Jo Talks Books: Are Fantasy Books Getting Too Long?

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all doing well since I last did one of these, once again, I’ve struggled to come up with topics for these posts since lockdown so it’s taken till the end of the month for me to get it up. I’m hoping that coming up with ideas for these for the rest of the year will be easier but they just don’t seem to be coming as easily as they did last year.

Fantasy has always been a genre with “chunky” books, it’s not a new thing that a fantasy book could be upwards of 800-900 pages, especially for adult fantasy books which do tend to be longer than YA. However, I have been noticing over the last few years, that more and more books seem to be trending towards the longer side and far fewer “shorter” fantasy books can be found and I have to admit, it’s not a trend I love.

I can totally understand why fantasy as a genre tends towards the longer side than contemporary. There’s a lot of world building to get in there, when you’re having to explain an entirely new world to readers, it’s going to take a lot more pages than a book set in our world and as a fantasy reader (and a writer as well), I do appreciate the attention to detail that authors give their worlds and characters.

So why then, do I feel like fantasy books are getting too long? Is it me being a slower reader and getting frustrated by the time longer books now take me? I mean perhaps. But I do also feel like there has become this trend for fantasy books to be as long as authors can make them whether or not the story actually needs to be that long.

Often, a 600 odd page fantasy book will be a good 200-300 odd pages of set up and you’ll only really get the payoff in the last 200 odd pages. Time and time again, I find that the longer a fantasy book is, the more filler it tends to have before it actually gets to the good stuff. This tends to get worse the longer the book is, so if you have an 800 odd page book then you might have a good 300-400 pages before anything exciting really happens. It’s asking a lot of your readers to wade through that much buildup before actually getting to any of the real action of the book.

This is not always true of course, you can have longer fantasy books that are brilliantly paced: the final book in VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy, A Conjuring of Light, is over 600 pages and yet I flew through that book because she had the perfect balance of action and quieter moments and it never felt like I was wading through pages of filler to get to the good stuff, I was engaged from the beginning.

You can also have fantasy books that are on the shorter side (for me a short fantasy book is anything that’s under 500 pages) that feel much longer because the set up takes far too long: Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House is a prime example of that for me, it’s around 460 pages which is pretty average for a fantasy (and probably on the shorter side for an adult fantasy) but because the mystery takes so long unspool, it feels far longer than it is.

But by and large, longer fantasy books tend to follow the same pattern for me, and that is this: they always feel like they are a good 200 pages longer than they actually need to be. Sarah J Maas’ books are a really prime example of books that are long for the sake of being long rather than actually needing that space to tell the story. Take Queen of Shadows, which is probably the most egregious example of this: the protagonists in that story have two goals, which take them OVER 640 pages to complete. A good portion of that is taken up by irrelevant side plots which seem designed to just fill out the page count. Even Kingdom of Ash which can be more justified as having a longer page count as a final book in a series, definitely stretched plots over longer than they needed to be in order to pad out the book.

I had this same problem with the Daevabad trilogy this year. The Daevabad books, like many fantasy series, get longer with each instalment. However, in every single books, the build-up is stretched over far more chapters than it needed to be (in my opinion) and then the climax felt incredibly rushed because all of the exciting stuff happened at once.

I feel like there is a balance to be drawn with fantasy books to have them long enough to include all the complex world-building that needs to be there but also not so long that they feel dragged out. But there is something to be said about being able to include those details and still have a fast paced, exciting read. I know I’ve already talked about the Shades of Magic books in this post, but A Darker Shade of Magic is a brilliant example of a book that both does detailed world-building but isn’t a massive behemoth of a book, in fact, it’s less than 400 pages!

There’s this weird assumption that in fantasy, length means that a book is super detailed and has massively complicated world-building that needed 10 million pages to make sense. I mean for one thing, I would argue that if you need that much space just to explain your world to a reader then perhaps you’re making things more complicated than they need to be but also that I don’t think length has any implication on how detailed an author’s world-building is? Sure, Samantha Shannon’s Priory of The Orange Tree is both a mountain of a book and has super detailed world building. And yes, it did need to be a large book, she had four narrators and quite a large world to contend with.

But I’ve read other books with complex worlds and large casts of characters that aren’t anywhere near as long: take The Gilded Wolves as a recent example, it has five narrators (four main, Hypnos is only really the last chapter) and it has a relatively complicated world. Now I will say that I did think the world building could have been better explained and I did find it a little slow in places, but I never felt like Chokshi had dragged out the story, it definitely felt like she knew how long the story needed to be and even when things weren’t moving as fast as I’d have liked, it never felt like filler.

I do realise the incredible irony of me writing a super long post about how I think fantasy books are too long, especially when I have a tendency to be quite a rambling writer in the first place! But I think one of the benefits of coming from a journalism background is that we always have to tell a story in the most concise way possible, so if anything doesn’t serve the article, if any detail feels extraneous, it gets cut. I do feel like that’s something that can be missing from fantasy books nowadays, both adult and YA, in what sometimes seems to me at least the race to create the largest books possible. As a reader, I want to get to the good stuff. I don’t want to have to wade through 200 pages of set up before I get to it, ideally, I want to be hooked from the moment I open the book.

This was not intended to be a tirade against long books, I swear! I have loved many a book that’s been 600 pages or over, in fact some of my favourites are. If I’m going to commit to a book that long though, I want to know that the length is justified. I want to know that I’m going to feel excited and engaged all the way through. I don’t want to have to wade through 200 pages till I get to the good stuff. If your good stuff starts on page 200, then for the love of everything, just START THERE. I want to feel that every page in a book serves a purpose, that if it wasn’t there the story wouldn’t work. What this really long ramble comes down to is: I feel like in the trend toward longer and longer fantasy books has in some cases been a disservice towards storytelling because it feels from a reader perspective that length is more important than anything else.

What do you think? Are you a fan of longer books? Do you think there has been a trend towards fantasy books being too long? Let me know in the comments!

Surprise, surprise, I’m not sure what my next Jo Talks post will be about, I do have a list of ideas, but I’m going to wait and see what jumps out at me closer to the time! In the meantime, I will have my latest Top Ten Tuesday post up tomorrow.

Jo Talks Books: Am I More Critical Of Books Than I Was Before Becoming A Blogger?

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good month since I last did one of these, honestly I meant to get this up earlier, but I’ve been struggling to come up with discussion post ideas since the lockdown quite honestly.

Anyway, since it’s almost the end of July, I do finally have another discussion post for you and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve been blogging for over six years now, and it’s definitely made me more of a critical reader than I was before.

Before I blogged, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t a critical reader, but since I didn’t have Goodreads, and I wasn’t reading books to review them, I wasn’t really aware of if I was a harsh reader or not. I’d know when I read a book if I enjoyed it or not and I’d generally know why, but there were no concrete numbers on it and I never directly compared any of the books I read to others.

The only purpose of reading I had before I blogged was enjoyment. Now obviously, that’s still the main reason I read, but once you start blogging, you find that you read in a different way. When I read now, in the back of my mind, I’m always aware of the things I’m enjoying, the things that I don’t and anything that I might want to take note of in a review. This doesn’t take away from the enjoyment, but it does mean that I read slightly more critically than I did before, I notice more when things aren’t working for me when I’m reading and I’m able to be more specific about what does and doesn’t work for me in any particular book.

I’m also more aware of problematic tropes and the need for diversity in books than I was before I became a blogger. It wasn’t something I necessarily thought about before I started blogging, As a cis, straight, white, ablebodied woman, seeing myself in books was definitely something I took for granted, and I’m so grateful to have discovered more diverse books through blogging, as well as being more aware of problematic tropes to look out for whilst I’m reading.

