Jo Talks Books: On Year 4 of My Bechdel Test Experiment

Hi everyone! I’m so sorry that this is my first discussion post in ages, time honestly just really got away from me, I was so busy at work towards the end of last year with the booster programme rollout and so behind on my reviews that they took priority over my other content (since I am ostensibly a book review blog!). Still, I want to go back to doing these discussion posts monthly this year, so ideally you’ll be having them more frequently this year than you did last!

Anyway, enough of my rambling, this is an annual post I’ve been doing since 2018 (barring 2020 where I did my wrap-up in 2021), when I first started analysing books to see if they passed the Bechdel Test, a test of female representation in media, though admittedly a very basic one, that is usually used for films. At the end of each year (or beginning of the next one in this case), I like to wrap up my thoughts and compare the results to previous years to see if I can find any patterns emerging in the books I’ve read. For anyone who may not be familiar of the criteria for passing the test, they are as follows: a) there have to be two or more female characters, b) who talk to each other and c) about something other than a man.

Last year was admittedly a slower reading year for me than usual, I only read 24 books where I usually read upwards of 30. Of those books, I analysed 14 of them, which I will admit is my lowest number in the four years I’ve been doing this. This is largely because I read most of my books via audio last year and I just find it harder to keep track of incidences which pass the test when listening, and you can’t check back the same way as you can with a physical book, so five books were excluded that way. The other five were either non-fiction (which I’ve never included in my results) and two comics which I suppose I could have analysed but didn’t because I don’t review comics on the blog.

Of these, 12 passed the test & 2 failed. This is another downward trend on 2020, where I had 4 books failing the test. However, I did read significantly less books in 2021 than in any other year of doing this, so it does mean that the number of books passing the test fell as well, 12 this year as compared to 35 last year. I also had more books excluded from my results than I have done before, 10 as compared to 7 in the previous two years and none in my first year. This means it’s difficult for me to directly compare numbers from this year to any other year I’ve done the test as the sample size was just so much smaller!

Again, almost all the books I read were by female authors, but this is pretty standard for me as the majority of the books I read are almost always by female authors. I did actually read more books by male authors than usual last year, with a grand total of 5, but 4 of them weren’t included in the stats due to either being non-fiction, or me not being able to keep track of Bechdel Test passing content because I listened to them. All but one of the books that passed the test this year were by female authors, but again, both books that failed were also by female authors, so I still don’t have any conclusive results on whether books by male authors are more likely to pass or fail the test, but it doesn’t seem like it from the small pool I’ve read over the past few years (and a lot of the books I’ve read by male authors have been by the same ones, I really don’t have a wide range of male authors to pick from here!).

I once again had the same issue of male narrated books not passing the test last year as this is due to the in-built bias of the test (if a book is from a sole male character’s POV, it automatically fails because that character is present for all conversations, books from a female or mixed POV don’t have that problem), however interestingly I would say one book did better than the other in terms of female representation, though both failed. The Song of Achilles had a lot of issues around treatment of women, with women being sacrificed, raped and abandoned and whilst all those things did happen in Greek mythology, it’s a retelling, you don’t have to be 100% strictly true to the myths! Also the female characters didn’t have a great deal of depth to them either, and I was kind of disappointed, as I expected better from Madeline Miller after reading Circe (though admittedly, that was published later, so she could have honed her development of female characters between books).

The Nobleman’s Guide To Scandal and Shipwrecks on the other hand, whilst it also failed the Bechdel Test, had a much better representation of women (though admittedly there are still very few women in the book, I would have liked more), Felicity and Lou, the two main female characters both have agency and are presented as confident, capable women who are respected by the men around them. I’m not going to say that Nobleman’s Guide is perfect in this, but compared to The Song of Achilles, I felt it did a much better job of presenting complex, developed women.

However, on the upside, no books failed last year due to lack of female characters which was lovely to see! I read a mix of books from 2021, and backlist books from previous years, largely from 2017-2020, though a few were from before then. One of my goals from 2020 was to have no books failing due to lack of named female characters in 2021, and on that I definitely succeeded.

So onto the books that passed! Once again there was a fair bit of variation in the amount of passing content in the books, and I will say that I don’t think I had as many strong passes last year as I have done previously, though that may just be down to reading less books. The best author I found for focus on female characters and their relationships this year was definitely Kate Quinn, both of her books, The Alice Network and The Rose Code, had a strong central focus on the relationships between women. The fallout of the friendship between Osla, Beth and Mab is the major focus of The Rose Code, and it says a lot that Quinn managed to get me so invested in their friendship that I was devastated when it fell apart, even though I knew it was coming as we start the book when their friendship has already broken down.

The Alice Network is also really brilliant with its female friendships albeit in a different way, I loved how Quinn showed an intergenerational relationship between a young woman and a middle aged one, as that’s something that we rarely ever get to see in books. I also really loved how both The Rose Code and The Alice Network push forward sexual agency and allowing women to make their own choices in that regard as I think that’s so important to see especially in historical fiction. I don’t mean this all to sound like an advert for Kate Quinn’s books but if you want historical fiction that really centres women, hers is so good!

However this year I did find that I had more books that barely passed, or did pass but had a lot of other issues that I would say didn’t make them massively feminist even if they were perhaps intending to be. Given that Bechdel Test is a measure of quantity not quality, there literally only needs to be a couple of sentences interaction in a book between two female characters and as long as the conversation isn’t about a man, it passes.

This year, for whatever reason I seemed to read quite a lot of books that I would say weren’t necessarily the most feminist in their content. The most glaringly obvious of these for me would probably be The Poppy War, as I think this was probably the one I read that was most intending to be feminist and I felt fell short. Rin has no female friends and sees all other women as her competition which is not a great message to be sending to female readers to start with, and then we have the whole, Rin basically nukes her uterus because you can’t possibly be a good warrior and have a period at the same time. Then of course there’s Venka who disappears after the first half to then come back and recount her brutal rape, only to then never be heard from again. I feel like this book wanted to send a message about strong female characters but ended up playing into a lot of toxic messaging around women instead.

The Silvered Serpents, the second Gilded Wolves book, also falls into some harmful messaging about women being pitted against each other just because they like the same guy. It’s right out of the playbook of every teen drama EVER, and whilst the book does get some props for acknowledging that this is a problematic pattern, it still falls into the trap quite heavily and Laila and Eva hating each other because they both like Severin adds precisely nothing to the story. It also means that Eva isn’t developed beyond “mean girl” and I thought that was a real shame because she could have been a really interesting character, given her unique forging ability.

Then there were the books which weren’t necessarily problematic and still passed the test but only barely. As I’ve talked about before with VE Schwab books, The Unbound continued (or I suppose started as it was one of her earlier books), her trend of having one main female character who doesn’t have meaningful connections with other women. Mac’s only real connections were with the two boys she was in a love triangle with, Wesley and Cash, all of her female friendships were either superficial (like her friendship with Amber, who she was just using for information) or they hated her for no reason like Sako and Safia.

