped up for me. Though the whole book is definitely going for a cosier feel than most WWII fiction, it definitely felt very, let’s tie a neat bow on everything and that’s just not my preferred kind of ending. It’s a very personal preference thing though, and I’m sure a lot of readers, especially romance readers, will like it.

Overall, this was a really lovely little book, and I’m so glad I came across it on someone’s blog because I’m not sure I would have found it on my own! Madeline Martin’s next WWII book is about American library spies and I’m so excited for it now, I can definitely see myself reading her historical fiction for years to come!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my final August audiobook, Sky Breaker, the sequel to Night Spinner, by Addie Thorley. I’m really getting up there with my backlog now, only four more reviews to go!

The Song of Achilles Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Song of Achilles

Author: Madeline Miller

Narrator: Frazer Douglas

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-By construct, this book fails as it has a male narrator and he is present for pretty much all the conversations.

Content Warnings: War, death, violence, misogyny, abduction, abandonment, blood depictions, child abuse, human sacrifice, human trafficking, murder, plague (mentioned, graphic), rape, self-harm, slavery, torture

After reading Madeline Miller’s most recent release, Circe, last year and loving it, I wanted to try Miller’s debut novel as I’d heard so much praise for it. Unfortunately The Song of Achilles didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. Whilst I loved her writing just like Circe, I found Achilles and Patroclus quite underdeveloped as characters, the pacing was incredibly slow and I had a lot of issues with the way the narrative dealt with female characters, quite a surprise to me as she did so well with Circe. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, “best of all the Greeks,” is everything Patroclus is not—strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess—and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative connection gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper—despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

So I’ll start with the thing that bothered me most in this book, and as usual, we’re back with old friend, PACING. I know, I come back to this one time and time again, but it really is so crucial in my enjoyment of a book and it makes such a difference when it’s done right. The Song of Achilles manages to be both incredibly slow paced, and yet also go too fast at the same time, which I know sounds confusing but I’ll explain what I mean! It takes ages to get into the action, the actual Trojan War part so in that respect, the book moves along quite slowly. However, there are a lot of skips forward in time, both at the beginning of the book, and during the Trojan War, and these parts felt like they were too fast paced, as it made it hard for me to keep track of where I was in the narrative. Both of these pacing problems together, led to the story feeling somewhat disjointed and uneven. Either the book needed to be longer and the Trojan War parts more fleshed out, or the initial part of Achilles and Patroclus growing up needed to be trimmed, preferably both!

And then we have the narrator, always crucial with an audiobook. For me, Frazer Douglas’ narration was one of my big problems with this book, as I found his reading kind of flat and monotone, which isn’t really great for keeping a reader hooked into the story. His voices for the women in the book were also terrible, and that kind of took me out of the story.

On the upside, as with Circe, Madeline Miller’s writing was lovely, it had such a nice flow to it and so many really gorgeous lines.

Both Achilles and Patroclus felt underdeveloped to me, they both seemed to inhabit the same character archetypes throughout the book: Achilles, the great warrior and Patroclus, the weak, but kind and caring lover, and I didn’t feel like either showed much growth throughout the book. They both felt fairly flat to me, and that stopped me from really caring about either of them. Despite this, I did manage to feel quite invested in their relationship, as Miller’s writing was able to show their connection well, so that part of the book was well done. However, I think herein lies the problem: Miller was great at developing the connection between the two of them, and making the romance believable, but the pair are never really allowed to developed as individuals, so as a couple: great, can totally get behind them, but Achilles and Patroclus as individual people: stuck in their one-dimensional archetypes.

The intense focus on Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship also makes the story feel somewhat lacking in plot, as all the attention is focused on developing their relationship and less on important plot beats, like the war.

Patroclus also seemed to do a massive 180 at the end and suddenly become an impressive warrior, largely because the plot required it, which didn’t really fit with how Miller had established his character up to that point.

Also, having said that I liked Patroclus and Achilles’ romance (and I did!), I did find it a little cringey Patroclus mooning over Achilles’ great beauty all the time!

Completely unrelated, but Agamemnon was categorically THE WORST in this book.

Then we come to my other big problem of the book: the treatment of the women. The women in this book definitely get the short end of the stick, being raped, abandoned, sacrificed, I could go on. Whilst yes, this is accurate to women in Greek mythology, this is a retelling! We can do things differently here. I mean she has Patroclus rescue the slave girls but we can’t lose the rape scenes? REALLY? I mean Briseis gets a much better deal than in the myths, but that’s not saying much. I also felt terrible for poor Deidamia, who is basically used as a pawn by Thetis, gets pregnant and is shipped off and abandoned by her family.

I would also have liked the female characters to have more depth. Briseis was a really interesting character, but all we really get of her is that she’s Patroclus’ friend, nothing more. Helen of Troy gets merely a passing mention, and she’s pretty darn important in the whole war thing (even though yes, the Trojan war was more about land grabbing than love). I know this is Achilles’ and Patroclus’ story but I was a little disappointed that Miller didn’t give the female characters (few though they were) more depth as I know how well she did this in Circe.

Speaking of the rape scenes, Deidamia forcing Patroclus to have sex with her, was NOT IT and totally unnecessary for the story. The same thing happens with Achilles, he’s also forced into having sex with her, and it’s not acknowledged at all how wrong that is.

For a retelling, I was kind of disappointed that Miller told the story very straight, in Circe, she interweaves a lot of other Greek myths into the narrative and really plays with her story, but this felt like a very straight rehash of the events of the Trojan War and I would have liked it if she’d been a bit more creative with the story.

One of the most important moments of the book, where Patroclus dies (it’s a thousands of years old myth, so I don’t consider this a spoiler, you know from pretty early on in the book that both Achilles and Patroclus will die), felt so glossed over, it was covered in a matter of a few sentences, which took away from what is meant to be an incredibly emotional moment in the book.

I also found it really weird that the story carried on, after that moment? I mean when your narrator is dead, the story is over! It made the actual ending feel super anti-climactic because it felt like Patroclus’ death was a more natural end-point.

For me, this book definitely suffered from hype, I think my expectations were just too high, especially after loving Circe so much. Generally I find that the debut book is never an author’s best work, and I think Miller improved a lot between this and Circe. This wasn’t a bad book, despite my complaints, there were quite a few things I liked about it, but the poor pacing, flat characters and the way the female characters were treated really did take away my enjoyment of an otherwise fairly solid book.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my second August audiobook read, The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin (yes, pure coincidence that I read two books by authors named Madeline back to back!). I’m down to five reviews in my backlog now, and ideally I’d like to try and have it cleared by the end of this month, but we’ll see how things go!

