Jo Talks Books: Why TV Adaptations of Books Are (Generally) Better Than Films

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve had a good month since I last did one of these, I did totally mean to get this up earlier so it was out in May, but I just didn’t get around to it, so it’s going to be your June discussion post instead. I have been much better at getting these out regularly this year as compared to last, and did fully intend to have one out every month, but sometimes life gets away from you!

Anyway, as I mentioned at the end of my discussion post in April, today I’m going to be talking about Book To TV Adaptations and why I generally think they work better than films. In the last few years, I’ve definitely noticed there being a bit of a swing towards more books being adapted for TV rather than film, so I wanted to talk on here a little bit about why I think that might be and why I’ve enjoyed the recent spate of TV adaptations more than the long line of book to film adaptations which have come before. I did an article about this for The National Student about five years ago, but I wanted to talk about it again here as I figured I could expand on some of my feelings a bit more!

With TV budgets getting bigger due to the rise of streaming services and the development of increasingly better special effects technology, you can do just as spectacular things on the small screen as you can on the big screen these days, so there’s no reason why big budget epic fantasies for instance, need to be purely the purview of the big screen anymore.

The episodic nature of novels means that they naturally fit better with TV, a serialised form of storytelling, as opposed to films which are meant to tell a singular narrative in one sitting. A TV series can focus on a single book over the course of the series without the limit of a two-hour runtime like a movie, meaning that TV can get into the depths of a novel in a way that movies just can’t. You get more time to explore supporting characters, more time to delve into more minor storylines of a story that might be consider unimportant in a two-hour movie but are very important to fans and more time to establish the world which is especially important for big sprawling fantasy stories. Having a story told over episodes also means you get the same kind of “one more chapter” energy that you get when reading a book, you can have episodes end on cliff-hangers, the tension created is just that bit greater than a movie where you have a singular uninterrupted narrative.

The best example I can think of for this as there is actually both a TV series, and a movie to compare and contrast, would be A Series Of Unfortunate Events. The 2004 movie with Jim Carrey tried to do far too much, combining the first three books into one movie which meant that a lot of the smaller details from the books got missed.

The TV series on the other hand, dedicated two episodes to each book, which allowed the storylines to be developed more fully and to cover the entire book series as opposed to just the first three books, which considering that the book series is so long (13 books in all) could be much more easily covered in a TV format, which lends itself better to long book series than film does: had the film series taken off and they had followed the same format of 3 books for each film, it would have taken four films at least to cover the same amount of material and in much less depth.

With film adaptations, there is really only enough time to focus on the main characters, and the side characters, who we so often love just as much as the protagonists, don’t really get a look in. With TV shows, especially those with a reasonable episode count, or that go on for multiple seasons, you have the time to potentially take an episode to dive into some of the side characters. This is seen in the TV adaptation of 13 Reasons Why, which for all its many flaws, does expand the story beyond Clay’s limited POV in the book. As with the book, the first season (which really should have been the only one, but that’s neither here nor there) dedicates an episode to each tape, but whereas in the book, we merely see Clay’s reaction to events and the scope is very limited, the TV series delves much further into the other characters’ on the tapes. Had it been a film, I doubt this would have been the case, the focus would have largely remained on Clay with the other characters in the periphery because there wouldn’t have been the time to explore each tape in detail.

Some books are also just too big to be given justice in a film. I’ll use Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix as an example: it’s a nearly 900 page book. It’s also somehow one of the SHORTEST of the films. How does this make any sense? Now granted, I actually didn’t mind it being compressed because that book was WAY TOO LONG, but the parts they chose to cut made no sense! Cutting the bit with Neville’s parents in St Mungo’s when when find out what happened to them? That was actually a pretty critical part in the book, especially when it came to the whole prophecy thing and the fact it could have been Neville instead of Harry, but all we get in the film is a short scene of Neville explaining what happened to Harry.

I feel like as a general rule of thumb, any book over about 500 pages or so, is going to be too compressed as a movie, and needs the extra screen time that a TV series will offer. This is especially true for fantasy books where there is so much detail and world building crammed in there, that try as they might, filmmakers are never going to be able to translate all of it to the big screen. This is something that despite all of the flaws of the later series, the Game of Thrones producers understood well: that series would never have worked on the big screen because there would have just been so much that had to be cut in order to meet a 2 to 3 hour running time.