The Last Bookshop In London had a similar problem with Grace and Viv, Grace and Viv are ostensibly best friends, but we hardly get to see this because Viv was hardly developed at all and missing for most of the book. It still passed because of some brief exchanges between the two girls about their war work, but Grace actually has more meaningful conversations and relationships with two women who aren’t given a first name (Mrs Weatherford, her landlady and Mrs Nesbit, a rival bookshop owner) than she does with the one named character that means the book passes the test.

We Were Liars was another one that rather tenuously passed the Bechdel Test, there’s one conversation right at the end of the book where Cadence and Mirren are talking about a bikini of Mirren’s that means the book passes but it’s really the slimmest thing and Cadence and Mirren spend most of the book talking about the other men in their lives, Gat and Mirren’s brother Johnny.

So there we go, those are my Bechdel Test results from 2021! My results from this year should probably be taken with a pinch of salt considering how small a sample I had, but I do find it interesting that four years into this, I’m still learning new things. The only books that failed this year were due to having male narrators, rather than a lack of female characters which is definitely a step in the right direction, and I definitely feel like doing this, even though the test doesn’t measure it, has made me notice books with problematic issues around their female characters even more than I did previously. I do wonder how some of the books that I just couldn’t keep track of test passing content would have fared, as two I can think of in particular, Lore & The Bear and The Nightingale had some very misogynistic content, but alas I shall never know!

I’m hoping that for my five year anniversary of doing this (which is this year) I will be able to read many more books than I did last year, as I do think that hindered me slightly in properly analysing my results this year!

I’ll have another discussion post for you next month, it’s going to be my 8th (8TH? I CAN’T ACTUALLY BELIEVE IT) blogaversary on the 13th February, so I will probably do something in conjunction with that, though I’m not sure what that will be yet. If anyone has any ideas of things that they’d like to see me do to celebrate my eighth year, then let me know. In the meantime, my much neglected Book Vs Movie feature will be back on Monday, another thing I’m hoping to keep up doing monthly posts for this year.

Jo Talks Books: On What Makes A Good TV/Movie Adaptation of A Book

Hi all! I’m so sorry I’ve not had one of these for you in the last couple of months, honestly, time’s just kind of got away from me in the past few months with lockdown easing and seeing friends, starting my new job and of course working on job applications, it’s been a busy few months.

Anyway, this month, inspired by watching Shadow and Bone in April, I wanted to talk a bit about book to screen adaptations as I think so often as book lovers, we complain about bad screen adaptations of our favourite books, but don’t necessarily talk as much about what makes a good one? Now this is understandable to me as it is infuriating when we see our favourite books torn to shreds on screen, but I wanted to take today to talk about what I think makes a good screen adaptation of a book. Now, disclaimer before I start this: these are all my personal opinions, book lovers don’t all want the same things from book to screen adaptations, and I’m sure if you asked someone else, they would give different answers than me!

In general, I have found that I prefer TV adaptations of books to films. For me, I think that’s because TV feels like a more natural fit than film: books and TV both have a more serialised, episodic format, and TV allows for characters and stories to be explored in more depth because of this. TV also allows for more of the little details that fans of books love, that sometimes get missed in movies because of the restricted running times. That’s not to say that movie adaptations are bad, I’ve loved plenty of film adaptations, but in general I think TV as a format lends itself more naturally to book adaptations than films do.

The best example of this for me in recent years was the A Series of Unfortunate Events adaptation. That novel series got two different adaptations: first a movie adaptation, which focused on the first three books and then a Netflix TV show, which had three seasons covering the whole series. The reason that the movie adaptation didn’t work for me is because it crammed so much story into a two hour movie and didn’t really do justice to any of it (even with the first three books in that series being fairly short). The Netflix show on the other hand, took their time, had two episodes for each book, which allowed the story to be explored in much more depth. It’s all about choosing the right format for the material: something like Outlander (though I will admit, I’ve not read books, only seen the show) could only ever have been a TV show because there’s just too much material for a two hour film. Whereas a relatively short book, like for example Matilda, could be made into a film pretty easily because there’s not as much material so you don’t have to massively condense the story to fit into a restricted running time.

I’m maybe somewhat strange as a reader in that it doesn’t massively matter to me whether the actors look exactly the same as the way the characters are described in the books? I think this comes from not being a visual reader, I don’t have a picture of the characters in my head already, so whoever plays them in the screen adaptation will usually just become how I think that character looks. Obviously there are some major caveats to this: I wouldn’t want a character who is described as non-white in a book to be played by a white actor because that’s just…..a big no. Appearance details that are intrinsically important to who the character is should be kept on screen. But in general, it matters more to me that an actor is able to get across a character’s personality, that they feel like the character they’re meant to be playing, than that they exactly match the description given in the book. An adaptation is not going to fail if the actor has a different colour eye than stated on page for instance.

For example, Annabeth in the first Percy Jackson film having brown hair rather than blonde was annoying, yes, but that’s not to say that an actress with brown hair couldn’t have played her well. But the actress is the wrong age for the character (who should have been 12 rather than 16) and doesn’t capture Annabeth’s character from the books well: Annabeth in the films isn’t as smart as she is in the books (which is pretty integral to her character, being a daughter of Athena) and they take away all of her emotional moments (like when she tells Percy about her issues with her Dad and growing up with Luke and Thalia) so she seems to lack depth. She’s also completely devoid of any humour, and whilst Annabeth in the books is more serious than Percy, she has a sense of humour and enjoys poking fun at Percy which doesn’t come across at all in the films. If the actress who played Annabeth had looked different but portrayed her personality well, then I think it would have come across better, but as it stood, she had no resemblance to Annabeth in either look or personality.

However, when actors do a really good job capturing a character’s personality, it don’t necessarily matter if they don’t look exactly the way the character is described in the books, at least to me! For instance, Alina in Shadow and Bone deliberately doesn’t look the way she’s described in the books as the writers chose to make her part Shu in the show. I’m not going to talk about the show’s handling of Asian representation because it’s not my place to do so and many Asian women have already spoken about it with far more depth and eloquence than I would be able to. But that’s a side note, my main point here is that Jessie Mei-Li does a great job of bringing Alina to life on screen, she really embodies her character and I actually liked her portrayal more than I liked Alina in the book, which just goes to show how important casting can be!

I understand that both film and TV adaptations aren’t able to include absolutely every single detail from the books they’re based on because of time constraints. But I want the essence of the book to be there, I want to see that the filmmakers or TV show producers have understood what the fans love about the book and translated that to the screen. I mean someone has to read the book in the first place for the film rights to get optioned, you would think, so at some point someone has read a book and decided that it would make a great film. I don’t want the film to be completely unrecognisable from the book that it came from (I’m looking at you Percy Jackson film), otherwise they’re not worth watching!