Top Ten Tuesday #336

Hi all! I hope you’ve had a good week since my last post. My interview on Friday seemed to go well, so I’m just waiting to hear about the outcome of that now!

Anyway, as it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Bookish Pet Peeves, and as I did a topic revolving around my content pet peeves a few years ago, I’m taking a different tactic this time and talking about my Reader Frustrations (basically the same thing, but a different name!):

  1. When people try and read over my shoulder

To be honest this is a general pet peeve of mine, even outside of reading but it especially annoys me when I’m trying to read. I want to concentrate on my book, not the person behind me and I find it really distracting when someone’s trying to read over my shoulder. If you want to know what my book is about, ask! Don’t hover behind me!

2. When people try and talk to me whilst reading

Okay, having said people should ask me what I’m reading rather than trying to read over my shoulder, I don’t really like it when anyone talks to me when I’m clearly reading! If I wanted to be chatting to you, I’d be talking. I really don’t like any kind of interruption when I’m trying to read, it breaks my flow, so I’d rather everyone around me just leave me alone when I have a book in my hands!

3. When book covers don’t match

AH THE BANE OF MY LIFE. THE MID-SERIES COVER CHANGE. Why do publishers do this to us? If you’re going to change the cover of a book that’s part of a series, at least wait till the series is over first! It spoils the look of the series on my shelf if half way through the cover (and therefore the spine) has changed and instead of a beautiful seamless transition from one book to the next, suddenly one sticks out as it obviously doesn’t have the same cover.

4. When my book series are in mismatching formats

This is kind of related to the one above, but I hate it when I find a series several years after the first book has come out, or after the movie adaptation has been made, and I end up getting the first or second book (occasionally both) in a different format to the rest of the series. This happened to me with the Bone Season series, where the first two books were only available in paperback and then the more recent releases have been released in hardcover. I wish publishers would stick with one format for the whole series, so that you were able to collect all the books in the same format no matter when you started (without having to wait a year for the paperback release) or didn’t take the hardback out of print so quickly!

5. Stickers on books, either the peel off or the printed on kind

I think all readers can agree on this one, stickers are the bane of our reading existence. The peel off ones always leave gross sticky residue no matter how carefully you peel them off, which ruins the look of the book. The printed on kind also spoil the aesthetic of the cover, and potentially cover up details of the cover as well. Basically no more stickers guys! WE HATE THEM.

6. When the hardcover is published first and you have to wait a year for the paperback

Whilst I’m sure we can all agree that hardcovers are very pretty, they are a little unwieldy and not massively convenient for reading on the move. I generally prefer reading paperbacks, but I have a lot of hardcovers because a lot of books these days seem to have the hardcover published first and I don’t want to wait a year to get the books I want. I wish paperbacks were either published at the same time so we had an option of which format we’d rather have (though I appreciate that would probably be very expensive) or at least that the gap between the hardcover and paperback release wasn’t so long!

7. Movie tie in covers-they’re just ugly and lead to mismatched series

Does anyone actually like movie tie in covers? I can’t think of any that I’ve really liked. In general, I don’t think movie posters make good book covers, and would be perfectly happy if movie posters just remained on buses or tube adverts, and didn’t make their way onto book covers.

8. That will I never have enough space for all my books

I’m sure this is a frustration for all readers, that we will never be able to fit all our books onto the shelf space that we have. My solution to this is generally doing an unhaul every so often, but I wish I had enough space to be able to keep all my books in one place!

9. That hardcovers are so expensive

I know I said before that I prefer paperbacks for ease of reading, and this is true, but there’s also the cost consideration of hardcovers. Hardcover books can cost anything from £15-£25 and that’s a lot of money! I appreciate that in the UK, books aren’t as expensive as in some other countries, but I wish that hardcovers were a little cheaper, especially as hardcovers generally get published first, if the book is going to be published in hardcover.

10. That book series don’t come with recaps in their sequels, so I’m just expected to either reread or remember what happened!

Publishers, Authors, I am begging you! PLEASE PUT RECAPS IN SEQUEL BOOKS. We readers read a lot of books every year, and it can be anything from a year to as much as three or four between sequels publication, depending on the author, so it would really, really, really, help us out if you included a little, this is what happened in the series so far…… page in the front of all your sequel books. If TV shows can do it for weekly TV episodes, you can definitely do it for yearly or more published sequels!

So there we go, my biggest reader frustrations! Do we share any? Any frustrations you have as a reader that I didn’t mention here? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next Tuesday, and the topic this time is Favourite Book Settings. I’m going to go fairly general on this one and talk about the kinds of settings I like, rather than specific places from books, as I’ve definitely done quite a few topics talking about specific places from books I like before.

The Alice Network Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Alice Network

Author: Kate Quinn

Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Multiple conversations between different female characters about subjects that aren’t to do with men.

Content Warnings: War, at home abortion (pre abortion being made legal), mentions of suicide, PTSD, grief, torture, physical mutilation, blood/gore, child death, gun violence, vomiting, misogyny, pregnancy, sexual assault, hospitalisation, mentions of surgery, imprisonment, stalking, mentions of Nazis and anti-semitism, alcoholism

After reading The Rose Code back in the Spring and really enjoying it, I was recommended The Alice Network by Brittany in the Goodreads Book Club that I’m in, and as spies are always something I’m interested in, particularly female spies, I was naturally excited to try it. I ended up really enjoying it and I can’t wait for Kate Quinn’s new book The Diamond Eye to come out next year. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, code name Alice, the “queen of spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads. 

As with The Rose Code, The Alice Network is narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, and she was absolutely brilliant! She’s such an engaging narrator, and she does all the different character accents so well and switches between them effortlessly. She really brings the story to life so vividly and I’ve definitely been on the look out for as many audiobooks narrated by her as I can find since reading The Rose Code!

In terms of the characters, I really loved Eve. Her story in 1915 was hands down my favourite part of the book. Eve is so funny, and brave and smart and determined, and even in 1947 when she’s been through so much and is traumatised from her experiences, has this wonderful spark that you can’t help but love her and root for her. I loved that her stammer was portrayed as a strength in her spy work rather than a weakness, and in the present day parts of the book, it was so wonderful to see an older woman in a starring role. Yes, she’s a little abrasive and rough around the edges in 1947, but to be honest, that made me love her even more!

