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

Hi all everyone! I hope you’ve all be 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:


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


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


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


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:

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.


Top Ten Tuesday #262


Hi all! I hope you are all doing well and have had a good week since I last did one of these. My cabin fever continues, as we are still locked down here and it looks like we probably will be for at least the next month, possibly even longer. Thankfully the weather seems like it’s going to be nice this week, so I should be able to get a run in and maybe some reading out on the balcony, after all lockdown is all about the small pleasures.

Anyway, since it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you all, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week we’re talking Things I’d Have At My Bookish Party, so I’ve decided to go for Fictional Characters I’d Have At My Bookish Party. Now let’s be honest, I’m not really a party person, so when I say “party” I generally mean me and a couple of friends with pizza and movies! A party with 10 other people in real life would definitely not be something I would do, so rest assured this is definitely something that would only happen in a fictional universe:

  1. Izzy O’Neill-The Exact Opposite of Okay-Laura Steven

Izzy would be super fun to hang out with and I reckon she would definitely be down for a chill evening of stuffing her face with pizza and watching lots of movies! Our love of food is something we have in common, so I reckon we would have a lot of fun together.

2. Percy Jackson-PJO Universe-Rick Riordan

Percy would be a lot of fun to have at a party, as long as he didn’t bring any Greek monsters with him! I would definitely love to spend an evening listening to more stories about his adventures.

3. Fred and George Weasley-Harry Potter-JK Rowling

Wouldn’t Fred and George be so much fun to have at a party? They could bring along their fireworks and we could have a fireworks display to end the night (safely in the back garden and not inside the house of course).

4. Evie O’Neill-The Diviners Series-Libba Bray

Where there is a party, there has to be Evie O’Neill. Granted, I reckon the two of us would have very different ideas of what makes a fun party, but if there’s a party going on, no matter how low key, Evie would want to be involved.

5. Leo Valdez-PJO Universe-Rick Riordan

Leo would also be a lot of fun to have at a party, he could bring Festus and we could all take turns riding around on him, which sounds a hell of a lot more fun than dancing!

6. Henry “Monty” Montague-Montague Siblings-Mackenzi Lee

Much like Evie, where there is a party, you tend to be able to find Monty. Again, I think we’d have different ideas of what makes a fun party, but he would be a lot of fun to hang around with, so I can overlook that. Plus he’s definitely mellowed from being with Percy.

7. Safiya Von Hasstrel-Witchlands series-Susan Dennard

Safi would be so much fun to hang around with, I reckon she and I would have a great time playing cards, though we definitely couldn’t play Cheat, as Safi would wipe the floor with me!

8. Queenie-Code Name Verity-Elizabeth Wein

Queenie is definitely one for a good time, and with her penchant for pretending to be other people, a party with her would definitely not be boring!

9. Enne Salta-The Shadow Game Trilogy-Amanda Foody

Enne might be more used to balls than pizza parties, but I reckon she would enjoy having a chance to kick up her feet and relax with a few slices of pizza and lots of movies!

10. Aelin Galathynius-Throne of Glass series-Sarah J Maas

Aelin is definitely one for a party and since she loves music so much, I’m sure she’d be willing to be the party’s DJ! Plus, she would bring a myriad of sweet treats, so we definitely wouldn’t be short on chocolate.

Which fictional characters would you invite to your bookish party? What kind of party would you have? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll be back next week with another Top Ten Tuesday, this time we’ll be talking Last Ten Books I Abandoned, so I’ll be sharing the very few books that I have not finished in my time as a reader, since I finally have enough to actually make a Top Ten List!


#RockMyTBR April Update (2020)

Hi all! Saying I hope you all had a good April feels strange given the current state of the world, so instead, I hope you have all done as well as you possibly can be doing in our current situation.

Anyway, for anyone who isn’t familiar, the #RockMyTBR Challenge is a challenge started by Sarah K at The YA Book Traveler, which I’ve kind of adopted for myself over the past few years. The challenge is a really simple one, you basically just take a list of backlist books from your TBR and read them over the course of the year. You can do as many or few as you like, I always do 12, one for each month of the year. I do one of these updates every month to share with you guys what I’ve been reading. Over April, I read 5 books which is pretty good for me (what can I say, lockdown does have some perks):

48584719. sx318 The King of Crows (The Diviners #4) by Libba Bray:

The final book of The Diviners series, and my first audiobook read of April. I was so excited for this final book after devouring the first three last year, and though I didn’t love it as much as the previous instalment, it was still a satisfying ending to the series. I’m hoping that the epilogue hints at the potential for a future spin-off to this series, because I loved these characters and this world so much and I’d love to see them again. I read this one from 5th February-5th April (which was one of my major issues with it, it was very long and quite slow paced!). Here is my review of it:

36450327Coraline by Neil Gaiman:

This was my Goodreads Book Club’s Book of The Month for April, and I’ve been wanting to try some Neil Gaiman for ages, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I listened to the audiobook of this one, which was a great choice as Neil Gaiman read it himself and he definitely has a brilliant voice for audio. I probably would have found this one more scary if I’d read it as a kid, but I still enjoyed it and would definitely try more of Neil Gaiman’s books. I read this one from 5th-10th April. (No review as it was only 3 and half hours long, so not really much content to review).