The Hunger Games film series is a pretty good example of this done well for me, there are changes from the books, but generally the films are very faithful to the plot and capture the essence of the characters and the stories well. I think that’s one of the reasons why The Hunger Games did so much better than any other dystopian franchise that came after: for both Divergent and The Maze Runner, the filmmakers didn’t stick close enough to the original plot of the books to please book fans and the films just weren’t really good enough in themselves to please non-book fans.

I don’t mind if the writers add details that weren’t in the books if it works to enhance the film or TV show: for instance, adding the Crows into the plot of Shadow and Bone and essentially creating a prequel for the Crows in Shadow and Bone, actually worked really well and enhanced the plot of a book that I honestly hadn’t been that interested in when I read it. However if they add new plot points or change things massively and it actually detracts from the story, that’s when I get annoyed. The film adaptation of My Sister’s Keeper was really bad for this, in changing the ending of the book for the movie, it detracted from the whole point of the story and made it feel really cliche.

I also think it’s really important that the author has some involvement in the adaptation: though I am aware that the authors themselves have little say in how much involvement they get. But generally, I’ve found that the best book to movie or book to TV adaptations are that way because the author has been involved in the process. As a reader, it’s always quite reassuring to hear when an author is involved in the adaptation process, either writing the scripts, or as a producer or just being consulted, because you know that author will push for the adaptation to be as close to the book as possible.

Take for instance The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Author Stephen Chbosky was director and screenplay writer for the film version and the resulting film was incredibly faithful to the book and for me personally, I actually enjoyed it more because I thought the story worked better in that format. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is another example where authorial involvement made for a great film, she again wrote the screenplay and the resulting film was incredibly faithful to the book, with Rosamund Pike being particularly memorable as Amy.

I know that not all authors will want or be offered the opportunity to write the screenplay for their novel, but I have liked the trend towards authors getting more involvement with their screen adaptations in recent years (being executive producers or producers for instance) because I think adaptations tend to work out better when the authors are involved in some capacity. For example, Rick Riordan has been pretty clear that he wasn’t involved much in the Percy Jackson films and didn’t like the decisions that the filmmakers made for them, such as aging the characters up and changing a lot of the source material. These were both decisions that were also disliked by fans: authors know what their fanbases want to see so it stands to reason that having their involvement in screen adaptations can only be a help!

That’s not to say that all movies where the author isn’t a screenplay writer or executive producer turn out badly. As far as I’m aware, Markus Zusak didn’t have a massive role in adapting The Book Thief for film, and it’s a beautifully done film, it captures the same feel of the book, it’s wonderfully cast and amazingly acted and it’s largely faithful to the plot of the book. However, it seems to be one of the exceptions rather than the rule.

Ultimately it’s going to be very difficult to please everyone when it comes to a book adaptation. Readers all interpret different stories in different ways and have different ideas of what a story will like on screen, which makes it very difficult for filmmakers/TV show writers to bring a story to life in a way that will please absolutely every fan of a book ever, and attract non-readers as well. I do think though, in general, if you manage to stay true to the spirit of the story and the characters, then you will by and large be able to create a satisfying adaptation for both readers and non-readers alike.

How do you feel about book-to-screen adaptations? What do they need to be good for you? Any favourite ones? Any that you feel were particularly awful? Let me know in the comments!

I don’t know what my Jo Talks post for next month will be, or if I’ll even have one, it depends how busy I am at work, so I guess you’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I will have my regular Top Ten Tuesday post up for you guys tomorrow.

Jo Talks Books: On My Favourite Authors I’ve Discovered Whilst Blogging (7th Blogaversary post!)

Hi all! So yesterday was my seven year blog anniversary, which is honestly quite incredible to me. I started this blog as a seventeen year old in Lower Sixth to help me get into University and honestly I didn’t really expect it to last much beyond a year, let alone to still be doing it at 24! As always, I want to thank everyone who has followed me, or viewed my posts over the past seven years, I really appreciate you guys and all the support you’ve given me.

So I thought for this year’s blogaversary post, it would be fun to talk about my favourite books and authors that I’ve discovered whilst I’ve been a blogger, as in the past seven years, I’ve found so many amazing books and authors through the blogging community, it’s my favourite part of blogging and I wanted to celebrate that today!

I’ve reviewed quite a lot of really big authors since I started blogging, but not all of them have been ones that I’ve found directly through my blog. For example, Sarah J Maas. Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight were two of the earliest books I reviewed for this blog in March of 2014, and I hadn’t actually heard of her when I picked up her books! I ended up picking up Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight as part of a 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones, had no idea what they were about, I just needed to make up the offer and they sounded good and she’s ended up becoming one of my favourite authors. Surprise favourites have been one of the things that I’ve missed since I started blogging, as now I’ve usually heard of most of the books I pick up, so it was nice to have Sarah’s books be a surprise discovery to start my blogging career.

Another really great surprise who ended up becoming a favourite author was Neal Shusterman. I only picked up Unwind because it was recommended on Amazon when I was buying something else and it sounded just strange enough to be up my street, so again, in my early days of blogging, I picked it up. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I loved the Unwind series, it’s such a weird, unique dystopia and it led me to many of Shusterman’s other books, which I’ve also enjoyed. I know we all rag on Amazon (and rightly so) but it does occasionally do some things right!

Then we have the authors that the blogging community themselves led me to. The most notable of these is probably VE Schwab, who yes, I know you have all heard me go on and on (and on) about over the past five years, but I really couldn’t do a post talking about my favourite authors I’ve discovered whilst blogging without mentioning her. VE Schwab was one of those authors who came up a lot in Top Ten Tuesdays and everyone was talking about A Darker Shade of Magic so much in 2016 that I just had to try it and see what all the fuss was about. Of course I loved it and have proceeded to devour almost all of her back catalogue plus new releases in the last few years. Getting into VE Schwab’s books also had another unexpected benefit for me, after largely writing fanfiction, news articles or blog posts for several years, I got back into fiction writing the same year that I read A Darker Shade of Magic, largely because it reminded me of why I wanted to be an author in the first place, to write stories that would transport people to another world.

Leigh Bardugo also fits into this category. Since I started blogging just before Six of Crows came out, and joined Top Ten Tuesdays in 2015, Leigh Bardugo was everywhere when I first started blogging and naturally because I’m curious, I wanted to read the book that everyone seemed to be talking about. But since I am me, of course I bought it in 2015 and then proceeded not to read it until 2017 because I am the queen of procrastination! However it was worth it in the end because I ended up loving Six of Crows and went on to devour all of Leigh’s other Grishaverse books. I still kick myself that I didn’t take my friend Nicola up on the offer to go to one of her events in 2016 because I’ve yet to actually be able to meet her in person!