I think part of seeing myself as more critical now than I did before also has to do with being able to compare how you view books to how other people do. Before I started blogging, I’d had friends who liked books before, in fact my best friend and I bonded over our shared love of books. But obviously we mostly talked about books we both liked (still do) and we have far more books in common than we do not. Once I started blogging, and met more people in the book community, I could compare how I rated books to other people which definitely made me feel like I was a more critical reader because I seemed to have far less 5 star reads than most of the other bloggers I followed!

It’s also something that I think comes with age, not just with being a blogger. Obviously I’m more aware of being critical of books because I put a number rating on them now, but I think when you’ve spent most of your life reading, you get a pretty good handle on what you like and what you don’t like. I’ve read so many books now that I think it’s natural that I’m a little more picky with my favourites because I know what I really love, I know how I feel when I read a book that I really love and if I don’t feel that way when I’m reading then no matter how technically good a book is, I won’t rate it 5 stars.

I also think I might be a bit more critical as a reader now because I’m a writer too? When I’m reading a book, I like to try and pick up on the choices that authors make, what I feel works for me and what doesn’t because I want to write the kind of books that I like to read. Understanding that is really helpful for me to improve my own writing, because I then have good examples to draw from when I’m thinking about what I want to achieve in terms of world building, dialogue, pacing etc.

There is also a strange perception in the blogging community that 3 stars (which is what I tend to rate books a lot) is a bad rating and that you disliked the book? I’ve never meant it that way, honestly, 3 stars can mean a massive range of things for me: sometimes it means I found the book just okay (I refer to these as “meh” books) and there wasn’t anything I particularly loved or hated about it, sometimes I enjoyed it but I didn’t love it as much as I loved a book I rated 4 stars. I might have enjoyed the story but not loved the characters, or enjoyed the characters but not been a massive fan of the plot. What it never means is that I absolutely hated the book and I feel like there is often an assumption that reviewers who rate a lot of books 3 stars are harsh because people think that 3 stars is a bad rating when it isn’t.

I also have more expectations for books now? Because I’ve heard more about them going into them, it’s very rare that I will go into a book completely blind with no idea what other people have thought about it. I know when a book has been hyped up by the community, and obviously my expectations are different. Sometimes I do miss going into a book having no idea what to expect, but having expectations doesn’t always mean that I am disappointed. Sometimes I go in having read mixed reviews of a book, and end up really loving it. But it’s natural that if you’re going into a book with certain expectations, you’re going to be more critical if that book doesn’t meet the expectations you had.

Overall, yeah, I do think that blogging has made me a more critical reader, or at least more aware that I am a critical reader. However, I don’t think that’s a bad thing or that it takes away from my enjoyment of books in anyway: for me, it means that I know what I like and what I don’t, what works for me and what doesn’t and because of that I tend to rate books 5 stars less often than other bloggers. That’s not to say that I think bloggers who often rate 5 stars are dishonest, or that I’m somehow a better reviewer because I tend towards more critical. Part of book blogging is find the reviewing style that works for you, and this is what happens to work for me. Much like writing books, there’s no one right way to read them!

What do you think? Has book blogging made you a more critical reader? Do you tend to rate lots of books 5 stars? Has blogging changed the way you read in any way? Let me know in the comments!

Once again, I’m not really sure what my next Jo Talks post will be about, planning anything ahead of time during this pandemic has not been my strong suit! In the meantime, I should have a Book Vs Movie post up later, as it’s the last day of July.

 

Jo Talks Books: What Makes A Satisfying Series Finale

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been doing well since my last post, things are finally starting to head back to somewhat normal here and though I have still been largely staying at home, it has been really nice to finally get to see my friends in person in the last couple of weeks, it really does make a difference.

Anyway, it’s almost the end of June, and for my discussion post this month I’m going to be talking about final books in a series and what makes for a satisfying one. This is your advance warning that there may be spoilers ahead for several series finales so if you don’t like spoilers you may want to stop reading now.

I specifically didn’t want to say “good” because I think you can have a book that is technically well written that doesn’t necessarily feel satisfying, or you can have a book that might be good but doesn’t necessarily work out the way you would like it to. Satisfaction is a very objective thing and what is satisfying for one reader might not be satisfying to another.

The most important thing for any satisfying end to a series is that the characters achieve their overarching goal. Any series of books usually has characters working towards a specific aim which they have been building towards throughout, so obviously the most important thing for a series finale to be satisfying is that the characters reach their goal. If Harry Potter had ended with Voldemort taking over, that wouldn’t have been a satisfying finale after seven books of build up would it? No. This doesn’t mean that there can’t be obstacles to getting there, after all you don’t want things to be too easy for the characters, but ultimately, as readers, we do want to see the characters we’ve invested our time in to fail.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that every story needs to have a happy ending to be satisfying though. It depends on the story, not every story fits a happy ending and sometimes a sad ending might be more satisfying because it works better for the book. For an example of one that went wrong, the ending of Allegiant fitted the story because it worked for Tris’ character but it wasn’t a satisfying ending because it was done in a way that felt really anti-climactic and the story as a whole was pretty dull.

In contrast, A Conjuring of Light, the final Shades of Magic book, doesn’t have exactly a sad or a happy ending, it’s more of a bittersweet ending but it works perfectly: the characters all end up where they are meant to be, but that sends them all in different directions and it feels just as sad saying goodbye as the reader as it does for the characters.

I read a lot of fantasy so one thing I’m kind of expecting in a series finale is character deaths. It sounds strange to say that a book needs to have characters die to be satisfying and it’s not necessarily true for all series finales: if I read a contemporary series (which are pretty rare) I probably wouldn’t be expecting anyone to die. However, when reading fantasy, it’s pretty common that there is some kind of war or battle or bad guy to defeat and if no one dies then it kind of feels like a cop out.

That being said, it’s no use being like “well I have to kill off a character, so I’ll just go with this side character that no one cares about”. Readers have to have an emotional connection, feel attached, otherwise the character death will mean nothing and you’ll be left thinking “Well why should I care”?”.

For instance, one of my major problems in Hero At The Fall, the final book in the Rebel of The Sands trilogy, is that though there are many character deaths, none of them really hits you. Even when it happened to a character I really liked, it’s presented in such a detached way that I didn’t really feel anything.

On the other hand, you have Mockingjay, where the two biggest deaths in that book are two people that Katniss really cares for (I’m sure you guys probably know who I’m talking about but I am trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible) and those deaths really hit because we KNOW why we should care for those characters and we do, so we feel the emotional impact.

This depends on the person that you’re asking but for me, closure is vital for a series finale to feel satisfying. That doesn’t mean that you have to close all the threads in your story, if you want to leave room for sequels then that’s fine, but I think it needs to feel closed in a way that people will feel satisfied if there was no more. One of my favourites for this is the final book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian. The book ends with the characters fulfilling their goals and Percy and Annabeth becoming a couple, and had Rick Riordan decided not to do the spinoff series, then it would have still ended in a pretty great place. I am definitely all for authors writing more series in the worlds they have created, but I do think that each series should feel like it has a self-contained arc that provides closure for the readers.

Personally, finishing a series and feeling like there are massive loose ends, even if I know there is a spin off coming is one of the most frustrating things for me as a reader. I do not want to feel like I’ve been left with more questions than answers when I’m done with a series. I’m not saying an author has to answer absolutely every question I have, but I don’t want to be left with anything major hanging open because if the author doesn’t come back to the world then I don’t want to feel like I have burning questions.