Her mentor and boss, Lili was also a highlight of the book. Lili, a fictionalised version of the real life leader of The Alice Network, Louise De Bettignies, was so brilliant, she was so smart and sneaky and funny and just such a larger than life personality, it was impossible not to fall in love with her and her penchant for as she called it “silly hats”. I definitely came out of The Alice Network wanting to learn more about Louise de Bettignies!

On the other hand, the other main character, Charlie, I didn’t love quite as much, at least in the beginning. She was very naive, a little annoying, her dialogue felt extremely cringey and she definitely read as younger than her age of 19. However, she definitely grew a lot over the course of the book, and in the end I liked her a lot more. Her chapters were weaker than Eve’s though, especially in the beginning, they got much better towards the end when the 1947 storyline started to tie in more with the 1915 one.

Though I did have issues with the dual timeline in The Rose Code as well (actually very similar to this book, I found the past timeline more engaging than the present), I felt the two tied together very nicely. In this book however, the 1915 and 1947 storylines felt like two different stories for much of the book, they only really converged in the latter half of the book, which made it feel quite disjointed a lot of the time. One of the things I did appreciate though, was that even though we know a bit of what happened to Eve already since we first meet her in 1947, the past events still felt really suspenseful and I was still worried when things happened to her even though I knew she was going to survive and that’s definitely a testament to Quinn’s writing.

I learned so much I didn’t know before whilst reading this book, which is always a mark of a good historical fiction to me, though I studied History at Uni, there is always so much more to learn and I love it when historical fiction books teach me something new! I learned about The Alice Network, Louise De Bettignies, WWI spycraft, and the Oradour-Sur-Glane Massacre which is something I couldn’t believe wasn’t covered when we did WWII in school. Quinn clearly did her research with this book which is something I always appreciate. One quibble I did have though, and this is fairly minor, was that at one point in the book, she describes Eve hearing Belgian at the port in Folkestone, Belgian is not a language! Belgian people generally speak Dutch, French, or German and this would have been super easy to Google!

As with The Rose Code, Quinn does a super good job of handling her characters’ PTSD, particularly Eve’s and she also does a really great job at dealing with character grief, both Eve and Charlie’s pain over losing respective loved ones felt incredibly real and raw.

I really enjoyed Quinn’s writing style, aside from the occasionally cringey dialogue, she has such a vivid style and she’s particularly good at depicting the emotions of characters and scenes, I felt the emotion in the book really leapt off the page. The Oradour Sur-Glane massacre and the scene where we find out what happened to Eve in WWI that left her both physically and mentally scarred were some of the toughest to read in the whole book because Quinn paints the fear and horror and desperation in those scenes so incredibly vividly. The scene where we find out what happened to Eve in WWI that left her hands mutilated, I actually almost had to stop listening at several points in that chapter because it was so horrifying, so be warned!

Like The Rose Code, The Alice Network is also heavily focused on female friendships and I really loved that. I thought the camaraderie between Lili, Violette and Eve (the fleur du mal) in 1915 was so well done, and made it all the more heart-breaking when you see what Eve and Violette’s relationship has come to in the present day. I also really loved seeing the development of Charlie and Eve’s relationship from animosity (largely on Eve’s end) to grudging acceptance, to genuine friendship, it was really beautiful to see these two women who had both suffered trauma for different reasons, find comfort and friendship in each other and really help each other to grow. Seeing a friendship between a younger woman and a middle aged one was also really lovely as that’s not something that you often get to see.

It was perhaps a little overlong, and the pacing a little uneven, particularly in the beginning. I reckon some of Charlie’s chapters could have been trimmed a little, as a lot of them acted like filler. It didn’t help that the mystery of what happened to Rose, at least initially, is nowhere near as interesting as Eve’s spy work (any kind of mystery will struggle to compete with spying, to be honest!).

As in The Rose Code, Quinn doesn’t shy away from discussing the issues that both Eve and Charlie face living in times where women had far less rights than we do now. The fact that Charlie couldn’t access her own money without her father or husband’s permission, whilst I knew that was something that happened (and was still a law till as recently as the 1970s) made me feel just as indignant as she was! I also really loved seeing Eve taking Charlie and under her wing and teaching her techniques that she learned as a spy to move through a male dominated world as a woman, and use her gender to her advantage.

There was also the way she handled both Charlie and Eve’s unintended pregnancies. Whilst yes, this parallel was a tad cliche, I loved how Quinn handled their respective choices, when both lived in a time where they had limited options (Eve even moreso than Charlie, as Charlie at least had family with the money to send her to a legal abortion clinic). They make different choices, Eve choose to abort her baby and undergoes a makeshift surgical abortion with the help of Violette, a former nurse, whilst Charlie chooses to keep hers. Both choices are portrayed as valid, and the narrative doesn’t judge either woman for their choice, which I massively appreciated! I also just appreciated that Quinn included abortion in general, as it’s still a topic that I don’t see touched on much in books, though this has been improving in recent years.

Speaking of this, though obviously both Eve and Charlie face misogyny, I really appreciated that the main male characters in this, Captain Cameron in 1915, and Finn Kilgore in 1947, both really respected the women in their lives. I also appreciated that though Eve and Charlie are obviously the main characters of the story, the narrative doesn’t make all the men around them seem completely flat and one-dimensional (which can often be a problem), like Eve and Charlie, Finn and Cameron are both complex and three-dimensional characters in their own right, since just as I don’t want women to be underdeveloped in stories that centre men, I also don’t want men to be underdeveloped in stories that centre women.

The little details of being a spy, how they passed messages wrapped around hairpins or drew secret maps on the petticoats of their skirts, and the way they distracted border guards by frustrating them by emptying out the contents of their bags and taking ages to look through them, so they got so annoyed they sent them through without checking their papers, and the way Lili so effortlessly slipped in and out of different identities, were definitely a highlight of the book for me.

Rene, the main villain of the book, was truly despicable, and there’s a scene where Eve confronts him in 1947, over 30 years since the pair last saw each other, was incredibly powerful and one of my favourites of the entire book.

The disability rep with Eve felt well done, she has a stammer and a physical disability (she can’t use her hands properly due to injuries sustained in WWI) and she’s not presented as any less capable than any of the non-disabled characters in the book. However, the world in The Alice Network is still largely a white and heteronormative one, and again, it being historical fiction is no excuse for that.