However there are of course, like with films, negatives to TV adaptation. For me, the main one is that a book tells a singular story. TV shows generally are intended to last for multiple seasons and that works out fine in adaptation if the source material is a series of novels, like for example, the Grishaverse, which has many stories to tell and Shadow and Bone could easily run for at least seven seasons if they adapt every single novel in the Grishaverse, and even if they only do the original trilogy + Six of Crows duology, that’s still five seasons. Something like Outlander, again, huge book series, there are apparently ten books planned in all, so that’s a guaranteed ten seasons worth of material.

However, there can be cases where a series is so popular that the show keeps going despite outrunning the original source material. Now I love The Handmaid’s Tale, don’t get me wrong, but it long ago outlived the source material of the book (which I will admit I have not read, but I know that it’s a fairly short book!) and whilst in some ways that’s a good thing (more development for the characters, the world etc), it has resulted in a strange catch-22 situation in the last few seasons where we were stuck in this vicious cycle of June attempting to escape Gilead but then having to be brought back because of plot. I hope that the events of Season 4 mean that we have finally broken out of that, but even then, it doesn’t feel like there’s a planned ending in sight. This is a major pitfall when you drag a book out past its source material: 13 Reasons Why suffered from it too, continuing on because the first season was successful, but without having the material to justify it. A single novel will generally only have enough material to justify a limited series, or a mini-series if it is a particularly short book, and continuing on past the natural endpoint can mean a decline in quality.

Some books are also just really difficult to film well no matter what the medium is. They were intended to be consumed in their original format and they just don’t translate well to the screen, despite the efforts of those involved. For me, The Time Traveler’s Wife is a good example of this, though I admit, I haven’t yet seen the new TV series, so maybe that works better (although most reviews I’ve seen indicate that isn’t the case) but the complicated interconnected timeline of the book (Henry travels back and forth within his own timeline a lot) is difficult to translate well on screen and the whole he goes back in time to visit his future wife as young girl, telling her that she is destined to be his wife, is uncomfortable to say the least). That’s not to say that time loop stories can’t work well, I recently watched Life After Life on BBC iPlayer and it was so good that I’m going to read the book, but Life After Life does take a fairly chronological approach to proceedings, Ursula is born, she lives a life and then at some point she dies and the whole thing starts over again. The Time Traveler’s Wife is very a-linear, it jumps around in various points in time and whilst of course not impossible to do on screen, it is far more difficult than chronological time loops. The story works on the page as there is infinite space to explore the complexities of a relationship between two people who are literally never quite in sync with each other, but translating Henry and Clare’s out-of-time relationship onto the screen is always going to be a challenge, no matter who adapts it.

Ultimately, whether a book works better as a film or a TV adaptation depends a lot on what the book is and who adapts it. TV adaptations can go wrong just as often as film ones can, and ultimately any on-screen adaptation is probably going to lose something in translation. But I do think TV has certain advantages over film in terms of storytelling format and more time and space to be faithful to a novel’s story, as well as to be able to explore both major and side characters in more depth than is possible in a two-hour movie. I’ve very much enjoyed the new trend of books being adapted to TV more frequently, and hope that we continue getting more great TV adaptations of novels for years to come.

What do you think? Do you prefer TV or film as medium for adapting books? Would you prefer that books were never adapted for screen as they inevitably end up disappointing? Any book to TV adaptations you are particularly excited for (fangirling about the upcoming Percy Jackson Disney+ series is not only allowed but highly encouraged)? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll have another discussion post up for you guys next month, though I’m not sure what I’ll be writing about just yet. In the meantime, I will have my regular Top Ten Tuesday post up on Tuesday, and I’m hoping to have my Spring Quarterly Rewind up at some point next week too, so plenty to look out for!

Jo Talks Books: What Makes A Good Audiobook Narrator?

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good month since I last did one of these, April has been super busy for me, with work picking back up again due to the Spring Booster vaccine programme and 5-11 year olds being offered the COVID vaccine now here in the UK, hence why this post is coming right at the end of the month.

