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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo Talks Books: On Pacing In Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jo Talks Books: Are Fantasy Books Getting Too Long?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jo Talks Books: What Makes A Satisfying Series Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

  1. The Book Thief-Markus Zusak

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

2. Cross My Heart by Carmen Reid:

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

3. Between Shades of Gray-Ruta Sepetys

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

4. Salt To The Sea-Ruta Sepetys

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

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

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

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

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

6. The Storyteller-Jodi Picoult

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

7. Orphan Monster Spy-Matt Killeen

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

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

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

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

 

Jo Talks Books: On What Makes A Good Retelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo Talks: South African Adventures!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Riding on Noordhoek Beach

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Up close with the lions!

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Up at the top of Table Mountain

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On Cape Point Lighthouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jo Talks Books: 2020 Reading/Writing/Blogging Goals

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

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

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

  1. Complete Goodreads Challenge

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

2. Complete my #RockMyTBR Challenge

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

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

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

4. Read more adult fiction

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

5. Read more books by authors of colour

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

6. Catch up on 2019 releases

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

7. Get Netgalley ratio up to 80%

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

8. Buy less physical books/do another unhaul

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

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

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

10. Read more new to me authors

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

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

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