For example, The Blood of Olympus kind of annoyed me in this respect, because it didn’t feel like there was much closure for the characters at all in the end of that one and at that point, I didn’t know that the Apollo series was going to happen, so if that had been the last I’d seen of those characters, I wouldn’t have been very happy (and yes, I realise I’ve used two Rick Riordan books in one post, but hey, sometimes authors stick the landing and sometimes they don’t).

To be satisfying a series finale also needs to honour the characters’ development. Characters change over the course of a series and if a character is ending a series in the same place that they started, then they’ve not gone anywhere and the series doesn’t feel worth it. The final book in the Unwind Dystology does a really good job of this, both Connor and Lev change so much over the course of the series, and the decisions they make in the final book show just how much they have changed from the people they were in the first book. The Artemis Fowl series also does a really great job of this, Artemis’s character arc is one of the best things about that series and the way the series ends really shows off that.

Most importantly of all, the ending of a series has to feel EARNED and it has to fit with what has come before. There’s nothing I hate more than a deus ex machina in the final book of a series to get the characters to where they’re meant to be. When reading a series, you’ll probably have spent several years  with a group of characters (depending on the gaps between the books and if you read them as they are coming out or if you binge) so you want to feel like the characters have earned the ending they get.

You don’t want to feel like the author has written their way into a plot hole and has had to magic their way out of it (Libba Bray and The King of Crows, I’m looking at you), it needs to make sense with what has come before.

For instance, and I know a lot of people won’t agree with me on this, but I think the ending of Mockingjay works well, it fits with the book because it’s not totally a happy ever after (Katniss still has trauma to deal with) but Katniss finally gets to live her life in peace and the promise of a better future which doesn’t involve anyone she loves ever being hurt by the Games again.

So there we go, those are my thoughts on what makes a satisfying series finale. What do you think, what do you need to make the last book in a series satisfying? What are your favourite series finales? Let me know in the comments (please attach spoiler warnings if you are going to use specific examples)!

I don’t know what my Jo Talks post for next month will be, so I guess you’ll find out when I post it! In the meantime, my regular Top Ten Tuesday post will going up tomorrow as usual, so keep an eye out for that.

 

 

 

 

Jo Talks Books: WWII Historical Fiction Recommendations To Commemorate VE Day

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been doing well and are dealing with the current situation as best you can. I wasn’t actually intending on doing a discussion post so soon after my last one, but it’s the 75th anniversary of VE Day today, and I thought it would be nice to mark it by talking about some of my favourite books set during WWII. History is all about people’s stories, and one of the things I love most about historical fiction is how it can spark an interest in the stories of the real people who did incredible things, especially when they highlight stories of people who may not be as focused on in mainstream history. So here we go, these are some of my favourite WWII novels:

  1. The Book Thief-Markus Zusak

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I’m starting with an obvious one, but it’s one of my favourites. The Book Thief is such a beautiful and emotional story, and using Death as the narrator was definitely an unusual choice that pays off really well. I think one of the reasons I love this one so much is because it’s very different to a lot of WWII stories I’ve read, it doesn’t focus on people actually fighting the war, it’s about people just living through it and the smaller acts of resistance. Most of the fiction I’ve read set in Germany during the war usually focuses on concentration camps, and though of course they’re important stories to tell, it’s equally important to have stories about Germany in the war that aren’t based in concentration camps. If you’re looking for a quieter, more personal WWII story I would definitely recommend this one.

2. Cross My Heart by Carmen Reid:

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This is one of my favourite and most underrated WWII books. The Belgian Resistance is not something that really got covered at all when I was at school because we mainly focused on the UK and Germany so it was great to read something about WWII that I wasn’t all that familiar with. It’s quite amazing reading stories of real resistance fighters and seeing just how young they really were, and Nicole as a teenager fighting for the Belgian Resistance is by no means far fetched, there were real teenagers who fought, not just in the Belgian Resistance but in other occupied countries as well. Would definitely recommend this one if you’re looking for something a little different but still based during WWII.

3. Between Shades of Gray-Ruta Sepetys

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Again, another book that focuses on an aspect of WWII which wasn’t really covered in school. I did study Stalin as part of my Russian History module for my A Level History, but we obviously focused on Russia and didn’t really look much at the atrocities Stalin committed in the Baltic states. Lina’s story is really heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful and it opened my eyes to an area of history that I wasn’t massively familiar with.

4. Salt To The Sea-Ruta Sepetys

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Another lesser known part of WWII history that I learned about from a Ruta Sepetys novel: the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, which killed over 9,000 people, the largest death from a ship sinking in maritime history, more than the Titanic and yet we’ve never heard about it? Astonishing. Anyway, Sepetys’ tale follows four fictional teens as they attempt to survive the sinking, but they represent thousands of real people who were just trying to escape to a safer place and ended up dying because of it.

5. Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire & The Enigma Game-Elizabeth Wein

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I’m including Elizabeth Wein’s novels all together, as they all follow some of the same characters, in different periods of the war. They’re not sequels as such, more like companions. I would definitely recommend reading Code Name Verity first, it’s my favourite of the three. Code Name Verity follows Maddie, a pilot and “Verity” a spy in 1943, partially Verity’s story as she is interrogated by the Gestapo and partly Maddie’s story as she flies planes during the War. At it’s heart, it’s a story about friendship and it’s as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

Rose Under Fire is a very different story, it’s only really connected to Code Name Verity through Maddie and another character from Code Name Verity (saying who would be a spoiler!). It follows pilot Rose, as she ends up in Ravensbruck concentration camp, and it’s honestly one of the most emotional books I’ve ever read. I rarely cry when reading, I cried reading this one. The stories of the Rabbits in particular were incredibly touching and I’ve since looked up the real life counterparts, whose stories were just as heartbreaking and incredible.

The Enigma Game is Wein’s most recent release, in fact it doesn’t come out till next week, but I’m reading it at the moment. Taking place a few years before Code Name Verity, it follows Verity’s brother Jamie, volunteer driver Ellen McEwen (who appears in Code Name Verity’s prequel novel) and Louisa Adair, a young Jamaican girl who takes up a position helping to care for an elderly German woman. It’s not my favourite of Wein’s WWII novels (Code Name Verity is a hard bar to beat) but I have loved the characters. It’s also worth checking out The Pearl Thief, Code Name Verity’s prequel novel, though it takes place pre WWII.

6. The Storyteller-Jodi Picoult

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The Storyteller is essentially two stories in one, one follows Sage Singer, granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor as she struggles with grief over the death of her mother and finds solace in a friendship with an elderly man from her grief support group, only to be asked to help him die. The second is of Sage’s grandmother, Minka, and the horrors that she experienced in Auschwitz. Though Minka’s story is obviously the more heartrending of the two, they intertwine really well. It’s so heartbreaking to know that Minka’s story reflects the real life stories of so many people who really did experience the horrors of Auschwitz.

7. Orphan Monster Spy-Matt Killeen

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This is definitely a different take on a WWII story, but I enjoyed it. The protagonist is a Jewish teenager who takes on a role as a spy in a Nazi boarding school. So often WWII fiction only tells the stories of Jewish people in concentration camps (which 100% need to be told) so it was nice to see a story that wasn’t about the Holocaust, and had a Jewish protagonist at its centre. The sequel, Devil, Darling, Spy was published this year, though I’ve yet to read it.