Anyway, as I’ve been reading mainly audiobooks over the past year and a bit, I wanted to talk a little about what I think makes a good audiobook narrator, now that I’ve sampled a wide variety of different audiobooks with different narrators.

I started properly listening to audiobooks on a regular basis since 2019, and since then it’s become one of my go-to ways to consume books. But the narrator of an audiobook can make or break your listening experience: I’ve had some audiobooks where I really wish that I’d just read the physical copy because the narrator has detracted from my experience of the book and I’ve had many where listening to the book has really made the experience for me and I couldn’t have imagined consuming the book any other way.

A good example of narration that I’ve found has worked really well for me, is memoirs where the author reads their own work. I’ve not read all of the memoirs out there, and I’m sure not everyone who writes a memoir would necessarily be a fabulous narrator, but by and large, I’ve found authors reading their own work to be a really good experience. Sometimes it’s because the author themselves is a performer, like Trevor Noah, he does a great job of narrating the audiobook of his memoir Born A Crime and I would largely put that down to him being a comedian: he already knows how to tell a story in an engaging way which is vital for audiobook performances.

Sometimes it’s because the author themselves is the only one who can tell that story authentically. For instance, I read Chanel Miller’s memoir, Know My Name earlier this year and listening to her tell her story of sexual assault in her own words, not only made the experience more powerful for me, but I also couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the audiobook narration, it just wouldn’t come across the same way if it had been someone else reading her words, especially as the memoir is so much about her reclaiming her voice. I would guess that’s why the large majority of memoirs seem to be read by the author in the audiobook version, after all, who can do more justice to your life’s story than you?

Generally, though, most fiction audiobooks are read by voice actors. After almost three years of listening to audiobooks, almost fifty different audiobooks and various different narrators, I’ve had my fair share of narrators. Some have been really fantastic and I’ve gone on to seek out audiobooks narrated by them specifically because I enjoyed their performance so much, and some…..well I’ve not listened to anything by them again. By and large I would say my experience with audiobook narrators has been overwhelmingly positive, there are very few that I have flat out hated, but certain audiobook narrators definitely stick in my mind more than others.

For me the narrators that stick out the most generally have one or both of two traits: they are excellent at accents and make each characters’ voice memorable and distinct, or they really capture the atmosphere of the book and make the story come alive, so you don’t just feel like you’re listening to words on a page, you really do feel like you’ve been immersed in the world of the story.

My two favourite audiobook narrators I’ve discovered since I started listening to audiobooks, Saskia Maarleveld and January LaVoy, do both of these things brilliantly. Saskia Maarleveld is fabulous at different accents, and in all the books I’ve listened to her narrate, seems to do about twenty different accents over the course of the book (I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea), and even narrates entire audiobooks in an accent that isn’t her own. This really brings all of the different characters to life for me, and allows me to keep everyone straight in my head which I really appreciate.

January LaVoy narrates the Diviners series (and I’m sure a lot of other things that I’ve yet to listen to her in) and she MADE those books for me. Obviously they’re good books anyway, but January LaVoy captures the atmosphere and creepiness of the story so well, that it really brought the stories to life for me and honestly, if she’d not been the narrator for the first book, I’m not sure if I’d have carried on reading as I was kind of unsure about the first book but I loved her narration so much that I carried on, which I’m really glad for as I enjoyed the rest of the series much more. January LaVoy definitely made the stories feel like a performance, each character has such a distinct voice (no mean feat with such a large cast) and she even sings in places, the whole listening experience was almost like having a theatre show playing in your ears!

AJ Beckles and Jordan Cobb who narrate the A Song of Wraiths and Ruin duology also do a fantastic job in creating the atmosphere of the world, oral storytelling traditions are huge part of the ASOWAR world so it felt very fitting that the narration of the audiobooks lent into that a lot, Beckles and Cobb were so good at creating the atmosphere of the world of Sonande, and it really added that extra level to the stories for me.

Narrators really capturing the characters personalities is also really important for an enjoyable audiobook experience. Both of the narrators I just mentioned are great at doing that, but I also wanted to mention an audiobook where I didn’t like the story as much, but the narrator’s portrayal of the character really made it. That book is Caroline Kepnes’ You, narrated by Santino Fontana (yes, Hans from Frozen, or OG Greg from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). The actual book I could kind of take or leave, I’ve actually found the Netflix show much better, but Santino’s performance was really fantastic. He captures Joe’s creepiness so well, it’s almost hard to listen to at points, he’s that convincing!