The main romance was incredibly predictable, I knew from their first scene together that something would happen between Finn and Charlie. It wasn’t a problem as such, they were a sweet couple, but I didn’t think it was entirely necessary to the story, and I was more invested in other aspects of the plot than their romance. However, I did appreciate that the romance was very much background and the main narrative events were given more importance.

The ending did feel rather neatly wrapped up, and a little convenient after everything that happened in the book, but I didn’t begrudge Eve and Charlie a happy ending after everything that had happened to both of them.

Overall I really enjoyed this book! Whilst it did have its pacing issues, and the past storyline was much stronger than the present, the characters were brilliant, the female friendships were amazing and it definitely packed an emotional punch, plus the narration was so brilliantly done! I’m so excited for Quinn’s next book, The Diamond Eye to come out in March!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of one of my August audiobooks, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Once again, thank you for bearing with me whilst I catch up with these reviews, I’m using my days off to chip away with them, but I still have 6 more to go, and as I want to give you the detailed reviews you have come to expect from me, they do take a while to write up, so I really do appreciate your patience!

Top Ten Tuesday #335

Hi all! I hope you’ve all had a good week, since my last post, mine was mostly working, though I did enjoy getting back into two of my favourite London bookshops, Foyles and Waterstones Piccadilly when I was down there last week. I also got some really good news this week, I have an interview for a job on Friday, so I’m both excited and quite nervous about that.

Anyway, as it’s Tuesday (or at least it was when I was writing this!), I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week is a freebie so I decided to do a spin-off topic from one I did last year and talk about Taylor Swift Songs That Would Make Good Books. Taylor Swift’s songs are so narratively driven anyway, that I thought it would be something super fun to come up with what books based on her songs would be about. So here we go, Taylor Swift Songs I Think Would Make Good Books (it was so hard to narrow this down to 10):

  1. Mary’s Song

I feel like this is an obvious one because it’s a quintessential childhood friends to lovers romance story. I think this would start with Mary and her husband as they are at the end of the book, in their eighties, and then flashback to the beginning of their story and we could see them grow up together and slowly fall in love over the years. I even imagine that Mary’s husband would be a musician and part of the story would involve him actually writing a song for her.

2. The Lucky One

I like to think of this as a dual POV story, as the song refers to both Taylor and an unnamed “you”, a previous star who rejected fame for a simpler life. So I think the book would follow both timelines, one set in the sixties (as the main character in The Lucky One is referred to as a sixties queen) and one set in the modern day, with the young girl becoming intrigued with the mystery of what happened to the sixties starlet after she dropped out of public life and being determined to find her, all whilst struggling with her own rise to fame.

3. All Too Well

This one was a no brainer, the narrative is laid out right there in the song, so it basically does all the work for me. I think this would start at the end, so we’d see the woman post breakup, and then flashback to the beginning, so we could see them meeting and falling in love, the happier days of the relationship, and subsequently see how everything fell apart, bringing it back to the beginning. Though I know this would be a deviation from the narrative of the song, I’d love the story to end with the guy returning the red scarf to her, as a symbol of them both moving on.

4. champagne problems

Again, the narrative is so built into this song, I think it almost tells itself. This is another one where I feel the flashback device would work well (I know I’ve been using that a lot in this, but I feel like Taylor Swift’s songs just lend themselves quite well to it!), we’d start with the obviously devastated man in the train carriage, and then we’d go back in time to see what led to him being there: him meeting his almost fiance in college, the development of their romance, and finally we’d build to the moment that she rejects him. I’d also want this told entirely from his POV, which I know is strange because the song is from hers, but I think it makes more sense, because the beauty of the song is that he’s never going to know exactly why she rejected him, whereas if it was from her POV, you kind of lose that. But to be honest it could probably work from either perspective, you could start with her leaving and the flashbacks would work the same way. It could even be done as a dual POV, so you get both their views on the situation! This song has so many layers, a book based on it could be done in several different ways!

5. no body, no crime

Again the narrative is right there! This is your classic murder revenge book. Again, I feel like I’d be inclined to start near the end, with a group of friends working to cover up a murder. Then we’d use our trusty old flashback, to where it all started, Este (would probably change the name, but for illustration purposes I’ll use it here) and Taylor (again illustration purposes) discuss Este’s husband’s infidelity and plan to take their revenge. We’d then build through Este’s murder, and the rest of the book would be devoted to the women planning and eventually carrying out the murder of Este’s husband. We’d then come back to the initial scene with the women cleaning up the crime scene, with the book ending on the arrest of the husband’s mistress.

6. You Belong With Me

I actually did a fanfic about this years back, when I was still in my Glee phase, about Finn and Rachel, so I’d probably cheat and follow a very similar template! The story for the song is pretty well laid out in the music video and I followed that pretty closely for my Glee fanfic, so I think I’d do the same here, but just build more of a backstory in, so we’d start with the couple as kids, see them grow closer as neighbours and friends, and then when they’re teenagers, the girl realises her feelings for the boy, but he’s dating another girl. It would end much like the music video with the climactic scene where they both reveal to each other that they’ve been in love for years, and end up together.

7. Clean

This is actually also a cheat because I started writing a short story based on this song years ago whilst I was in the creative writing society at my Uni. This story would be the story of a woman recovering from being in an abusive relationship, the idea being that the story would centre around this woman as she’s packing up her ex’s belongings, and we’d flash back between the past and present, seeing her journey dealing with her trauma of getting out of this relationship in the present and in the past seeing what led the moment we find her in at the beginning of the book. I can so picture the last scene being her taking his belongings to be donated or something, and it starts to rain and she just stands there allowing the rain to wash over her.

8. mad woman

All of folklore could probably be on this list because they’re basically designed to be little stories within song, but I think mad woman was the one that I’d be most intrigued to see as a book because it could go so many different ways. The song talks about a woman who has been outcasted by her town and wants revenge on them, and I guess I’d want a book about it to explore the why? What did the town to do her to make her so angry? How did she get revenge on her town? I don’t have a specific idea for how I think the book would go, because I think it could go many different directions honestly!

9. Cornelia Street

Cornelia Street is quite an interesting song to think about as a book, because it’s less about events that happen and more about what she’s hoping won’t happen. This one would start as the song does, with the couple meeting in the bar, and returning to the apartment, and follow them through their relationship and the memories they make together.