So there we go, those are my recommendations for WWII fiction. I actually really do need to read more of it, so if you have any recommendations for me, I would love to hear them. And of course, I would always recommend checking out memoirs of people who were alive at the time, to learn about the real stories of people from WWII, as they are stories that we should all know and remember. If you’d like some recommendations for those, I did an article a couple of years ago for The National Student talking about some lesser known WWII memoirs so check that one out:

https://www.thenationalstudent.com/Arts_and_Theatre/2018-06-12/celebrate_anne_frank_s_birthday_with_these_overlooked_wwii_memoirs.html

I don’t know what my next Jo Talks post will be, I may do another one before the end of the month, we’ll see. In the meantime, I just finished my May #RockMyTBR read, The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats and Piracy, so I should have a review of that up at some point over the weekend.

 

Jo Talks Books: On What Makes A Good Retelling

Hi all! I hope you’ve all been staying well in the past month and that you’re not all going too stir crazy being stuck inside. I actually got inspired for this month’s discussion post by an article I wrote for Cape Chameleon whilst I was out in South Africa. I was comparing Bridget Jones Diary and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as retellings of Pride and Prejudice, and it got me thinking: What actually makes a good retelling?

I’ll admit I don’t read a massive amount of retellings. Part of that is just that I don’t find many that appeal to me, and I don’t find a lot of variety in the stores being retold (how many Beauty and The Beast retellings do we really need?) and part of it is that it’s really difficult to do a retelling well (or at least for me it seems to be)!

So what makes a good retelling (for me anyway)? Well obviously the source material, the inspiration for the retelling is incredibly important. Fairytales, myths and legends seem to be incredibly popular as inspiration, likely because there are many different versions of these stories in the first place, so there’s much more to draw on when it comes to reinterpreting them. Classic stories reinterpreted within modern frameworks also seem to be quite popular.

Whatever you chose to draw from, it’s important to pick a story to rework that you can do something new and interesting with. There is no point retelling a story if you are just going to tell the exact same story that has already been done before, with a few minor tweaks. Retellings are a chance to get creative, to tell an old story in a completely different way than it has ever been done before.

Think of the live action Disney remakes: whilst it is fun to see our favourite animated Disney movies done with real actors, do they actually do anything different with the stories? Not really. Retellings are a chance to take a story that may have centred white, cis, straight people before and allow marginalised communities to see themselves centre stage (or at least they should be). They’re a chance to take classic stories and rework them in a different way for a modern audience. There is so much room to be creative, and for me, that’s one of the most important things that I’m looking for when I read a retelling: I want to see that the author has done something new and different with the source material.

Of course, you do still need to be able to recognise the original tale in the retelling, but personally I prefer if this is done through subtle “nods”. This is where authors acknowledge the origins of their retellings in small ways: be it through the names of the characters, or having certain moments in the plot reflect points in the original telling.

A recent example of a story that did this really well for me was Night Spinner. Addie Thorley’s fantasy story takes The Hunchback of Notre Dame as it’s inspiration, but it’s set in a fantasy world. You can see the nods to the original tale (Enebish is scarred and banished to a monastery, religion is a large part of the story) but it takes place in a completely different world and so the plot and the stakes are different and of course, the main character in Hugo’s tale is a man.

A trap I find a lot of retellings fall into is making the characters carbon copies of the ones in the original story that they are retelling. Obviously these characters have to be recognisable (though if you’re doing a fairytale retelling, there’s obviously a bit more leeway as there are so many different versions) but you can allow a reader to identify a character without having them be exactly the same as their original counterpart.

Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte fell into this trap for me, Jamie and Charlotte are great-great-great grandchildren of Sherlock and Watson, but yet they seem to be exact carbon copies. I can’t say I really know anything about my great-great-great grandparents, and whilst it’s possible I do share some traits with them, it’s highly unlikely that we are exactly the same. I read another Sherlock Holmes retelling, Every Breath by Ellie Marney shortly afterwards and she did much better with this, it was easy enough to recognise the “Holmes” and “Watson” character, but neither of them felt like exact carbon copies of Conan Doyle’s characters.

A good retelling should also challenge the problematic elements of the original story and improve upon them. For instance, a Beauty and The Beast retelling definitely needs to tackle the whole Stockholm Syndrome element of the story and I’ve yet to read a retelling of it that handles it well (A Curse So Dark and Lonely attempts to by having Harper come to Emberfall whilst trying to protect another girl, but kidnapping is still part of the story, which you know isn’t great). Many fairytales, like Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty etc, all involve a lack of consent in one way or another. Many classic stories involve elements of sexism, racism, homophobia etc. In order to successfully retell these kinds of stories for a modern audience, it’s vital to face these kinds of issues head on and not brush them under the carpet.

I also feel like a good retelling should give you some kind of new insight on the original tale. Whether it is expanding the perspective of one of the secondary characters (like Marissa Meyer’s Heartless, which explore how the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland came to be that way), gender swapping the main character or introducing a classic tale into a modern setting, a retelling should allow readers to explore familiar stories in ways that they may never have thought about before.

The types of stories that are retold and the ways that they are retold do sometimes seem to play it a little safe for me. There’s a plethora of different stories out there that could be retold and yet we do seem to see a lot of the same stories being retold over and over again. Beauty and The Beast, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, among others seem to have innumerable retellings. I’d love to see retellings of stories that I’m maybe not as familiar with, or stories that don’t get retold all that often.

I’d also really love to see more retellings use the opportunity to add more diversity to the original stories: I know there are amazing retellings written by AOC out there, but I would definitely love to see more. Most retellings do seem to draw on stories from Western culture and it would be amazing to get to see more stories from other cultures retold.

I also think historical retellings are definitely an area that is under utilised. I read Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes a few years ago, and I loved how she took the history of the Gunpowder Plot and added a fantastical twist to it. I definitely think there are many other historical events and people that would be brilliant fodder for retellings, it’s something I would definitely consider writing myself someday!

There’s a reason why retellings are so popular: they largely draw on tales that we are familiar with, tales that we may have nostalgia for from our childhoods and allow us to see new sides to them. However, there is a very fine line between following the original source material too closely and veering away from it too much and I think this is where most retellings fall down for me. They either stick so closely to the original storyline that I feel there’s no point, or are barely recognisable from the original story. They’re really hard to get right, and though I’ve find ones I’ve enjoyed, I’ve yet to find a truly great retelling: at least in book form.

So there we go, that’s my thoughts on retellings. What do you think makes a good retelling? Any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

I don’t know what my next Jo Talks post is going to be about, I’ve got some ideas for future posts, but I’m not sure what I’m going to feel like talking about yet, so I guess you’ll find out when I do! In the meantime, I should have my April Book Vs Movie post up at some point this week, I’m going to be talking about Noughts and Crosses and the new BBC adaptation, so it should be a fun one!

Jo Talks: South African Adventures!

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Hi everyone! I hope you are all safe and have been keeping well in the current uncertain health climate. The UK is on lockdown for three weeks, and as I currently don’t have a job, I will be keeping busy with lots of blogging and reading and watching TV, whilst we wait for the world to return to some semblance of normal.

Anyway, for my first discussion post back, I wanted to talk a little about what I’ve been doing for the past few months whilst I’ve been out in Cape Town, since I haven’t really been talking about it much on the blog. We may not be able to travel physically right now, but I can relive my travels virtually for you guys!

I went out to Cape Town back in January, for a project that was meant to last twelve weeks (though in the end I had to leave after ten). I was based in Muizenberg, which is a coastal suburb in the Western Cape, and my office was less than five minutes away from the beach! My project was obviously Journalism, and I was writing for Cape Chameleon, an online magazine run by Projects Abroad, the volunteer organisation I was working for.