Christian Coulson in The Nobleman’s Guide To Scandal and Shipwrecks is another one who captures the personality of the narrator really well. He brings Adrian to life so completely that you almost forget that it’s a narrator reading the story and feel like Adrian is actually telling his own story to you. Adrian’s book was the only one of the Montague Siblings books that I listened to and I was so glad I did in the end because Christian’s performance just made it so enjoyable.

So then we have the ones that fall into the not so standout category. My problems with audiobook narrators tend to stem from a couple of key issues. The main one is that I just don’t like the voice, which is obviously not really something that anyone can change, some voices you gel with, some you don’t. This happened to me with The Poppy War, and whilst the narration was not the only issue I had with the book, it did kind of put the book on the backfoot right from the off. I just didn’t find Emily Woo Zeller to be a particularly engaging reader, and as I mentioned above, I really need character voices to have a clear differentiation and hers just didn’t.

I also found this with The Song of Achilles, Frazer Douglas just had a very flat and monotone style of reading, and I’ve found that for me, I need quite animated voices to keep me engaged. His voices for the female characters were also not great, which is something I’ve found to be a bit of a reoccurring problem with male narrators (at least the ones I’ve listened to), their female voices tend to be a bit too high pitched and it just irks me!

This also happened with We Were Liars, Ariadne Meyers had kind of a grating voice, and she just wasn’t all that enjoyable to listen to for almost seven hours!

Other issues I’ve had is that the narrator is just too quiet and I can’t hear what they’re saying properly, so I have to turn the volume up too loud just to hear them speak. Granted, that could be an audio quality issue rather than a narrator issue, but it definitely does pull you out of the listening experience because your ears start to hurt after too long listening on full volume! This was a big issue I had with Sky Breaker when I listened to it last year, both Caitlin Davies and Natalie Naudus seemed to be incredibly quiet speakers!

Then there’s those narrators who just don’t differentiate enough between characters’ voices, this was one of my big problems (among many) with Dangerous Remedy. The narrator, Flora Montgomery, really didn’t differentiate between the characters’ voices much at all, so it was hard to tell who was speaking when and that made the story so much more difficult to follow than it really needed to be. Differentiation between character voices is so important in audiobooks, it really brings me out of the story when I can’t tell who is speaking in which part because I find it hard to follow.

I had the same issue with The Bear and The Nightingale, Kathleen Gati also really didn’t differentiate her character voices enough and there are 10,000 characters with seemingly 10,000 different names between full names and nicknames, so I really needed more distinct voices to follow what was going on.

There’s also some narrators who do different accents for the characters but do them so badly that it becomes super grating. I love listening to different accents, and when people do them well, it can be brilliant but when they do them badly, it can be super cringey. This was a big problem for me when listening to the audiobook of Lore, Fryda Wolff’s reading voice was fine, but her accents really took me out of the story. She did a really terrible French accent for Iro and then her British accent for Van was the kind of really hammed up posh British accent for an American audience that just grates on me.

So to summarise, the best audiobook narrators for me have a combination of: impeccable and distinct accents for all the characters, an ability to capture the atmosphere of a book and they capture the personalities of the characters well. But most of all, I think what I find with the best audiobook narrators, is that I’ll finish reading the book and feel like I couldn’t possibly have consumed the story in any other way. If I finish and think, eh, I might have liked that better as a physical book, then the narrator hasn’t done their job properly (for me anyway!). If when I’m done, I think, wow that was amazing, the narration really added something to the story that I don’t think I would have got in the physical copy, then that’s a fantastic narrator and those are usually the ones that I go on to read multiple books by.

What makes a good audiobook narrator for you? Is there anything that I didn’t touch on that you think is really important for your listening experience? Do you have any recommendations of really good narrators for me? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll have another discussion post up for you next month, and in a rare turn for me, I actually already know what I want to talk about! This may change, but at the moment, I’m thinking I want to write about the recent trend of Book To TV adaptations, and why I enjoy TV series adaptations of books more than films (generally!). In the meantime, I’m hoping to get up my review of my latest read The Diamond Eye up at some point during the week, so keep an eye out for that, and I will of course have my regular Top Ten Tuesday post up on Tuesday.