10. Getaway Car

Okay I know this would be taking the song extremely literally, and that it’s not about actual criminals, but I think this would be super fun as a kind of Good Girls (the tv show) style story. It would revolve around a woman, bored in her marriage, who accidentally gets roped into a life of crime and runs away with a criminal, and the book would detail all of their criminal capers. Taking the title very literally, and not really using the contents of the song, but for me, this would be more fun! Also you can kind of tie the rebound relationship which Getaway Car actually talks about in here, because essentially she would be rebounding from her stagnant marriage into the life of crime, and eventually, as happens in the song, the relationship and her new life would burn itself out.

So there we go, those are 10 Taylor Swift Songs That I Think Would Make Good Books. Honestly you could use so many of her songs as the basis for stories though, the narratives of her lyrics is one of the reasons why I love her so much! Would you read any of these? What Taylor Swift songs do you think would make good books? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next Tuesday (and I have Tuesday off next week, so it WILL BE TUESDAY, I promise!), and the topic is Bookish Pet Peeves, I have done this topic before but it was content related, so this time I think I’m going to go for more Reader Pet Peeves, as I can definitely come up with a lot of those!

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) Review (Audiobook)


Book: The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)

Author: RF Kuang

Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Rin talks with the other girls about getting a chemical hysterectomy.

Content Warnings: Ableism, child abuse, physical and mental abuse, drug addiction, self-harm, body horror & gore, graphic violence, slavery, genocide, medical experimentation, animal cruelty/death, war crimes, rape, sexism, colourism, ethnic cleansing, self-sterilisation, trauma, racism, chemical warfare, bullying, discussion of suicide, human experimentation

I’d been seeing The Poppy War everywhere on Book Twitter over the past year, and back in June (because I am super behind on my reviews, sorry guys!) I finally decided to see what all the hype was about. I was a little apprehensive because I’d heard how violent the book was, but I’d heard nothing but praise about it so I thought it was worth the try. Unfortunately it really wasn’t for me, the violence felt incredibly gratuitous, the pacing was definitely off and the characters were underdeveloped. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s 20th century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

So as I mentioned at the top of the review, the violence in this book really bothered me. I’m usually fine with violent content in books, I read a lot of fantasy with big battles and death, but this was definitely on a whole different level of detail. There’s a description of a pregnant woman being torn in half, incredibly detailed descriptions of corpses, and one character describing her violent rape in detail, it was all too much for me and parts actually made me feel physically sick. It all felt very gratuitous as well, like it was just violent to that extreme to shock the reader, rather than serving any particular purpose. I get it, war is awful and violent, but you can get that across without being detailed to the extreme. Venka’s rape particularly bothered me, because the character is literally just brought back after chapters of absence, to describe in detail her brutal rape and then disappears again. That just didn’t sit right with me, rape is a super traumatic experience, and it felt like Venka was exploited for her trauma and then just faded into the background. I think part of this is because Rin feels very detached from all of it, the suffering doesn’t seem very personal so as a reader you feel disconnected from it all, it has no real impact. I also found that I got kind of bored of the war, because it lasted for so much of the book, and again, the battles lose their impact if they’re happening all the time.

I also wasn’t a massive fan of the narrator, which is a bit of an issue when you’re listening to an audiobook! I didn’t find her the most engaging reader, and her voices for the characters lacked differentiation which made the dialogue hard to follow because I was always a little confused about which character was speaking.

The book is split into three parts, and the first part seems incredibly disconnected from the second and third. The first part is your classic boarding school story, but then the second and third part were all war stuff. It gave me whiplash going from Part One to Part Two because they felt like entirely different books! It was also fairly slow paced and much longer than it needed to be. There were also random time skips in Part Two, Rin’s second and third year at Sinegard get skipped over super quickly so suddenly you’re three years ahead in time, but all of that happens within like two sentences.

I really hated the main character Rin, and whilst that’s not always an insurmountable obstacle, it doesn’t really help. She’s super stubborn, she’s massively insubordinate, she does whatever she wants whenever she wants without thinking about consequences & she always gets what she wants even when she shouldn’t. Also she’s bigged up as being massively good at strategy but she makes dumb decisions over and over again that harm the war effort, so it doesn’t seem like she’s actually all that good at it. She also reads much younger than she’s meant to be, she’s supposed to be 16 at the start and 19 towards the end, but I thought she read more as 14/15 all the way through. Everything also always seems massively easy for her, she passes top in the insanely hard test, gets into the top school in the country, is picked to be mentored by the teacher who never picks anyone, so the stakes always feel very low because you know that everything is always going to work out for her.

Rin’s motivations are also very murky which makes it hard to pin down why she does what she does, and hard to root for her, because you never really know what she wants. Like the fact that she goes to Sinegard in the first place, she doesn’t seem to have any real passion for the military, it’s more a means to an end for her, which makes it hard to understand why she’s killing herself to stay when she doesn’t seem to like it much, the only reason she wants to be there is because it’s free.

She’s also incredibly hypocritical, like she’s incredibly judgey of people who are dependent on opium, particularly Altan and then by the end of the book she’s perfectly happy taking tons of drugs herself?

Then we have the events at the end of the book, which I can’t really go into without being massively spoilery, but Rin takes an incredibly drastic action at the end of the book that is completely unforgivable and if I’d liked her from the start, then that end part of the book would have completely ruined it for me.

There was one particular bit that really bothered me: when Rin gets a chemical hysterectomy basically because she gets her first period and finds it inconvenient. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the feeling, I hate my period too, but it does seem like a wild overreaction. My issue with it isn’t that she doesn’t want kids, I actually really appreciated that representation as a person who doesn’t want kids myself. No my issue is that Rin isn’t given enough information to make an informed choice, the only options she is given are either destroy your uterus and therefore have no periods and not have to take time out of class for period pain, or just deal with your periods and everything that comes with that. There’s no indication that there’s any kind of option for managing period pain, which seems odd given that there’s a potion for leaving you infertile, it stands to reason that there should be something that reduces or eliminates period pain. She’s also not given any information about potential long term side effects of the hysterectomy, so she’s taking this potion with no idea what it might do to her body in the long term. I also felt like the story looks down on the other girls who haven’t decided to stop their periods because it implies that Rin is better than they are for making the opposite choice and I think the implication that women who have periods are inferior warriors and the only way that you can succeed is by stopping that part of yourself is quite a damaging message to send and felt like an attack on the other female characters. It also just felt like a very lazy way of dealing with periods, like the author wanted to include periods in her book, but didn’t want to have to deal with the consequences of them so just magicked the problem away.