I’ve also discovered a lot of great authors I’ve loved through blogging because of my use of Netgalley. Netgalley can be great for getting to read new releases by your favourite authors early (which I have also used it for) but because it’s free, I’ve also taken chances on authors that I’ve not necessarily heard of before and ended up finding ones I’ve really loved because of it. One of the best examples of these for me is Amanda Foody. I was approved for her book Ace of Shades on Netgalley (I was actually approved for Daughter of The Burning City as well, but it ended up being archived before I could download it) and was on her street team for promoting that book as well. Since reading it, I’ve read all of her other released books and am impatiently waiting for her next on but without blogging, I probably never would have read her books! Tara Sim is another author whose books I love but I never would have read without Netgalley, I requested Timekeeper on a whim in 2016, loved it and ended up devouring the whole series. Her books aren’t available in the UK, so without Netgalley (and blogging) I never would have known about her books!

The final way I’ve discovered books through blogging is YALC. Now you don’t have to be a blogger to go to YALC, but I probably never would have found out about it if it wasn’t for Book Twitter as I just wasn’t as tuned into things from the YA book community before I became a blogger. Several authors I really love I’ve found through YALC: one is Alwyn Hamilton, who Hannah and I met at our first year of YALC. She was doing a lucky dip to win manuscripts of Rebel of The Sands (which was as of then yet to be released) and though we didn’t win, we remembered the book and I ended up buying it and loving it! Hannah bought it at YALC the following year, and every year since then we’ve had our picture with Alwyn, she’s so lovely and she always remembers us (it does help that we go together every year!). Another was Laura Steven, in 2017, Hannah was desperate to pick up all the ARCs possible, of which Laura’s was one, which worked out really well for me as I ended up loving her book and we’ve since met her at YALC in 2019.

Then there was Stephanie Garber, I was desperate to win an ARC of Caraval at YALC in 2016, but was thwarted by my lack of throwing skill. Still I ended up requesting Caraval on Netgalley and loving it so it wasn’t a total waste. Alexandra Christo was another author I love whose book I got at YALC, I had heard of To Kill A Kingdom before and even requested it from Netgalley but that was another one that got archived before I downloaded it, so I finally bought and read her book because of going to YALC.

I’ve also been really lucky to get to meet a lot of my favourite authors since I started blogging, now of course you don’t need to be a blogger to go to book events, but I’ve definitely been more aware of author events since I started blogging (and using Book Twitter), which has meant I’ve been able to go to some really cool events over the past few years. There are also some events that I’ve been able to go to specifically because I’ve been a blogger, like Headline’s New Voices’ events, a Hot Key bloggers’ brunch and a HQ showcase event in London last year. Obviously we can’t go to in person events right now because of the pandemic and whilst I’ve attended some really cool virtual talks over lockdown, I’m definitely looking forward to book events starting back up again.

So those are just some of the authors that I’ve discovered whilst I’ve been blogging. Obviously I wasn’t able to include all of the authors that I’ve found in seven years of blogging, as there are so many of them, but this should have given you guys a pretty good picture. Who are your favourite authors that you’ve found whilst blogging? How long have you been blogging for? Let me know in the comments!

I’m not sure what my Jo Talks post for next month will be, so I guess you’ll find out when I post it. In the meantime, I’ll have another Top Ten Tuesday post for you guys on Tuesday.

Jo Talks Books: On Year 3 Of My Bechdel Test Experiment

Hi everyone! I meant to do this post at the end of last year, but I just didn’t have time for it, so I moved it to the beginning of this year. This has become an annual thing since 2018 when I first started analysing the books I read to see if they passed the Bechdel Test, and I like to wrap up my thoughts at the end of each year to see if I can see any trends or patterns emerging in the books I read that passed. For anyone who may not have heard of the Bechdel Test, it’s a (admittedly flawed) test of female representation in media, usually used for films. The three criteria for passing the test are as follows: a) there have to be two or more female characters, b) who talk to each other & c) about something other than a man.

Last year I read 45 books, and of those, I analysed 38 of them. 7 were left out of my data, because for 4, I honestly just wasn’t able to keep track of incidences where they passed the Bechdel Test (most were audiobooks and for some reason I find those harder to analyse for passing material), one was a non-fiction and two I didn’t review because they were so short. This is slightly up on my 2019 stats, where analysed 34 books.

Of these, 34 passed the test and 4 failed. This is actually a significant downtick on 2019, where I had 11 books fail the test and it was the same the year before that, and significantly more books passed the test last year than have previously, 35 as compared to 22 in 2019. Now obviously, this year did also have books missing from the stats, and not every book I read in 2020 was released in 2020, so I can’t say with any real confidence that books are becoming more feminist, but it definitely is pleasing to see such a marked difference in the number of books that passed the test last year.

Once again, almost all the books I read last year were by female authors, which isn’t really a surprise, since I rarely read much by male authors, I read 3 books last year by male authors (one of which isn’t included in the stats). All but one of the books that passed the test were written by female authors, but of the books that failed, again, all but one were written by female authors. Honestly, I would need to read more books by male authors to get better data on whether their books are less likely to pass the test, but from the little I have read over the past few years, it doesn’t seem like male authors are any less likely to write books which pass the test than female authors (though again, do take this with a pinch of salt as we are talking about a very, very small pool of male authors that I’ve read here).

The issue of male narrated books not passing the test was actually less evident this year than it has been in previous years. Of the four books that failed, only one failed because it was from a male POV, the rest either had mixed casts or a female narrator, so that’s actually quite an interesting change from previous years as last year, three books suffered from this issue and in 2018 as well, so it was quite interesting to see this year that it wasn’t the case this year. I will admit, I do read books primarily with either female narrators or mixed casts (I read a lot of YA and they tend to either have female leads or a multiple narration with different genders) so that probably does skew my sample slightly, but it was still interesting to see that this issue wasn’t as prevalent this year as it has been.

In fact, two of the books that failed the test this year were quite interesting to me, because they really should have passed. Foul Is Fair, by Hannah Capin, presents itself as a feminist retelling of Macbeth, there are plenty of female characters, it would have been very easy for it to pass the test. In fact, her other book, Dead Queens Club, which I also read last year, passed the test easily and on multiple occasions. But Foul Is Fair, being entirely focused on a revenge plot against the boy who assaulted Jade, means that all of her discussions with her friends end up being focused around boys. Now obviously the Bechdel Test really isn’t a measure of how feminist a piece of work is, and I do think this book has some merit in that area, but it did stick out to me that a book like this about women reclaiming their power, didn’t pass the test? Like it would have been super straightforward for Jade and her friends to have one conversation about something other than guys, but nope. Didn’t happen.

The other was Capturing The Devil, the final book in Keri Maniscalco’s series. The series sets Audrey Rose up as this feminist heroine, so ahead of her time but the final book was so focused on her romance with Thomas that it was literally all she spoke about on the rare occasions that other women appeared in the book (this series definitely has an issue with Audrey being the only woman in the book a lot of the time!). It would have been really easy for the book to pass, if the author hadn’t been so focused on the romance, which derailed the rest of the plot.