Jo Talks Books: On Moving Away From Planned TBRs

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good month since I last did one of these, March has been really quiet for me, both in terms of work and stuff outside of work, so I’m hoping that April will be a bit busier.

Anyway, for this month’s post, I wanted to talk about something I’m planning on changing in my reading habits, I’ve been feeling like doing this for a while now with having a rather slump-filled year last year, and though this year has got off to a better start, I’m still not getting through as much of my physical TBR as I would like, so I’ve decided I’m going to try a new approach to my reading and see if it helps.

Since I started blogging back in 2014, I’ve largely relied on a planned TBR. I liked having some semblance of structure to my reading, and found that it saved time when it came to picking new reads if I had a planned list of books for the month to choose from. I also really like reading challenges and found that doing the #RockMyTBR challenge (up until last year), really did help me focus on reading books from my backlist and not get constantly distracted by shiny new things.

I’ve never been massively strict about my TBR, I’ve always liked to build in consideration for the fact that I might not necessarily be in the mood for whatever books I’ve picked for a particular month, and if that happens to be the case, then I’ve gone with something different. I usually (last year and the beginning part of this year not withstanding), read two physical books a month, so that would generally be one book from my TBR challenge list and one “free” read, ie whatever I happened to feel like reading after that. This has worked very well for me for the past five years or so.

However, I no longer feel like having a planned TBR is working for me in the same way that it used to. Last year, try as I might, I just wasn’t feeling in the mood for any of my TBR challenge books and it was taking me forever to get through anything, so I largely stuck to audiobooks, as I generally have a more free approach to them. I think because there is a much wider choice of audiobooks, I’m not only restricted by what I own, and I’m more willing to try things I wouldn’t necessarily get a physical copy of, so I tend to explore a bit more and just go with whatever takes my fancy.

I never used to feel like having a planned TBR restricted me in any way. I was always fairly loose about it, and the books that I’d chosen (or in the last few years, had chosen for me by Twitter) were always books I was genuinely excited about reading, so it’s not as if I’ve been tying myself down to books that I just don’t really want to read. But every time I’ve picked up a book from my planned TBR over the past year or so, it has either taken me forever to get through, or I’ve just put down because I’ve not felt in the mood for it. It’s started to feel more like a chore to get through my planned TBR books, which it never has before.

Basically, I guess what this comes down to, is I’m becoming more of a mood reader than I used to be, and I’ve been struggling with my physical TBR because I’ve been trying to fight that and stick to what I’ve become used to.

But no more! I’ve decided that for the rest of this year, I’m going to try and embrace mood reading, and see where that takes me. Much as I do love a seasonal TBR, and will probably still make them when they come up on our Top Ten Tuesday topics, I’m not going to worry if I’m just not feeling in the mood for the books I’ve “planned to read”.

Honestly I feel like this a trap I’ve slightly fallen into because of blogging. Pre my blogging days, I was very much a mood reader and would just read whatever was most appealing to me at the time, but back then I was only reading books for pleasure, not for content. That’s not to say that I’ve been picking my reads over the last eight years only thinking about what’s best for content, no, but I definitely do feel like some of my need to have my TBR planned out comes from feeling like I need to know in advance what my next review will be. I want to try and move away from that, and back to what I had before I started blogging where I would just read whatever took my fancy when I’d finished my current book.

I also feel like having a “planned TBR”, either working from a TBR challenge, or a seasonal TBR, is one of the reasons why I end up with so many of my “anticipated releases” still sitting on my shelf at the end of the year. There have been so many times when I’ve thought “ooh yeah, I’m really in the mood for reading this”, or “I really want to read this book this year” and then I’ve put them off because they’re not on my planned TBR for the year or that particular season. I’m hoping that by going off a more mood reading approach in future, I’ll actually read the books I want to, when I want to read them and not leave them sitting on my shelf for months on end and then by the time they come up on a TBR list, I’m not actually in the mood for them anymore!