I got thrown in the deep end pretty swiftly, as soon as I arrived, I had to come up with an article idea and write a pitch based on that month’s theme of Human Rights. I had seen about the #AmINext movement on Twitter, a few months prior and I was interested in seeing what had happened since then, with gender based violence still being a prevalent issue in South African society. Initially, it was quite a struggle to get people who were willing to talk to me about it, but my supervisor and I managed to secure three interviews in the end. The article turned out really well, and it was a great start to my time in Cape Town. I got to interview some really cool people, and talking to a woman from Rape Crisis in Cape Town really inspired me. One of the best parts of being a journalist is getting to hear stories of people doing amazing things and to share those stories is a real joy.

Over the next nine weeks, I wrote an article per week, which might not seem like a lot, but when you have to research, organise interviews and write the article, all in one week, the work quickly piles up!

It could be a bit frustrating when you were reaching out to sources for an article and it seemed like no one was getting back to you. This was especially true when I was sorting out my controversial topic articles, because the subjects I covered were quite sensitive (gender based violence and illegal abortion), so people were more reluctant to talk to me. People also seemed to be slower to get back to me than I’d encountered before in the UK, so that was another hurdle to work around, especially when you working on quite tight deadlines. Still, it’s all part of being a journalist, and persistence paid off in the end, I was able to get the interviews I wanted.

Working in South Africa was obviously quite different from working in the UK: my office was pretty relaxed, and there were only a few volunteers on my project: for the last month I was there, I was the only one. This was actually quite nice, as it meant our supervisor was able to help us more on an individual level, and I liked the more laid back atmosphere, it was definitely very different to newsrooms in the UK that I’ve been in!

I also loved the freedom of getting to choose what I wanted to write and really revelled in that opportunity, as I know when I get a job, I won’t always get to choose the stories that I get to work on. This meant that the portfolio of articles I ended up with really reflected me and the kinds of stories that matter to me, which was brilliant.

Outside of my work, obviously there was a lot to explore and do in Cape Town over almost three months. I made a great group of friends, there were five of us girls who hung around together a lot and we’re already planning on meeting back up again when we’re all able to travel once more! It was great to get to meet people from different places around the world: in our group, there were two of us from the UK, two from Holland and another girl from Denmark. We’d have socials every week organised by Projects Abroad, but we also had our weekends and evenings free to explore what Cape Town had to offer.

I did a lot of really cool things in my time in Cape Town. Obviously the Safari and the whole Garden Route trip was a highlight, a group of us spent three days travelling along the Garden Route, which is basically a road trip you can do along the coast of South Africa, where there are a lot of tourist attractions. It’s a pretty packed weekend, but it was so much fun. Going on Safari is something I’ve always wanted to do, and it definitely lived up to all my expectations, I loved getting to see all these animals in the wild. The highlight was definitely the lions, but it was just so cool to get to see animals that close, with no glass or cages. We also explored these really cool caves, the Cango Caves, went ziplining and canoeing and went out to these really gorgeous viewpoints.

I would definitely recommend doing the Cape Peninsula tour as well if you do go to Cape Town. This is a lot shorter than the Garden Route, it’s just a day tour but it was super fun: we got to see beautiful views from the Cape Point lighthouse, the Cape of Good Hope and Chapman’s Peak Drive. We also visited the penguins at Boulders Beach (yes, South Africa has penguins!) and took a boat cruise to see the seals in Hout Bay.

I definitely took advantage of the sunny weather as much as I could by doing a lot of outdoor activities. I particularly loved going to the outdoor cinema, watching films under the stars is definitely not something that’s all that common in the UK, it’s too cold most of the time! Me being me, of course, I jumped on the opportunity to go horse riding on the beach, as I’ve not ridden on the beach in years. We also tried sandboarding, which was something super fun that I would never have got to try at home.

One of the things I really loved about Cape Town, and South Africa in general was the sheer abundance of food markets. We have markets in the UK, but not to the same extent and it was such a cool thing. These markets had so many different food options from around the world and it was so great to be able to support local businesses whilst I was out there.

The last several months in South Africa were even more than I could ever have imagined they would be. I went out to improve my skills as a journalist, and I definitely did that. I got to speak to so many amazing people whilst I was out there, and I really stretched myself as a journalist. This was particularly true with my controversial topic articles: gender based violence and illegal abortion.

For both, I was really worried about covering the subject matter sensitively, and obviously coming from a different culture, you have to be really careful that you approach them in a non-judgemental way. When I pitched the article about abortion to my supervisor, I was really worried that she would reject it as too controversial but she really supported me, and honestly, those two articles actually turned out to be the ones I was most proud of. I learned that I didn’t have to stick within my comfort zone, and I could stretch myself to cover difficult topics, and do them well.

Obviously, it wasn’t ideal that my time in South Africa came to an abrupt end because of coronavirus. But in the ten weeks that I was there, I had the most incredible time and it’s an experience that I’m never going to forget. Getting to live and work as a journalist in a different country has always been a dream of mine, and I feel so lucky that I got to do it right out of University. I made the most amazing friends, I got to do so many wonderful things and I got to explore a wonderful country. It was my first time in Africa and it definitely won’t be the last, I will be going back as soon as I’m able to travel again!

Obviously I have about a million and one pictures that I could share, but I’ll leave you guys with a few of my favourites:

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Riding on Noordhoek Beach

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Up close with the lions!

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Up at the top of Table Mountain

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On Cape Point Lighthouse

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing whilst I’ve been on semi-hiatus the past few months! I really enjoyed my time away, and though of course I wish I was coming back in better circumstances, I have missed blogging and am really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and posting more now that I’m home.

If you’d like to read any of my articles, here’s the link to Cape Chameleon, my articles are pretty easy to find as they’re all recent!
https://capechameleon.co.za/

I know this has been a super long post, but I have one more admin thing before I leave you all for today. I obviously was still reading a lot whilst I was away and whilst usually I would review everything I read on here, I’ve decided I’m not going to write up full length reviews for the nine books I read whilst I was gone. Instead, I’ll start afresh with my latest read, and instead do a round up of mini reviews in a longer #RockMyTBR update post. Reviews are incredibly time consuming for me, and it makes more sense to do it this way, especially since I was not keeping notes whilst I was away.

I’ll be back next month with more actual book talk, though I don’t know what about yet. In the meantime, I should have my #RockMyTBR roundup of January-March in the next few days, so keep an eye out for that.

Jo Talks Books: How My Blog Has Changed In The Past Six Years (Sixth Blogaversary Post!)

Hi guys! I know I said longer posts from me would be rare whilst I was in Cape Town, and they will be, but I couldn’t not do anything for my sixth blogaversary, which happens to be today. Yes, six years ago today, I was a Lower Sixth Student, just looking for things to help me get into University and deciding that starting a book blog would be fun. Now, I’m a University graduate, I’m living abroad for the first time in my life & I’m loving every second of this new adventure. I could never have imagined when I first started doing this that I would still be doing it six years later, or that it would become so much a part of my life, and I want to thank everyone, whether you’ve been reading since I started or just found me today, for supporting me and my blog for all these years!

Honestly looking back on some of my old posts, I kind of cringe a little. Back in 2014, I really had no idea what I was doing, and it shows! My old reviews, compared to what I write now, are quite cringeworthy, they’re not formatted all that well, I’ve definitely improved as a writer since then and I think my newer reviews are just more detailed and in depth than some of my older ones were. But I wouldn’t want to take those early reviews down, flawed as they are, because they show were I came from, and how far this blog has come in the past six years.