I only had one book that failed this year because it only had one major named female character in it, and that was Good Omens. Being published in 1990 should not, and should never have been an excuse for not having more major female characters in your book! I have many, many issues with this book but the treatment of women is definitely one of the major ones. Still, it was really great to see only one book failing because of a lack of female characters in 2020 and I would love to see this stat be reduced to nothing this year.

Okay so onto the books that did pass the test, and there were lots of them last year! As usual though, there was a fair bit of variation in the amount of passing content featured in the books that did pass. Over three years of doing this, it’s fairly obvious (and tbh, it would have been before I started doing this), that the books that do best have multiple female characters, who interact frequently and place female relationships as something that is centrally important within the plot. For 2020, these were books like, Queen of Volts, which despite being a disappointing finale in other areas, definitely really highlighted its female characters and the relationships between them. The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats and Piracy was another great example, that book was all about Felicity and her relationships with other women and I actually really loved how Lee showed her growth in terms of examining her internalised misogyny and improving her relationships with other women, particularly Johanna. The Enigma Game was also a really great one for this, Louisa, Ellen and Jane (and a certain other character who shall not be mentioned for spoilery reasons), all have a really important part to play in the story and their friendships are definitely front and centre. I’ve already talked earlier about Dead Queens Club, so I won’t touch on it too much here, but that was another great one in terms of focus on female friendships.

However, where there are obvious passes, there were also of course, those that only just passed. Addie LaRue for instance, whilst Addie is not the only female character in the book, and one of her most important mentors (Estelle) is a woman, there are actually fairly few interactions between her and other women. This is a problem I’ve noticed a lot in VE Schwab’s books actually, as she tends to go for the “one main woman” trope a lot. Not Even Bones had a similar problem, Nita doesn’t really interact all that much with other women, most of her interactions in the book are with Kovit, so though it did pass, it was barely. Kingdom of The Wicked, much like Keri Maniscalco’s other books, had so much focus on romance that Emilia barely interacted with other women. The City of Brass also suffered with this quite a bit as Nahri didn’t seem to interact much with other women aside from Nisreen, though thankfully I would say this improved in the other two books in the trilogy.

I also wanted to talk about some of the books that passed that had problematic content in terms of their treatment of women. Because the test isn’t massively nuanced, it measures quantity of interactions over quality, this means that a piece of media can be problematic and still pass the Bechdel Test (see, Twilight). A notable example of this last year was Neal and Jarrod Shusterman’s Dry. It passes the Bechdel test due to a brief conversation between Alyssa and her friend Sofia about the water crisis.

However, the main male character Kelton acts in some pretty toxic ways throughout the book, acting like Alyssa is a prize to be won and he even admits to having spied on her at one point. There’s also a few instances of slut shaming and girls having to trade sex for water. So in terms of the way women are represented, and treated in the book, I would say it’s not actually great representation, even though the book ostensibly passes the test.

The City of Brass also suffered from a well worn trope, immortal who is distinctly abusive towards his human love interest. There were definitely moments in City of Brass where it felt like Dara was being abusive towards Nahri and on more than one occasion, even though again, that book ostensibly passed the Bechdel Test.

So that was my 2020 Bechdel test results! I thought it was quite interesting this year, because though a lot of the same issues from the last two years cropped up again, there were far less books that failed this year and the ones that did, didn’t necessarily fail due to lack of female characters but rather that their female characters plotlines were so focused around the men that their interactions revolved solely around that. Still, the fact that I read so many books that passed the test last year and so few that didn’t was very heartening!

I look forward to seeing how these results differ in 2021 and hope that the marked increase in books passing the test from last year is something that continues!

I’ll have another discussion posts for you next month, I’m hoping to do something for my blogiversary on the 13th, though I haven’t decided what that will be yet. In the meantime, I will have my usual Top Ten Tuesday post for you all on Tuesday.

Jo Talks Books: How Did My 5 Star Read Predictions Pan Out This Year?

Hi everyone! Only a week till Christmas, I hope everyone’s doing well and that whatever your plans for Christmas are, that you have a good one, this year hasn’t been easy for anyone so I hope you’re all able to have the best Christmas possible under the circumstances.

Earlier in the year, one of our Top Ten Tuesday topics was predicting our 5 star reads for the year, so I thought it would be super fun now we’re approaching the end of the year and that I’ve read most of them, to check in and see if I was right about any! So here we go:

  1. Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orisha #2)-Tomi Adeyemi
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Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: 3 stars

My Thoughts: I was a little wrong about this one! I was expecting to really love it because Children of Blood and Bone was super close to being a 5 star read for me, but sadly Children of Virtue and Vengeance is a classic case of the middle book slump. Honestly this is probably one of my biggest disappointments of the year because I had super high expectations for it and the character development felt like it kind of stagnated and the plot went round in circles. I’m hoping the final book in the series will be closer to the first book than this one!

2. The King of Crows (The Diviners #4)-Libba Bray

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Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts: Honestly this book was generally good, but my expectations were super high and it just didn’t quite get there. The pacing was off for most of the book, and it was a lot longer than it really needed to be and I missed the group dynamics of Before The Devil Breaks You. Having said that, I do love the characters and it was a satisfying conclusion to the series, so I still rated it highly even if it wasn’t a 5 star.

3. Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1)-Janella Angeles


Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: I haven’t actually read this one this year, so we’ll both have to wait until next year to find out if my prediction is correct!

4. The City of Brass (Daevabad Trilogy #1)-S.A. Chakraborty


Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed it! It’s a little slow in places and takes a while to build, hence the four star rather than 5 star rating but I loved the characters and the world-building and it’s one of my favourite books of this year, so I may not have given it the rating I predicted, but I think that’s more a reflection of how picky I am with my star ratings than anything else!

5. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue-VE Schwab

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Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: 4.5 stars

My Thoughts: SO, SO CLOSE. It’s a brilliant book, so emotional, beautifully written and the characters are great, but the plot was just slightly too thin to get the full five star rating. It’s still an amazing book but I’m a very plot driven reader so that’s a super important part of what makes a 5 star book for me.

6. Truthwitch (Witchlands #1)-Susan Dennard

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Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: 3.5 stars

My Thoughts: I did on the whole enjoy this one, the characters were great and I did enjoy the world she created but I found the worldbuilding kind of confusing, which prevented me from fully immersing myself in the world and giving this book a higher rating. I still went on to read the other two books in the series and the novella and I’m planning on reading Witchshadow when it comes out, so even if it wasn’t a new favourite, I still went on to enjoy the rest of the released books in the series.

7. Queen of Volts (The Shadow Game #3)-Amanda Foody

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Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: 3.5 stars

My Thoughts: AGH SO DISAPPOINTED. I loved King of Fools so much, and this was a decent series finale, but it just did not live up to the heights of the second book. It was so slow to get going and it took forever to reach the action packed finale I was expecting. There were some great reveals and I loved how she brought the whole thing full circle, but I just felt like this book had the potential to be a lot more than it was.