I also didn’t love that Rin had no female friends. Don’t get me wrong, Kitay was a cinnamon roll who must be protected at all costs, and I did appreciate a platonic male/female friendship, but Rin seemed to view all other women as her competition and there was no camaraderie there, and I really hate when authors go down the route of having few women in a male dominated environment treating each other like the enemy. It may be realistic, but this is fiction! We can have our women in male dominated environments getting along! I also found it super unrealistic that Nezha and Rin go from being enemies to friends with very little explanation in the second half of the book.

Speaking of characters, they all seemed to be pretty underdeveloped. I think this is mostly down to the sheer number of characters, there are far too many for them to all be fully developed and it doesn’t help that the cast almost entirely changes in the second part. I think the book would have been better if it had had fewer but more developed characters and stuck with the same cast the whole way through. The one character I did quite like was Jiang, he’s the quirky mentor character, and he added a bit of levity to an otherwise dark book. I enjoyed his and Rin’s mentor/mentee relationship and was kind of sad it wasn’t utilised more.

I liked the Asian inspirations and the diverse cast of characters, but I did feel that the worldbuilding & magic system left something to be desired. The magic system is essentially using drugs to channel the world’s gods, and all of the scenes where Rin is using poppy were extremely confusing. I didn’t really understand the pantheon of gods and their history, and everything to do with the magic system felt extremely vague. The places in the book are hardly described and whilst I don’t visualise what I read, I do need a little more of a sense of place than Kuang gives us. The setting was also very confusing because at first it seemed very medievally but then it mentions 20th century technology and it pulls from 20th century events so it seems like a sort of mish-mash of time periods. There’s also a lot of modern Americanisms used that don’t seem to fit with the setting. I also didn’t really understand the politics with the warlords. Basically I found it all a bit confusing!

The Mugen, the villains are also incredibly underdeveloped, so it’s hard to tell exactly why they hate the Nikara so much.

Kuang’s writing is fine, but she definitely has a tendency of telling and not showing, you get a lot of montages, of training, of war etc, but the details are missing, which makes it feel like the entire book is just skimming the surface rather than going into any depth. This was her debut though, and I’m sure she’s improved a lot in her more recent releases. There’s a lot of infodumping, particularly when it comes to the explanations of the Poppy Wars.

I did appreciate that there was no romance in this book, that’s definitely something that there needs to be more of, the furthest Rin gets to romantic involvement with anyone is a crush. However, the guy she had a crush on, Altan, was incredibly abusive towards her and the book definitely romanticises him and blames his abusive behaviour on his trauma which is not okay. Dealing with trauma does not excuse you being abusive, ever.

In the end I was really disappointed with this book, I’d heard so much good stuff about it, but I found the characters underdeveloped, the worldbuilding somewhat lacking, and the incredibly gratuitous violence really bothered me. I don’t think that I will be coming back for the sequels, it just wasn’t for me.

My Rating: 2.5/5

My next review will be of my July audiobook read, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (I’m going to be slowly chipping away at these on my days off so hopefully I’ll be able to catch up fairly soon!).

Quarterly Rewind (June-September ’21 edition)

Hi everyone! It’s that time again, I swear these seem to come around faster and faster every time I do them, can’t believe that we only have one quarter left of this year. Aside from the weather (which has been awful), this summer has been really great for me! I’ve been at my job at the vaccine centre for about three months now, and it definitely seems as if it’s going to last through the end of the year, so that’s great. I’ve been seeing my friends, I’ve been riding fairly regularly, I’ve got to go back to the theatre which has been amazing, I’ve been back in London, I’m fully vaccinated and unlike last summer where it all felt a bit too good to be true, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that lockdown is a thing of the past.

Anyway, Wednesday was the Autumn Equinox, the first official day of Autumn (though really, I personally always count the beginning of the month when the seasons change as the start of the new season) and that means it’s time for another Quarterly Rewind, the feature where I wrap up each season on the blog and look forward to the next one. So today I will be wrapping up Summer and looking forward to Autumn. This post will cover 21st June-21st September:

Image from this Summer:

Again I’ve not been taking a lot of pictures this summer, I have been going out more, but I’ve also been working a lot, so there’s not been much to take pictures of! This one is from when we went to see Hairspray last month, I meant to take a picture in the theatre, but I totally forgot, so instead, I took one on the bus home so I at least had something to document my first trip to the theatre post-lockdown!

Favourite Quote From A Book You Read This Summer:

“It’s going somewhere without ever taking a train or ship, an unveiling of new incredible worlds. It’s living a life you weren’t born into and a chance to see everything coloured by someone else’s perspective. It’s learning without having to face the consequences of failures, and how best to succeed….I think that within all of us, there is a void, a gap waiting to be filled by something. For me, that something is books….and all their proffered experiences.” -The Last Bookshop In London, Madeline Martin

A bit of a lengthy one I know, but you kind of need the full quote to get the whole effect. This part of the book is where George (Grace’s romantic interest) explains to her why he loves reading so much, and it just really resonated with me as a reader, because it’s all true for me too.

This Summer In One Word:


Most Popular Review of Summer:

I am so behind on my reviews, the last ones I posted were in July and I’ve read a lot more books since then, I’m fully intending on trying to catch up on my days off, but it might take a while! Of the two reviews that I posted in this period, my review of The Unbound was the most popular, which makes sense as my VE Schwab reviews are always quite popular:

Top Two Books I’ve Read This Summer:

I’ve mostly been reading audiobooks this summer, and they’ve been a bit of a mixed bag, but there were two that I definitely enjoyed above the others:

  1. The Alice Network-Kate Quinn

After loving The Rose Code, I moved onto one of Kate Quinn’s backlist books, and I really loved it. Female spies have always been right up my alley and I loved learning about a part of WWI that I’d not really heard of before (and desperately want to read more about Louise De Bettignies now). Eve was fantastic, Charlie really grew on me and the story definitely packed an emotional punch!

2. The Last Bookshop In London-Madeline Martin

Apparently this year has been the year of WWII fiction for me, for some reason I’ve been massively in the mood for it! Slice of life WWII isn’t something you come across much, so it was nice to see a book which focused on everyday peoples’ experiences rather than spies, or pilots or soldiers. It was a really charming story and though obviously there were harsher aspects due to the war setting, it feels like a warm hug. Both of my favourites from this period were narrated by Saskia Maarleveld as well, who has fast become my favourite audiobook narrator!