I do worry that by doing this, I’ll end up reading all my shiny new books and not paying attention to some of the books that have been on my shelves for years. After all, that’s why I started doing the TBR challenge in the first place, to actually pay attention to my backlist books and the books that tend to be foremost in my mind are usually the ones that I’ve got most recently. However, if it gets me back into reading more of my physical TBR, then so be it. The beautiful thing about books is no matter how long they are sitting on your shelf, they’ll always be there when you want them!

I’m also hoping that by moving away from the planned TBR, I might find more books that I enjoy? Last year was a fairly disappointing year for me in terms of reading, I read less than I’d intended and found fewer favourites than I usually do. I’m hoping that by reading what I’m most in the mood for, I’ll enjoy what I read more and find more four and five star reads this year than I did last year.

In this vein, I’ve also not requested anything from Netgalley this year, nor do I plan to. Much as I love being able to have access to anticipated releases before their release dates, it caused me a lot of stress last year when I was in a reading slump and was just not finishing anything I started that wasn’t an audiobook and feeling the pressure of having to finish a book by a certain date and nearly always not managing it, is just very stressful. So this year, I’m going to take a break from Netgalley. I’ll read my anticipated releases eventually, whether I do that two months before the release date, or two years after, it doesn’t matter and I should stop putting pressure on myself to read books to a deadline (one that I almost never manage to make anyway!).

I’d also just like to have a little bit more spontaneity in my reading. It’s something I do miss from my pre-blogging days, I love that blogging has opened me up to books that I probably never would have found without it and that I know about a lot more upcoming releases and interesting books now than I did before I started blogging, but I do miss the joy of discovering something completely brand new. I’m hoping that by moving away from a planned TBR list and just going where my reading mood takes me, I’ll end up reading some books I might not necessarily have expected, and discover some surprise favourites.

I’m hoping that this foray into mood reading will not mean me ending up picking up and putting down a whole load of books, as this has been my problem over the past year, I’ve started to read so many books and then put them down because I’ve just not been in the mood for that particular book at that particular time. However, I do think a lot of that came from still trying to stick somewhat to a plan, whether it was reading a book for a buddy read with my Goodreads Book Club, or picking up and putting down books that I’d planned to read for my #RockMyTBR Challenge this year.

I’d also be interested to see where my “moods” take me, as I have found over the past year or so that I’ve been drifting away from genres I used to really love, for example, I read much less fantasy last year than I have in previous years. I still enjoy fantasy, but I’ve been finding a lot of YA fantasy in particular really same-y, so I’d be interested to see if that holds up throughout the year or if I find myself going back to fantasy a bit more. I’ve also found myself reading a lot more historical fiction and memoirs over the past year or so than I did previously, so again, I’d be interested to see if this holds up for my physical TBR now that I’m going purely based off my mood, or if I largely stick to those genres on audiobook.

I don’t know if this is going to help the difficulties I’ve been having with my physical TBR this year, but I’m excited to try something new with my reading. I definitely feel like I’ve got into a bit of a rut with my planned TBRs and I’m hoping that by switching out my style, I will read more this year than I did last year, and enjoy a little bit more freedom and spontaneity in my reading. Either that or I will be struck down with indecision as to what to read next!

How do you approach reading? Are you very much a planned TBR person, or are you more of a mood reader? Any tips for someone trying mood reading again after years of planned TBRs? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll have another discussion post for you next month, I’m not sure what it will be yet, so you’ll find out when it goes live! In the meantime, I was at VE Schwab’s London book tour event last Friday and I’ve been writing up my recap of that, I’m hoping that will go live over the weekend, so keep an eye out for it.

Jo Talks Books: Eight Posts I’m Most Proud Of (8th Blogaversary Post!)

Hi all! So last Sunday was my eight year blog anniversary, this post is a little later than usual as I had a job application that needed to be finished last Sunday, but I didn’t want to let the occasion pass without marking it, so I thought better to celebrate late than never. As usual, I really want to thank all of my readers and followers for supporting me over the years, whether you’ve been here since the beginning or have only recently found my little corner of the internet, I appreciate all of you, and I wouldn’t still be doing this without you.