8. The Notorious Virtues-Alwyn Hamilton

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Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: The release date for Notorious got pushed and there’s been no announcement of a new date yet, so I might not find out if my prediction was right for a while!

9. Circe-Madeline Miller

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Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this one! I loved how Madeline Miller explored the relationship between women and power and the way she entwined Circe’s story with a lot of other Greek myths and her writing was beautiful. The main thing that prevented me from giving this 5 stars was the ending, it was kind of weird and ambiguous and I would have preferred a more closed ending.

10. Call Down The Hawk (Dreamer Trilogy #1)-Maggie Stiefvater

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Predicted Rating: 5 stars

Actual Rating: 3 stars

My Thoughts: I was pretty disappointed with this one because I’ve been so excited for the Dreamer Trilogy ever since The Raven King was released and it just didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. The pacing was super slow, the plot was kind of messy and there wasn’t the same fun and humour from the original Raven Cycle books. I’m still looking forward to the second book and I’m hoping that now that most of the groundwork is done, it will be faster paced and more tightly plotted.

So there we go, that’s how my 5 star predictions went, of the ones I read, I was totally wrong about all of them, I didn’t actually rate any 5 stars! However, I think that’s more a reflection on me and how picky I am with my five star reads, and also how high my expectations were for some of my most anticipated releases. 4 of these books were still among my favourite books of the year, and 4 stars is still a really good rating.

How about you guys? Did you make any five star predictions for this year? Were you right or wrong like me? Let me know in the comments!

I’m actually planning on having another Jo Talks post for you guys this month, I know, first time all year I’ve managed two! As I said last month, I will be rounding up year 3 of my Bechdel Test Experiment closer to the end of the month. In the meantime, I have a really fun Writing Corner post planned for you guys that I’m hoping to post tomorrow (I know, I know I’ve severely neglected it this year), it’s going to be a super fun one talking about my experiences critique partnering with my offline best friend Hannah!

Jo Talks Books: Why Read-A-Thons Don’t Work For Me

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been doing well since my last one of these. I’ve made it through week one of Stirling’s local lockdown, so just two more to go and then hopefully we’ll be back down to Tier 3 once it’s over!

Today’s topic is something I planned to talk about for a while, but I’ve never got around to it and that is read-a-thons. A staple of the Book Twitter community, it feels like every few months or so, some new read-a-thon challenge is announced where book bloggers aim to read as many books as they can over a certain period, from 24 hours, to a weekend, to a week sometimes.

I certainly get the appeal of this idea, it always looks like a lot of fun and I do love the sense of community that comes from everyone reading for a specific goal at the same time. I also get it from a logical perspective: we all have massive TBRs, a lot of book bloggers have pretty large challenge goals as well and being able to tick a load of books off both things is certainly appealing.

However, I’ve found that for me personally, read-a-thons do not work. I tried the Bout-of-Books Read-A-Thon back in 2015, where you were supposed to read as much as you could during a week. I deliberately put my goal very low and said I just wanted to finish my current book, or if I didn’t, then make it halfway through. I did get over halfway through the book, and the read-a-thon was meant to be low pressure, but even so, you certainly find yourself feeling a little bad when you don’t even manage to finish one book for a read-a-thon and other people have read like five books in a week.

Later in 2015, I tried again. This time it was the Make Me Read Read-a-thon, another week long read-a-thon where the aim was to read as many books as possible. I had a list of eight books to potentially get through (knowing I would probably only make it through one) but alas, I was going through a pretty major reading slump in 2015 (it was my worst reading year ever between A-Levels and starting Uni) so I didn’t even make it to the end of the first book I was reading (A Court of Thorns and Roses).

I came to the conclusion after this, that I just wasn’t the type of reader that read-a-thons worked for. Yes there were extenuating circumstances in 2015 that meant I didn’t read as much as I would have done in any other year (exams, starting a new job, going to Uni), but I’ve also realised over the years that I am not the kind of reader that read-a-thons work for.

For one thing, I am a slow reader. It has taken a while to accept this, I was always a pretty speedy reader when I was young, but over the years, my pace has definitely slowed. It takes me an average of about two weeks to finish a book, and could be anywhere up to a month if the book is long or I’m not really into it. This can be less if I’ve got a lot of time or the book is very short, but in general, it’s quite rare for me to finish a book within a week. It’s unheard of for me to finish a book in one sitting, no matter how short it is, I think my shortest read time was maybe 3 days for a less than 300 page book? This is fine, I’ve accepted that I’m never going to be the finish a book in a day kind of reader, but it does mean that the whole concept of read-a-thons in general are kind of lost on me, as read as much as you can in a week or a weekend, will probably just be a few chapters!

I’m also super competitive. Now this shouldn’t really matter for a read-a-thon, as you’re not competing against anyone, just reading as much as you personally can, but even so, watching other people read a lot more than me in that kind of situation makes me put a lot of pressure on myself to try and read more and that makes reading less fun for me? I don’t want reading to be a pressurised thing and for me, personally, I have found read-a-thons in the past to be quite a lot of pressure. I mean potentially a month long read-a-thon might be better for me in that respect, but generally I don’t like there being any kind of timeline put on when I finish a book because I tend to find I rush then and don’t enjoy it as much. This is why yearlong challenges like the Goodreads Challenge, or the #RockMyTBR Challenge which I do every year work better for me, there’s a certain level of competitiveness with myself which I enjoy as I obviously want to work to meet my challenge goal, but it’s over a longer period of time, I don’t feel like I have to rush to squeeze all my reading into a short window and I can put my challenge up and down as I see fit. It’s relatively low level pressure and that kind of longer, lower stress challenge works much better for me.

Granted, the only year I tried doing read-a-thons was a year when I was feeling slumpy so I might feel differently if I tried one again, but that brings me to another point why read-a-thons don’t work for me. I wouldn’t call myself a mood-reader in that I need to be in the mood for certain books and I can’t pre-plan my reading at all, but my mood definitely impacts how much I read. Read-a-thons don’t necessarily allow for that flexibility, so if a read-a-thon happens to fall on a week, or a month where for whatever reason, you’re not in the mood to read, then you’re automatically not going to do particularly well.

Read-a-thons mean that everything feels kind of scheduled, and I just don’t personally like that? I do like having some structure built into my reading, that’s why I do my #RockMyTBR Challenge every year, but I also like some flexibility if that makes sense? I want to be able to put down a book if I’m not feeling it, I don’t want to say I’m finishing this book at this particular time and doing a read-a-thon makes everything feel kind of rigid and stuck, like you have to stick to a plan and I’m just not that kind of reader, I like things to be a bit more flexible.