I’ve definitely learned a lot in the time that I’ve been doing this, what works and what doesn’t. I started out as purely a review blog, nothing else, but I figured out pretty fast that I was going to need more than that in order to build up a readership for my blog. I tried out memes for every day of the week, but quickly found that was unsustainable, so I stuck to just one: Top Ten Tuesdays which I’ve done for almost five years now, and is probably responsible for at least half my followers!

I tried read-a-thons but I worked out that I just didn’t read that way anymore, the days where I read a whole book in a day are long behind me so I didn’t really get along very well with that, so I just had to accept that as fun as it looked when the whole book community was joining in on a read-a-thon, they just weren’t for me.

I’ve realised over the years, that in order to keep blogging fresh, and interesting, I want to keep trying new things. Even if they don’t necessarily work, that’s okay, I’ve tried a lot of things for the blog that haven’t necessarily worked, but it can get a little montonous doing the same things, week in, week out, so I like to try new stuff, to keep things feeling fresh for me, as well as my readers.

In the six years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve gone from just doing reviews in the first year and then I’ve expanded every year since, with memes, awards and tags, challenges, discussion posts, recaps and updates, writing related posts and most recently comparisons of books with their movie adaptations. I worked out that having multiple weekly posts didn’t really work for me, so I stuck to one weekly meme and all of my other posts are monthly. So much of blogging is trial and error, even now I’m constantly learning and trying new things, that’s what makes it fun.

I have to admit, the look of my blog hasn’t really changed at all, I’ve never been much for web design, and since I’m not self hosted, I don’t really have the choice of loads of different designs anyway. I think going into the next few years of my blog, I might work on clearing up some of the tabs so it’s a bit easier to navigate, but I know I’m never going to be a web design queen!

I had no idea when I first started doing this how hard book bloggers work, or how much stuff was involved in it! I didn’t know about ARCs, or blog tours, Netgalley or any of the other stuff that came with it. I didn’t know how many hours I would spend writing posts, coming up with ideas, thinking up ways to make my blog better. Basically I had no idea how much blogging would become a part of my life, six years later, it’s not just the thing I did in order to get into Uni, it’s something that I love, and all the hard work (planning out three months worth of posts in just over two before going away being a prime recent one!) has definitely been worth it.

The biggest change in my blog though hasn’t been the small physical changes, the better writing, different features etc. I’ve changed a lot in six years, I was 17 when I first started doing this, with no idea how long I was going to do it for, or how many people would eventually end up reading my blog. I’ve always been proud that my blog reflects a little piece of me, but more than that, with each year I’ve been doing it, that changes slightly. 17 year old me, does not have the same voice as 23 year old me, the things I care about have changed, my reading habits have changed, the way I interact with the blogging community has changed. It’s a funny thing blogging for this long, because I can look back over old posts, and they’re like little time capsules of the person I was, at 17, at 20 etc.

Looking towards the future, all I really know for this blog is that it’s going to keep on changing. Whether it’s me turning more towards adult fiction as I find myself relating to YA less and less, focusing more on my writing pursuits as I work towards hopefully getting published one day, my little corner of the internet will keep changing, because I will keep changing. I also know that I will keep learning.

The entirety of the last six years of blogging has been a series of trial and error, working out what works for me and what doesn’t, having to keep adapting how I blog based on where I am in life, especially now that I am no longer a student and am looking towards getting my first permanent job. The first five years of blogging, was so intertwined with my life as a student, so it’s definitely been interesting to see how that has changed, even in just the last six months.

One thing I do know that hasn’t changed, and won’t change, is that I write for me. What I’ve liked to write has changed over the years, but first and foremost I want this blog to reflect me and to be proud of what I put out there. It’s been amazing to me that so many people have wanted to read what I have to say and I’m so glad that the things I’m passionate about have found an audience with so many of you. As many of you know, I love VE Schwab, and one thing she always says is write what YOU love, and if an audience loves it too, then that’s great.  I think in the last six years, I’ve definitely done that with this blog, and I’m so glad that it seems to have found an audience!

So there we go, those are my rather rambling reflections on the last six years of blogging! If you are a blogger, how long have you been blogging for? Has your blog changed a lot in the time you’ve been doing it? Let me know in the comments!

I don’t think I’ll have a discussion post for you next month, as I’m still here in South Africa and I’m trying to mostly stick to my blogging hiatus (with the exception of these pre-planned posts), but I should have one when I get home in April.

 

Jo Talks Books: 2020 Reading/Writing/Blogging Goals

Happy 2020 everyone! I hope you all had a great time, wherever you were and whatever you did to bring in the New Year. I had a lovely evening with my parents, we had a three course dinner at our local pub, which was delicious and then watched the fireworks and toasted the new decade at midnight.

I’m really excited to start a new year here, it’s hard to believe that I will have been doing this for six years in February! This year is going to be a little different as I’m going to South Africa from 11th January till the 24th April, so I’m taking my first break from blogging in six years. I won’t be abandoning you guys completely, I have Top Ten Tuesday posts planned, I’ll be planning some Book Vs Movie posts and I’ll be doing something for my sixth blogaversary obviously, but I probably won’t have lots of lengthy reviews, discussion posts or writing posts whilst I’m away.

But I’m still here now, and onto the topic of today’s post. As it’s a New Year, I wanted to share my Reading/Writing/Blogging goals for the year, I always like to start off the year by looking forward to the things I want to achieve throughout the year, it gives me things to spend the year working towards. I did pretty well on my 2019 goals, and I’m hoping that I can do even better on this year’s goals. As with last year, I have a mix of blogging, writing and reading goals, but I’ve gone down to 10 goals rather than 12 as I thought that was more achievable:

  1. Complete Goodreads Challenge

As always, I will be working towards my Goodreads Challenge goal throughout the year. I managed 42 books last year, which was amazing, and the best that I’ve done since I started doing the challenge. I’ve started at 24 again this year, I’d like to try and beat the 42 I managed this year, but honestly if I get more than 30, I will be happy.

2. Complete my #RockMyTBR Challenge

Another annual one, I’m doing my #RockMyTBR challenge again this year! I managed to read all 12 books last year, so I’m hoping I’ll do the same this year. I’m really excited about all the books that Twitter picked again this year, and I managed to find some new favourites from this challenge last year, so I hope I’ll do the same this year.

3. Finish a first draft of either the This Is Not A Love Story sequel or Underground Magicians

I’ve been working on the first drafts of both these novels for several years now, so I’d really like to get at least one of them to a complete stage this year. I just didn’t have a massive amount of time to work on them last year, especially with prepping This Is Not A Love Story for querying, but I’m hoping that this year I can get at least one of them to a stage where I can start editing.

4. Read more adult fiction

I’ve been, not necessarily veering away from YA in the past few years as it’s still most of what I read, but I have discovered a lot of adult books that I’ve really loved and have found myself actively seeking those stories more. So this year, I want to make a concerted effort to read more adult books, as I know I enjoy them, and I want to expand my reading even more.

5. Read more books by authors of colour

I always intend to read more diversely, but I know I could do so much better in this area, so this year I really want to actively seek out stories by authors of colour, especially women. I don’t want to set a number on it, like I’m going to read X amount, but I definitely want to try and read more.

6. Catch up on 2019 releases

This is another annual one, as there are so many new releases that I want to read every year and I never get to all of them, I still have some of my most anticipated 2019 releases, like Call Down The Hawk and King of Scars to get to, so that’s definitely going to be a priority this year.

7. Get Netgalley ratio up to 80%

I had this one as a goal for last year as well, but I didn’t manage to achieve it this year, in fact my ratio at the end of the year was exactly the same as it was at the beginning of the year! It did go up slightly, but then went back down when I requested a load of books…..