Two Things I’m Looking Forward To This Autumn:

  1. Holiday with friends

I’m going on a long weekend spa break with my friends at the end of October and I’m so excited for it. We haven’t been on holiday together since before the pandemic, and I’ve never been to a spa before, so I am fully prepared to be pampered into oblivion.

2. Indecent Proposal musical

Apparently this is the year of 80s and 90s film to musical adaptations because we’re going to see yet another one in November, this time at the Southwark Playhouse. I’m super excited to go back there as I had such a great time at The Last Five Years last year, and it will be great to experience the theatre sans pandemic restrictions! I will need to actually watch the film before I go though, as I’ve not seen it.

TV Shows I’m Looking Forward To This Autumn:

Yes, Autumn is here and that means the start of all the great TV!

  1. The Great British Bake-Off

Agh Bake-Off how I’ve missed you. There’s nothing like watching a group of lovely people get incredibly stressed about cake and bread and biscuits to brighten up your Autumn evenings!

2. All Creatures Great and Small Season 2

One of my favourite shows of last year, All Creatures Great and Small is back, and I’m so happy because it’s basically like a warm hug in a TV show. I’m also happy that they’ve moved it to Thursday nights this year because now it doesn’t clash with Bake-Off!

3. Strictly Come Dancing

Strictly is back! That’s how you really know Autumn has started, when Strictly waltzes its way back onto our screens. I’m really excited for this year’s group as judging from the little that we saw in the launch show it seems like all the celebrities are on a fairly even playing field, so it should be pretty exciting.

4. Travels With My Father Season 5

The last series of Jack Whitehall’s travel series with his dad is now on Netflix and I’m looking forward to seeing what they got up to in their last series of adventures!

5. You Season 3

I have to admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Season 2, and I don’t remember much aside from the big reveals in the last episode, but the trailer for Season 3 looks really exciting, so I’ll probably still check it out.

Two New Obsessions This Summer:

I couldn’t think of three, so I just kept to two this time!

  1. Modern Love-I found this series on Amazon over the summer, and I love it, the amount of character development they are able to get into each thirty minute episode is amazing and I love that no two episodes are the same. It also had me addicted to looking up where the real people who wrote the essays that the episodes are based on are now!
  2. West End Understudies-Bit of a strange one, but I started following the @WestEndCovers account on Twitter and it’s super fun seeing all of the swings and understudies for West End shows getting well deserved praise and shout outs, some of my favourite theatre experiences have been performances where the understudy has been on, so I love that this account exists.

Five Most Popular Blog Posts This Summer:

We’ve got a mix of reviews and Top Ten Tuesday posts this time which is nice, my Top Ten Tuesday posts always get a lot of love, so it’s nice to see that people actually do see some of my other posts!

  1. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue Review

The resurgence of this review continues as it was my most popular review last time I did one of these roundups as well. I’m happy that my scheme to push VE Schwab books on all of my blog readers is potentially working!

2. Top Ten Tuesday #323

This Top Ten Tuesday was my take on Most Unique Books I’ve Ever Read, and I’m glad this one got a lot of love as it was a fun challenge to try and come up with ten books that I felt had an original concept, or twist or took old tropes and twisted them in a fun way.

3. Unsouled Review

Speaking of, this is the sequel to Unwind, one of the books featured in the post I talked about in No.2, so kind of related to that post! I’m always really surprised when I see this one crop up in this section because it’s a very old review, and it’s a sequel, not a first book in a series, which aren’t usually as popular for me.

4. Top Ten Tuesday #325

This one was my take on books I read in one sitting, which I twisted to be Books I Read In Less Than Two Weeks as that suited my slower reading pace better. It was nice to bond with my fellow slower readers on this one!

5. Top Ten Tuesday #326

This one was Books I’d Want With Me Whilst Stranded On A Desert Island, and though I’d rather be somewhere a bit colder, as I’m not a sun worshipper, I did enjoy thinking about the books that I’d want with me if I was going to be stranded somewhere for an extended period of time. In a surprise to no one, VE Schwab and Rick Riordan featured multiple times.

Four Posts I Enjoyed This Summer:

I’m awful at keeping track of these, but I did manage to find a few:

  1. Dvora Meyers did this great article for Business Insider about men’s gymnastics and why the dance elements that you see in women’s gymnastics aren’t seen in men’s gymnastics (yes, it’s sexism, it’s always sexism).

2. One of my favourite freelance journalists, Rose Stokes, did a really great piece on Britney Spears and the issue of reproductive control, which given the recent passing of the horrific Texas abortion law, is even more pertinent now, as controlling women’s bodies isn’t just restricting access to abortion, it’s also preventing women from getting pregnant if they want to by forcing them to use contraception, the two things are very much linked. Rose’s piece is as always passionate and thoughtful so definitely worth a read if you have a few minutes!

3. Stephanie Yeboah wrote this really beautiful piece about her worries over infertility and how a fertility test allowed her peace of mind.

4. Olivia Petter did this amazing article for The Times about her experience of being “stealthed” (removing a condom without consent during sex) and how it had helped other women realise that the same thing had happened to them. It was obviously horrible (but not surprising) to see that this was an experience so many women shared, and I think it shows how lacking so much of our sex education was at school: I don’t remember consent ever being talked about, and there certainly wasn’t any mention of stealthing, what it is or that it’s a form of sexual assault. The first I heard of stealthing was when I watched I May Destroy You, and that was only last year!

Five Shows I Enjoyed This Summer:

  1. Lucifer Season 6

I binged Lucifer Season 6 the weekend it came out and what a way to the end the series! I’m so glad they got their final victory lap and were able to say goodbye on their own terms.

2. Sex Education Season 3

Again I binged this last Friday and Saturday, and I swear this show gets better and better with each series! However I will admit to being emotionally destroyed by that ending, and could I demand Season 4 now?

3. Modern Love

I mentioned this in one of the sections above, but I really enjoyed watching this anthology romance series over the summer. It’s really hard to pick favourite stories, but I think mine were: from Season One, the second episode with the app developer Joshua and his missed chance with his first love Emma and from Season Two, the third episode where the two strangers meet on the train on their way home at the beginning of Covid and their chance to meet again is scuppered by the lockdown.