I’m also not the kind of person that will sit down and read for a whole day? Don’t get me wrong, I love reading, and I can sit and read for hours, but generally I do like to break things up and go and do something else as well. In general (ie not this year because my reading patterns for this year don’t reflect my usual reading patterns!), I read in the evenings before I go to bed for about an hour, and then also whenever I’m on public transport, which is usually quite a lot as I used to get the bus into work. So I wouldn’t necessarily sit and read and do nothing else for the whole day and it feels like to do well at read-a-thons that’s what you kind of have to do? I could be wrong about that, but generally that seems to be the expectation and I don’t want to feel guilty if I’m doing things other than reading.

I do love the creativity of read-a-thons, I love how many different themes there are and you can really tell how much effort goes into running them and I love seeing all the different discussions that people have about them. I also love seeing the whole book community coming together for a common goal. However I’ve learned for me that read-a-thons are better appreciated from the outside than within!

What do you think? Any big read-a-thon fans out there? What do you like about them? Anyone else like me and find that read-a-thons don’t work for them? Let me know in the comments!

Next month’s post will be my round up of year 3 of my Bechdel Test reading experiment. In the meantime, my next post will be my regularly scheduled Top Ten Tuesday post.

Jo Talks Books: On Problems With “Book Boyfriends” and Adult YA Readers

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been doing well since my last one of these, it’s hard not to feel a little dread as the darkness and the cold sinks in and the prospect of potential winter lockdowns looms, but I’m trying my best to focus on the good stuff (mostly books).

So there was a lot of discussion last month, or maybe it was the beginning of this month, honestly what is time anymore? Anyway, there was a lot of discussion on Book Twitter after a popular YouTuber released a video talking about books that she felt turned on by after a few of them were YA books about gay teenagers. There are obviously people much more suited than me to be talking about the sexualisation of m/m relationships, so that’s not what I’m going to be talking about today, but the response to that video did get me thinking about the concept of “book boyfriends” and all the problems with that when a large proportion of the online book community are adults.

I’m sure we’ve all heard of, or even perhaps used the term “book boyfriend” in the past to describe fictional characters that we’d like to date, were they real (or were we fictional). There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of having a crush on a fictional character, it’s a pretty harmless thing.

Obviously, I don’t think that when adult readers talk about “book boyfriends” from YA books, that they mean they would want to date an actual teenager. I know when I’ve talked about it in the past, I’ve definitely more meant, “in the context of if I was still a teenager, or if the fictional character was my age”.

But as I’ve got older, I’ve definitely found myself with more of an uneasiness with adults discussing their book boyfriends from YA books mostly because as a 24 year old, when I read about 16 year olds now, my immediate reaction is definitely less, “ooh I’d definitely date this guy if he were real” and more “god I’m old, you are a child” when I remember that it’s been eight years since I was that age. That’s not to say that I don’t find certain traits in fictional male characters attractive, but I’m definitely very much aware of the age gap between myself and the characters I’m reading about now.

Like I said at the start, I assume (and very much hope) that when adults talk about their book boyfriends, they do not mean that they would want to date an actual teenager, because I think we can all agree, that’s gross. But there’s still definitely something uncomfortable and slightly weird about grown women referring to underage boys as “boyfriends”.

I do think part of the issue stems from YA characters reading as older than they are actually meant to be in some cases. Take a book like Six of Crows, where the main characters definitely read more as they’re in their early twenties than sixteen. I can definitely see how when reading a book with characters that don’t act like teens, it can be easy to picture them as older and therefore describing them as a boyfriend wouldn’t seem like such a stretch. This is connected to a larger issue: because publishing has seen how much YA appeals to adult readers and adults have more spending power than teens, so stories that tend towards the more mature end of YA/with characters that feel more like adults have become more and more common (but that could probably be another discussion post in itself).

I also think that YA authors may have a little to answer for in this issue. Not that they write with the intention of adults sexualising their teen characters, but you do often see YA authors on Twitter talking about their own book boyfriends from other YA books and I think this does proliferate the issue: because if the adults who are writing YA books are talking about how “sexy” male characters are, then it encourages adult readers to do the same thing.

I also think the line between YA and adult is increasingly blurred: I’ll admit, I only really started feeling like I was a lot older than the characters I was reading about when I was about 22/23, so for a few years I was in a strange place where I was technically an adult but didn’t really feel massively older than the characters I was reading about. One of the reasons a lot of adults in their early twenties still relate to YA is because they can relate a lot more to the issues faced in those books than in adult books with older protagonists and I feel like that also feeds into the way that “book boyfriends” are perceived by older readers.

There’s also a wider issue here in terms of how teen characters are presented in wider media. In TV shows and films, teen characters are often portrayed by older actors, including in adaptations of books (for example, in The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence was four years older than Katniss’ age in the books). Obviously books are a different medium to film, but I think the same issues apply here, because a lot of the “teenagers” we see on screen are actually older adults, I think perceptions of fictional teenagers can be somewhat warped because we are fed images of teens that don’t actually reflect reality.

So how do we tackle these issues? I definitely think adults not using the term “book boyfriend” (or girlfriend) would be a start. I don’t think it’s harming anyone to have a fictional crush, but perhaps “book boyfriends” should not be as popular fandom discourse as it is.

But I also think this issue is connected to a wider issue in publishing: the lack of a specific NA category leaves younger adult readers stuck between categories, where they aren’t teenagers anymore but might not necessarily feel that adult fiction reflects where they are in life. This leads authors writing to YA characters that feel like adults because publishing wants to appeal to adult readers and then leaves the very audience they’re meant to reflect out. I think if there was a wider range for both teens and adults (books that skew toward the younger end of YA, and books that appeal to the younger end of YA) then it might resolve the issue, as there wouldn’t be a need for YA characters that read like adults.

I also think adult readers and authors need to be more responsible in terms of talking about “book boyfriends”. We don’t want to make teenagers feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in the community, and we need to make sure that teenagers in YA fiction are not sexualised. Changing the dialogue around book boyfriends would go a long way to dealing with the problems, we should leave “book boyfriends” to teenagers rather than adults. Obviously we can enjoy YA fiction but I definitely think we need to recognise our place in it: and that involves YA authors not describing YA characters in other books as book boyfriends.

But ultimately, the change required is a societal one. We need to show the reality of teenagers rather than the fantasy in all forms of media, and I think if that happened, reactions to teenage characters would be closer to “You’re a child” than “I’d like to date you”.

What do you think? Is there a problem with adults talking about book boyfriends from YA books? How do we solve this problem? Let me know what you think in the comments!

I’m not really sure what I’m going to talk about next month so I guess you’ll find out then! In the meantime, I’ll have another Book Vs Movie post up for you guys tomorrow.

Jo Talks Books: On Pacing In Books

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good month since I last did one of these, this year seems to both be flying by and yet also 1000% feels like it should be over already, am I right? I swear January definitely feels like it was a different year!

Anyway, this month I wanted to talk about something that I bring up a lot in my reviews, but I don’t think I’ve really spoken much in depth about what I’m looking for when it comes to this particular aspect of a book, so I wanted to do that today. That issue is of course pacing.