8. Buy less physical books/do another unhaul

These two are kind of connected, so I decided to put them as one. I want to only buy physical books that I’m really excited for this year, I have Netgalley, Kindle, Audible, so it’s not like I will go without books if I buy less physical copies, and I really need to slim down my book collection a little more before I move again, so unfortunately, I will probably have to do another unhaul this year.

9. Tackle some of the 500+ page books on my TBR

I have a tendency to leave the longer books on my TBR languishing on my shelves, I don’t have a massive number of them, only about 5 or 6 that I own, I think, but if I could knock a few of them off my TBR this year, that would be great!

10. Read more new to me authors

I know I’ve had this as a goal in previous years, but I wanted to bring it back this year because although I read about 16 new authors last year, I only found about five or six that I really loved, so I’m hoping that this year, not only can I read more new to me authors, but I can also find more that I want to keep coming back to.

So that’s my goals for the year! Do you set reading, blogging, writing or life goals for the year? If not, then why not? What are you goals for 2020? Do we share any? Let me know in the comments!

I’m not really sure what my Jo Talks schedule is going to be for this year yet, because obviously I’ll be in South Africa through till April, I’ll definitely have something in February for my six year blogaversary though I’m not sure what that will be, and then I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled one a month from April, so it shouldn’t be too disrupted. If there are any specific topics that you’d like to see this year, then let me know in comments. In the meantime, I will have reviews of my last two books of the year, plus my #RockMyTBR 2019 wrap up in the next few days, so look out for those!

Jo Talks Books: On The Second Year of My Bechdel Test Experiment

Hi everyone! It’s almost the end of 2019 and the start of a new decade, WHAT? I can’t believe that this year has gone so fast, but then I never can. For my final discussion post of the year, I’m bringing back a topic from last year and talking about the results of my second year of doing the Bechdel Test with my books. For anyone who is not aware of what the Bechdel Test is, it’s a test for female representation in media, usually used for films. The three criteria for passing the test are as follows: a) are there two or more female characters, b) who talk to each other & c) about something other than a man. It’s a pretty low bar to pass, but you’d be surprised how few things actually do.

I read 40 books this year, or at least as of the time of writing this post, I’m hoping to read a couple more before the year ends. Of these, I analysed 33 of them, so two less than last year, as two  were a non fiction which couldn’t really be used, four were comics (which I could have analysed, but I didn’t review them) and the other was an audiobook that I just forgot to look for Bechdel Test passing content in!

Of the 34 books that I analysed, 22 of them passed the Bechdel Test, whilst 11 did not. This is pretty consistent with the results from last year, with the same amount not passing and only two less passing the test. Of course, last year, all the books I read were involved in the stats, whereas this year there are seven that weren’t, so had I involved all the books, the results may have been slightly different.

Once again, almost all the books that passed were written by female authors, but this year, all the books that failed were also written by female authors. This more reflects the gender bias of my reading though, as I only actually read one book by a male author this year, and it actually did pass the test! I also can’t really say this year that books written by female authors with female lead characters were more likely to pass the test, because although all the boks that passed had female lead characters, all the books but one that failed had at least one female narrator as well.

The issue of male narrated books not being as easily able to pass the Bechdel Test was also evident this year, but only in three books, The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue, You and Strange The Dreamer. These books are slightly different to the ones that failed last year though, as You fails by design, it’s about a stalker, so it would be incredibly ironic if it passed the test. The Gentleman’s Guide fails on the simple fact that it only really has one named female character Felicity, though even if it had had more, it probably still would have failed as being narrated in Monty’s first person POV means that he is involved in pretty much every conversation. Strange The Dreamer fails pretty much entirely because it is narrated by Lazlo. There are several female characters but we barely get to see them interact without him.

This year, most of the books that failed the test probably should have passed, because a large majority of them either failed because they didn’t have enough female characters (easily rectified) or simply that their female characters didn’t speak to each other about anything other than men. Take Finale, the final Caraval book: it would have been so easy for it to pass the Bechdel test, it has two female narrators, all they had to do was talk about something other than a man. However because the book revolves so much around their romances, it doesn’t! All that’s really required is a brief exchange about anything other than Legend or Julian. It would have been so easy and yet the book is so focused on the men that it just doesn’t happen. The Diviners also could have quite easily passed, there are multiple named female characters in that book, and the second book does pass the test, but all they seem to talk about is the men in their life, so it fails. To Kill A Kingdom was quite frustrating in this regard as well, because it had a conversation that would have counted, but because Lira’s mother is not named, it doesn’t.

Stalking Jack The Ripper, The Last Namsara and Uprooted, all have main female characters, but they all fall into the trap of having the “one important woman” who only really interact with men, and when they do interact with other women, their conversations all revolve around men.

The same is true for Alex and Eliza, whilst there are other women surrounding Eliza, she only talks to them about Hamilton. The same is true of Romanov, Anastasia has multiple sisters, but they only really speak to each other about their father, brother and romantic interests. This could have something to do with the historical setting, but I don’t believe that, as other historical fiction I read this year, Enchantee and Hamilton and Peggy both passed the test, and presumably historical women did speak about things other than men!

Whilst the books that didn’t pass this year were mainly of the same vein, not enough female characters or where there were, they just didn’t interact, there was more of a variation between the books that did. Like last year, we had the obvious passers and the just barely, though unfortunately, I would say there were more of the latter category this year.

The ones that quite obviously passed, had lots of female characters who interacted frequently through the book. Books where relationships between female characters were integral to the plot. These were books like King Of Fools, where Enne and her new criminal enterprise with her girl gang was a significant subplot, or The Priory of The Orange Tree, where the women are the leaders in their own stories and the interpersonal relationships between them are integral to the plot. Bedlam also has multiple women at the centre of the story and Valkyrie relies on their support and advice, so there are multiple interactions between her and other women. A Girl Called Shameless also had a lot of interactions between women, unsurprisingly as feminism is the focus! Catwoman: Soulstealer also has quite a lot of interactions between women that aren’t about men, as Selina, Harley and Ivy are the focus, Luke is definitely secondary to the women.

Vengeful was kind of an in between one for me, because it does focus on women and power, so the women are very much at the forefront, and I wouldn’t say the Bechdel passing content was quite as throwaway as some of the other books, but there’s not as much content that passes as Priory, King Of Fools or Bedlam.

Many of the other books I read this year had quite narrowly passing content which was a shame. Ninth House just passes based on a conversation between Alex and her professor, but were it not for that, it would probably fail, as there isn’t all that much dialogue and Alex and Dawes’ conversations usually revolve around Darlington. We Are Blood and Thunder, it took almost the entire book to find a conversation between Lena and Constance that didn’t revolve around a man. Kingdom of Ash should definitely have had more conversations between women that weren’t about men, given the size of the book and the number of female characters that there are in the book. I don’t know if I just didn’t look out for multiple interactions as much this year as last year or if there was just less to be had, but it definitely felt like a lot of the books only narrowly passed.

I found it more difficult to judge in audiobooks, mostly because I generally have to go back to look for Bechdel Test passing content, and it’s a lot easier to do that in physical books than it is in audio, so I don’t know if that affected my results at all this year.

I talked last year about the limitations of this test, so I won’t go into it again, as the results this year have once again reflected it, though it was quite interesting that this year, a large number of the books that failed were female led and didn’t pass because of lack of female interaction. I think that’s something that definitely needs to be addressed in fiction, especially YA: a lot of authors will write a female led book, but she is the only one, the “special” one and is surrounded by men. It’s all very well having a female led book, but your female lead should have meaningful interactions with the other women in her life, and talk about things other than men, because whilst teenage girls do talk about them, it’s not the only thing in their lives!