For this year’s anniversary post, I took some inspiration from a YouTuber I follow, Hannah Witton, who recently did a video about her 30 proudest moments for her 30th birthday. I thought that was a really cool idea, and thought I’d do the same, but looking back on some of the posts I’m most proud of from the past eight years. It’s going to be tough picking just eight from over 1000 posts I’ve published in the past eight years, but I’ll do my best:

8. Writing Corner: On Being Critique Partners With My Best Friend

I wrote this post at the end of 2020 after several months of swapping chapters of my novel with my best friend Hannah, and it was just really fun to write about the process as it’s such a different experience critiquing one of your friends than it is when you’re working with a stranger.

7. Writing Corner: Q&A With Author C.G. Drews

This was my first ever author interview on the blog so naturally I was incredibly proud of that anyway, but it was also really fun to get to work with C.G. Drews, aka PaperFury, because she was one of the first bloggers I started following when I was a new blogger, and I so admire her blog, so the fact that she was willing to collaborate with me, a much smaller blogger, was really a great honour!

6. Top Ten Tuesday #310

I always love doing book posts where I have the chance to get a bit salty, as much as I love sharing the love for books, there are plenty of books I’ve read that have given me less than lovely feelings. Sometimes you just need to rant a little, or in my case for this post….quite a lot. Anyway, I found it super fun to do this post about Books I’d Gladly Throw In The Ocean, it was nice to let the rant out!

5. Writing Corner: Q&A With Author Amanda Foody

This was the first time a publicist approached me for a blog tour, which five years into blogging felt like a big milestone! It was also so great to have the opportunity to interview Amanda for my blog as I absolutely love her books (and had, I think, fairly recently finished King of Fools when I sent over the questions to her, so had to stop myself from asking super spoilery stuff!). Her answers were so wonderful and detailed and it was such a fun post for me to do.

4. Jo Talks Books: A Bookworm Christmas Shopping Guide For Non Bookworms

This was such a fun one to do, I love Christmas and I love books so it was everything I love combined into one post. I even ended up using it as inspiration for a similar post I did for the Indiependent, a website I write for, last year.

3. Jo Talks Books: I’m Not A Visual Reader And What That Means

I really loved doing this one because it felt like quite a different one to do, it wasn’t something I’d seen a lot of other bloggers talk about, and I really wanted to explore it in more detail as it’s something I’d mentioned in reviews before but never really expanded on. This was me talking about how I don’t picture images in my head whilst I read, and how I experience reading slightly differently because of this. It was so nice reading some of the comments on this post, and realising that I am not alone in my lack of visualisation, since so often it seemed like all the other bloggers I came across pictured books like mini-movies in their heads and I’ve never been like that.

2. Jo Talks Books: Tips For Student Book Bloggers

This one I actually ended up doing because I felt like it filled a gap that I needed when I first started University (and to be honest when I first started blogging as I was still a student, just an A-Level student then rather than a University one). I had no idea how to balance Uni and blogging initially and it took a while to find out what worked for me, so I wrote this post in the hopes that it could help some student bloggers coming up, and was so grateful at the response I received from people saying that my advice had helped them!

  1. Jo Talks Books: Where Are All The Single Characters In YA?

This was a no brainer for the post I’m most proud of, it’s still to this day the post that has received the biggest response outside of my Top Ten Tuesday posts, and it’s definitely one of the most personal things I’ve ever written. I was really worried that this one wouldn’t be well received, and that I’d be seen as an angry single girl ranting, but the response was far beyond what I ever imagined. The discussions in the comments were so lovely, and it was so nice to see how much this post resonated with people, as I’d honestly anticipated putting it out there and no one really getting it given how much romance is a focal point in the YA community.

So there we have it, those are the posts I’m most proud of over my eight years of blogging! I do realise that all of them are from 2017 onwards but to be honest, I was still finding my feet a lot in the early years of my blog, and it was only really around 2016 where I felt I had really established what I wanted this blog to be, hence why all of the posts are from the last few years. If any of you are bloggers, how long have you been blogging for? Are there particular posts you are very proud of? Let me know in the comments!

I’m not sure what I’ll do for my Jo Talks post next month, so I guess you’ll find out when I post it. In the meantime, I’m going to have another Top Ten Tuesday post up on Tuesday, so make sure to check that out when it arrives.

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

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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

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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.