4. Heartland Season 14

It was heart-breaking of course (those who know, know, I won’t spoil for anyone) but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well they handled the big change this season and being such a long running show, I think it’s allowed them a bit of a refresh and a chance to tell some new stories, which I really enjoyed.

5. Ghosts Season 3

Ghosts remains one of my favourite comedy shows ever, it’s just so much fun and it’s so brilliantly written and acted, and ah just a joy to watch! Long may it continue!

Six Songs I’ve Listened To Way Too Often This Summer

  1. I Know Where I’ve Been-Hairspray

I’ve been listening to this one a lot since I saw Hairspray last month, it’s such a beautiful song and seeing it performed live is just something else (especially because Marisha Wallace is INCREDIBLE).

2. Summer In Ohio-The Last Five Years

I love The Last Five Years soundtrack and this one of the songs that comes up a lot on my shuffle, which is perfectly fine by me as it’s one of my favourite songs in the show.

3. august-Taylor Swift

It’s literally in the title of the song, I think you’re doing August wrong if you don’t listen to august a lot during it right?

4. tolerate it-Taylor Swift

This one’s been coming up on my shuffle quite a bit lately. One of the only downsides to Taylor Swift having released so much music in the past year, is that I’ve not managed to learn all the words to all the songs as quickly as I usually do, but never fear, I plan to rectify that.

5. Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You-The Last Five Years

Another Last Five Years song that comes up on my shuffle a lot.

6. long story short-Taylor Swift

An emerging new favourite from evermore. I always find my favourites change the more I listen to Taylor Swift albums and long story short has been creeping up on subsequent listens.

So there we go, that was my summer! Fairly busy, happily taking advantage of all the things we’re now allowed to do again but a lot colder and wetter than any of us would have liked! Autumn is my favourite season though, so let’s hope it brings good things! 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 #334

Hi all! A Top Ten Tuesday on a Wednesday? We haven’t had one of these in a while! I fully intended to have this post up for you yesterday, but I got back from London at around 10 last night and I wanted to catch-up on BakeOff before I went to bed, so it was just too late by the time I was finished to put this post together!

Anyway, never mind, even though it’s Wednesday, I’m still bringing you another Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week we’re talking Books on Our Autumn TBR. Now I’ve been doing horribly with all my TBRs this year, of my Summer TBR, I read two books. TWO. (I mean I did read other books over the summer, but I went very off piste!). Anyway, here’s hoping my Autumn TBR will mark me actually sticking to a TBR list at least a little this year:

  1. Sorcery Of Thorns-Margaret Rogerson

This was on my Summer TBR, and I had fully intended to finish it by now, but I’ve been reading it kind of intermittently because I’ve been tired from work and honestly just found I don’t have the energy for reading physical books! I am still enjoying it though, I’m just taking my time with it!

2. Little Fires Everywhere-Celeste Ng

My current audiobook read, and I’m surprised by how fast I’ve got through it! I read over four hours just yesterday. I’m liking the writing, but the plot doesn’t seem to have much focus. I think this is going to be one of the few books that actually worked better for me on screen, because I think they streamlined the plot more and the flashbacks definitely felt more naturally included.

3. The Fair Botanists-Sara Sheridan

My current Netgalley read, I’ve been kind of stalling out on, not because it’s a bad book (honestly I’m not far enough in to tell) because it’s just been difficult to squeeze in my Netgalley reads this year, on top of work and job applications and my regular non-arc reading! I’m hoping I get to dive into it more soon though because it sounds super interesting.

4. This Poison Heart-Kalynn Bayron

I loved Cinderella Is Dead, and I’ve read a few chapters of this and it seems interesting so far, but again, I’ve just been struggling with finding the time for e-books this year. I’m hoping I’ll get around to finishing it soon because it definitely sounds up my street (and I have so many other Netgalley books to get to!).

5. Ace of Spades-Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

My September Pick-It-For-Me book from the YA Addicted Book Club, that I’m 100% going to end up reading in October, but oh well! I’ve heard really good things about this book and I’m hoping that an exciting mystery might be just the thing to break my reading slump!

6. Little Thieves-Margaret Owen

Another one on my never seems to shrink Netgalley list! I’ll be honest, the awesome cover was the main draw for this one, but the story does sound cool too, a thief who steals the life and identity of the princess she works for and then gets cursed to turn into jewels due to her stealing? Sounds just weird enough to work! Apparently it’s a retelling of the Goose Girl and I love reading fairytale retellings based off less popular fairytales.

7. A Marvellous Light-Freya Marske

This was another one where the cover held 90% of the initial appeal because it is just so gorgeous and colourful. However the book also sounds right up my street, it’s about a secret magical society in Edwardian England and the main romance is between two men, so it ticks a lot of boxes, magic, history and gay representation in historical time periods (which there 100% should be more of!).

8. A Psalm of Storms and Silence-Roseanne A. Brown

I’ve been excitedly waiting for A Psalm of Storms and Silence ever since I read A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. ASOWAR was one of my favourite books last year, and I can’t wait to see how Malik and Karina’s story ends in this one.

9. The Nobleman’s Guide To Scandal and Shipwrecks-Mackenzi Lee

It feels like I’ve been waiting forever for this one because the release date has been moved back so many times, but it’s finally set to be published in November and I’m super excited! I can’t wait to see the Goblin all grown up, not to mention see how Monty and Felicity turn out as adults.

10. The Bear and The Nightingale-Katherine Ardern

I’ve heard so many people rave about this book, and this year I want to finally jump onto the bandwagon and see what all the fuss is about. It definitely feels like a more autumnal book to me though, so I wanted to wait till it got a bit darker and colder before I dived into it, which it probably will be by the time I finish Little Fires Everywhere as the seasons are definitely on the turn now!

So there we go, those are my planned Autumn TBR books! I will probably not get to all of them, given how my reading has been going this year, but I think I’d be happy if I finished half! How about you? What’s on your Autumn TBR this year? Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next Tuesday (actually on Tuesday this time I promise!), and this time the topic is a freebie. Inspired by one of the topics I did last year, Songs Titles That Would Make Great Books, I’ve decided to do a similar but more specific topic for the freebie, and do Taylor Swift Songs That Would Make Great Books. I loved coming up with little story ideas for each one in the previous topic I did, so I thought this would be a really fun extension to the last one (and because I limited myself to only two TS songs for that list and there are so many more I want to use!).