So what exactly do I mean when I talk about a book’s pace? I’m talking about the speed at which a story unfolds: this doesn’t mean the time over which a story takes place, a story can take place over a matter of days and still be quite slow paced, or a matter of weeks/months and yet be quite fast paced, it’s more to do with how the action unfolds on the page. It is probably one of the biggest issues for me when reading a book, alongside obviously connection with the characters, because if the events of a book are unfolding very slowly, an author is almost guaranteed to lose my interest.

I say almost; obviously there are exceptions to that, I have read quite slow paced novels that I’ve really enjoyed: The Book Thief being an obvious example that springs to mind. That story definitely has a very slow unravelling and yet I was kept hooked because of the emotional beats in the story and the fact that I loved the characters. I’m currently reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and it’s definitely a slowly unravelling tale, yet again, I’m really enjoying it because that style really works for the story that’s being told. So slow pacing doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, there are some stories that demand to be unspooled slowly and savoured.

However, in general I do lean towards wanting a faster paced narrative. One of the main things I tend to find an issue with a lot of authors’ books is that they spend far TOO LONG on the build-up to the main event, that by the time you actually get there, you’ve had to wade through 200 odd pages of generally quite boring stuff and instead of feeling super invested, I’m usually like, “Okay so are we going to get to the GOOD STUFF YET?”. I understand needing some buildup, because being thrown straight into the action can be disorienting, but there’s a line between establishing a world so that readers understand what’s going on and spending all your time on buildup and not enough time on the payoff.

A good example of this for me is the Daevabad trilogy by SA Chakraborty. They’re quite chunky books and an awful lot of time is spent on buildup in each book before any of the real action happens. This is fine in the first book as it’s quite a complicated world and there’s a lot that needs to be established, but in the second and third books, the long buildup feels more like filler than anything else, and when the action does happen it feels rushed because Chakraborty has spent so long on the buildup, that there’s not enough time to fully explore the payoff.

It’s all about finding a balance between the two. Just as a long buildup with little time for payoff can be frustrating, so too can constant action. In order for the action to actually have an impact, there needs to be some slower moments, because the excitement will get lost if its happening all the time. A good balance between slower moments and faster moments will help to keep things even. I tend to find a lot of books give me whiplash with the change in pace from a slow beginning to a super speedy end, if you establish a balance early on, then I’ll be more likely to remain engaged the whole way through and your ending won’t feel massively rushed compared to your beginning.

I do find that pacing tends to be more of an issue over longer books, though this is not always the case. VE Schwab is an author that I find generally (there are some exceptions) always paces her books really well. The latter two Shades of Magic books are over 500 and over 600 pages respectively, and though they have their slower moments, I was kept engaged and interested the whole way through. Part of this is obviously loving the characters, but one of the things Schwab does quite well is balancing the slower moments with action, as well as keeping her chapters quite short so the book keeps ticking along. The same goes for Vengeful, the second Villains book, it’s almost 600 pages long, but it never feels like it’s dragging and actually was better paced than the previous instalment Vicious, which was over 200 pages shorter. If chapters are too long, I tend to get bogged down, even if the book itself is actually quite short.

The issue I tend to find with longer books is that there tends to be a lot more filler which mostly just feels like its there to fill the pages as opposed to actually serving a purpose for the plot. A recent example of this would be Queen of Volts, the final book in the Shadow Game trilogy. There’s a lot of talking and plotting and planning in the first section of the book and none of the characters really take any action, they’re not trying to beat the game, nor really actively participating in the game. I reckon that had the characters been more active in the first half of the book, and some of the plotting had been trimmed a little, then the pacing would have overall been better.

An older example of a similar thing is Queen of Shadows, the fourth book in the Throne of Glass series. The characters in that book have two main goals, it’s a fairly simple plot for what is essentially the bridge that gets everyone to start properly prepping for the war and yet a good portion of the book is stuffed with filler. Had some of the filler been cut and Sarah J Maas had just focused down on the two main goals of the book, I reckon we could have ended up with something that was more Crown of Midnight length and the pacing would definitely have been improved. Everything needs to have a purpose. If a scene is not adding anything to a book, if it doesn’t push the characters or the plot forward, then it’s NOT NEEDED. I have definitely found that authors who do this, who always keep their focus on exactly what is needed to keep the plot moving forward, have better paced books than those who don’t.

I’ve been talking mostly about slow pacing in this post because I tend to have an issue with that more than overly fast pacing, but that can obviously be an issue too. When an author almost rushes through the plot, so the reader barely has time to comprehend what is going on, that is just as bad as authors taking too long to build up to the action. I actually rarely have this issue, but I do have one example of a book I read this year that fell into that category and that’s The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant. She almost rushed through every event that happened in the book, and there were many confusing skips forward in time which actually made it really hard to follow the book.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance actually had a similar issue to The Court of Miracles, the chapters were very short (which I do usually like but didn’t work well here) and we kept jumping from different POV to different POV but you barely get time to settle before you’re moved to the next one. Again, it comes back to that balance, readers want the excitement but we also need the payoff, otherwise it has no impact!

A balance between dialogue and description is also key. Dialogue is a really great tool for shaping character relationships and keeping the pace of a story ticking over. I’ve definitely found in books that I’ve found lagging, a common trait is that there are huge chunks of text focused on description and not enough dialogue. Dialogue helps break that up so you don’t constantly feel like you’re facing a massive wall of uninterrupted text! Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House is a good example of a book that struggles with this, there’s a lot of dense descriptions but very little dialogue, which I felt bogged down the book and left a lot of the character dynamics unclear. I will say that I always tend to prefer books that focus on dialogue over description, but there is definitely a need of balance between the two!

Pacing is actually a huge reason why I tend to prefer YA over Adult books (still, even though I do feel myself naturally relating less to teenage narrators), because generally, YA books tend to be much more tightly plotted and faster paced than a lot of adult books.

Obviously good pacing will mean different things to different readers because we want different things out of books. For instance, I know that I like snappy dialogue and lots of action because that’s what tends to keep me engaged (though I don’t like to make generalisations as there are always exceptions) and so that means I lean towards enjoying faster paced books more. Other readers may prefer books that are heavy on description and character introspection that benefit from a slower paced narrative. I actually don’t envy authors trying to get this right because you’re never going to be able to please everyone!

What do you think? Is pacing an important thing for you/something that you notice when you’re reading? What makes a well paced book for you? I would love to hear your thoughts on this one as I know that pacing can be a very subjective thing!

So once again, I’m not really sure what I want to cover next month, honestly I quite like not feeling like I have to hold myself to the topics I have on my list if I get inspired to write something else closer to the time of writing up the post, so you’ll just have to see what I come up with for next month. In the meantime, I’m actually going to have another post up today, this month’s Book Vs Movie post, so keep an eye out for that in the next hour!


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.