It’s interesting how my results this year can come out with similar numbers to last year, and yet be quite different in terms of both the quantity and quality of female interactions in the books that passed. The Bechdel Test isn’t the most nuanced test in the world, never has been, but you can get quite a signficant difference in the amount of content that passes, as well as the reasons for failure.

So that’s my 2019 Bechdel Test results! I’ve really enjoyed doing it over the past few years and it’s definitely made me more aware of both the quality and quantity of interactions between women in my books, so it’s definitely something I want to continue on with in the coming years.

I’ll have another discussion post for you quite soon, my annual beginning of year 2020 Reading/Writing/Blogging goals. In the meantime, I will have my last Top Ten Tuesday of 2019, as well as my End of Year Check In, on New Year’s Eve.

Jo Talks Books: Did My Most Anticipated Reads of The Year Live Up To Expectations?

Hi all! As we’re coming to the end of 2019, both the end of the year and the end of a decade, I’m feeling reflective. Cait at PaperFury does one of these kinds of posts every year and I always love them, I’ve wanted to do one of my own for a while, but I never really read enough new releases to make it worth it. Thankfully this year, I have, so I thought this would be a great time to share my thoughts on my most anticipated releases and whether they lived up to expectations or not.

So I had 22 books on my most anticipated releases of 2019 lists for both halves of the year, and I read (or attempted to read) 10 of them, which isn’t bad, though obviously I would have liked to read more, some of them I will be reading next year though. Anyway, enough of my usual too many books, not enough time excuses, here are my thoughts on my anticipated releases of 2019 that I actually did read this year:36492488

  1. We Hunt The Flame-Hafash Faizal

Expectations: I’d heard really good stuff about this one, everyone was so excited about it and since I’ve been finding YA fantasies quite same-y in recent years, I was looking forward to trying something quite different, and I’m always looking to find more diverse fantasies.

Reality: I didn’t finish this one. I was I think maybe two or three chapters in, which yes, I know doesn’t seem like much, but I just wasn’t feeling the urge to read it, I was running out of time on my Netgalley download and I didn’t feel like I wanted to pick it up, so I decided to DNF it. I may go back to it at some point, but at the moment I’m not really feeling like it.

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2. Ninth House

Expectations: I’ve LOVED Leigh Bardugo’s previous books, so of course I was really hyped over her adult debut. The talk about the controversial dark content of the book didn’t do anything to put me off, because I love my books dark and I heard so much great stuff about this book before I read it.

Reality: I did enjoy it. Really I did. But I potentially may have overhyped it in my mind? It was good, such a creative concept but it was just WAY TOO SLOW for me, and I felt like the world building was kind of overwhelming. The end was good though, so I’m hoping for more from the sequel.

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3. The Fountains of Silence-Ruta Sepetys

Expectations: I was really excited for this one as I’ve really enjoyed Ruta Sepetys’ previous books, and I love reading about time periods that I’m not as familiar with, so the idea of reading about Spain under General Franco really appealed to me as I’m not all that familiar with that period of Spanish History.

Reality: I was bored. I read over 200 pages of this and I still wasn’t into it. I’d been reading it for almost two months, my Netgalley download was running out and I decided that it wasn’t worth trying to power through when in all likelihood, I wouldn’t finish it anyway. This is possibly one of my biggest disappointments of the year because I really enjoyed Between Shades of Gray and Salt To The Sea. Hopefully her next book will treat me better.

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4. Into The Crooked Place-Alexandra Christo

Expectations: I was SO SO EXCITED for this one. I really loved To Kill A Kingdom when I read it in March, and so naturally when I saw she was releasing a book in October, I was completely on board. When my friend Hannah read it, and said she loved it, I was even more excited because we have very similar tastes in books.

Reality: Expectations met. I didn’t love it quite as much as To Kill A Kingdom, but I still really enjoyed it, definitely one of my favourite books of the year. I loved the characters, the writing and the plot was on the whole enjoyable, if a little slow paced and I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel when it releases (hopefully) next year.

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5. The Priory of The Orange Tree-Samantha Shannon

Expectations: I was SO HYPED for this one. It had dragons, it was feminist, parts are Elizabethan inspired, everything about it sounded like something I would absolutely love and I was fully prepared for a new favourite read.

Reality: Okay, so my expectations may have been a little high for this one. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I really did, the writing was great, as was the worldbuilding but I felt like the pacing and the characters weren’t quite as good as I would have liked. I still enjoyed it enough that I will definitely read the future books that Shannon is planning in this world, but it wasn’t quite what I had built it up to be in my head.

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6. A Girl Called Shameless-Laura Steven

Expectations: The Exact Opposite of Okay was one of my favourite books of last year, so naturally I was expecting something pretty brilliant from this second book, I was hoping it would be one of my favourites of 2019.

Reality: Big disappointment. I really wanted to love this one as much as the first book, but to be honest, it didn’t really feel like it needed a sequel? The humour wasn’t quite as funny as it was in the first book, it was pretty slow paced and I just didn’t enjoy it as much.

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7. Descendant of The Crane-Joan He

Expectations: I saw this book described as the Chinese Game of Thrones, and naturally since I loved Game of Thrones (until Season 8 ruined it), I was massively excited for it.

Reality: It disappointed me, but mostly because it wasn’t anything like I thought it would be? I was expecting this massive, exciting, fantasy adventure, but it wasn’t anything like that. It was pretty fantasy-lite, more of a political drama, the characters were pretty flat, the romance wasn’t great and it left a lot to be desired in terms of the ending, especially being a standalone.

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8. King of Fools-Amanda Foody

Expectations: I liked Ace of Shades, it wasn’t a new favourite or anything like that, but the ending was so exciting that I was really anticipating the second book, and hoping for something that really blew me away.

Reality: Expectations met and then some! It was so much better than Ace of Shades, the pacing was faster, the stakes were higher and because I was more familiar with the world and characters, I enjoyed it even more. There were so many excellent new characters introduced, loads of great plot twists and the ending just blew me away. I’m so excited for Queen of Volts next year!

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9. Romanov-Nadine Brandes

Expectations: I was really excited for this one because I loved Fawkes when I read it last year, and I really enjoyed studying the Romanovs during my History A-Level, so the Romanovs with a magical twist seemed like the perfect book for me.

Reality: I enjoyed it, but not as much as I hoped. There wasn’t quite as much magic as I would have liked, it was more historical with a light bit of fantasy, and it was quite slow paced, with a tendency to romanticise the Romanov family. I did enjoy it once the pace kicked up, but I was hoping for something a bit more exciting.

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10. Finale-Stephanie Garber

Expectations: One of my most anticipated books of the year, I loved Legendary last year and I was really hoping for an explosive, pardon the pun “Finale”.

Reality: I think my expectations may have been a little too high for this one. I was expecting a really exciting end to the series, and in reality, it lacked a cohesive plot, and none of the plot threads introduced at the end of Legendary really seem to be utilised. I’m so disappointed, because I think this one could have been a lot more than it was.

So there we go, that’s what I thought of my most anticipated books of the year! I think what I’ve learned from this is that I have far too high expectations of most things I read and they’re usually impossible to meet. I’d say that I will learn from this and lower my expectations for next year, but the likelihood is I won’t!

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Do you have a tendency to put too high expectations on the books you read as well? Let me know in the comments!

I should have another one of these up at the end of the month, talking about the second year of my Bechdel Test reading experiment. In the meantime, my next post will be my regularly scheduled Top Ten Tuesday post.