Havenfall by Sara  HollandHavenfall by Sara Holland:

My Netgalley read for this month. I really enjoyed her debut, Everless, but wasn’t a massive fan of this one. The concept was cool, but the story was just so, so slow paced, basically nothing happened until the end. Combine this with relatively flat characters, and you have a fairly mundane book. I read this one from 3rd March-11th April (on and off). Here is my review of it:

36406448 The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty:

My April #RockMyTBR book, which I switched with The Gilded Wolves as it was chosen for me by my Goodreads Book Club to read in April. I’m really glad I didn’t wait till April to read this one, as I really enjoyed it! The worldbuilding, the characters, it was just the escapist fantasy that I needed, even if it was a tad longer and slower paced than it needed to be. I read this one from 3rd-14th April. Here is my review of it:

46028547. sy475 Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orisha #2) by Tomi Adeyemi:

My other physical book read of April. I really loved the first book of this series when I read it in July of 2018, however sadly the second book didn’t live up to my expectations. It suffered from serious middle book syndrome, with a plot that just seemed to go round and round in circles and characters who seemed to regress from all the development they made in the first book. I read this one from 15th-30th April. Here is my review of it:

So that’s everything I read in April, here’s what I have coming up in May:

The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2)-Mackenzi Lee

This is my May #RockMyTBR read. I’m almost halfway through it already and I’m really enjoying it, I loved Felicity in the first book and it’s been so much fun to get inside her head in this one. It’s been a little bit slow to pick up, but it seems like the real action is starting now!

City of Ghosts-Victoria Schwab

This was originally going to be my October TBR book, but Heather from my Goodreads Book Club (YA Addicted Book Group) picked it for me to read this month, and it’s been a while since I read a VE Schwab book, so I’m looking forward to diving back into her writing. It will also be nice to have a short read, as most of my last few reads have been on the longer side.

Call Down The Hawk-Maggie Stiefvater

Because City of Ghosts is quite short, I’m hoping I might be able to squeeze a third physical book in this month, and I’ve been dying to finally read Call Down The Hawk since it came out last year, so I’m definitely making it a priority to read in the next month or so. I can’t wait to see what adventures Ronan gets up to next.

Windwitch-Susan Dennard

I know, I had this here last month as well, but I’m not quite done yet, so I’m including it in my May TBR as well. I only have 12 chapters left to read, so I’m hoping I should finish it in the next week or so.

The Kingdom of Copper (Daevabad Trilogy #2)-S.A. Chakraborty

After really loving The City of Brass in April, I’m aiming to read the audiobook of The Kingdom of Copper in May in order to be ready for the third book’s release in June.

The Enigma Game-Elizabeth Wein

Again, this one was on my TBR for April, but I didn’t quite finish it, so I’m carrying it over to this month. I’m in the final part of it now, so I’ll definitely get it done this month, hopefully in the next week or so.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass-Melissa Bashardoust

I’ve got a few Netgalley books on the go at the moment, including this one. I’m not very far through it yet, but it’s been okay so far so I’m hoping it will be enjoyable.

I know, 7 books is quite an ambitious TBR, but I have nothing else to do at the moment, so I may as well read a lot! What have you guys read in the last month? How’s your Goodreads Challenge going? I’m on 15 books, and I’ve upped it to 30. I’m currently 5 books ahead of schedule, so I’ll probably up it again before the month is out. Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments!


Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orisha #2)

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Book: Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orisha #2)

Author: Tomi Adeyemi

BECHDEL TEST: PASS: Zelie and Amari talk about magic whilst they are training.

Content Warnings: Death, violence, war, genocide, racial slurs, PTSD, mentions of suicidal thoughts

It’s been almost two years since I read Children of Blood and Bone, so I have to admit, going into this that there were definitely things I had forgotten from the first book, though I don’t know how much that impacted my thoughts on this one! Anyway, almost two years on from a book that you really loved, you’re bound to have high expectations, Children of Blood and Bone was one of my favourite books of 2018 and I was massively excited for the sequel. Sadly, it didn’t live up to the high expectations I had from the first book: I don’t know if the long wait contributed to that, but it definitely felt like this book suffered from middle book syndrome. It felt like this book was just going around in circles, it couldn’t quite decide where it wanted to go and much of the character development from the first book was reversed. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too.

Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But when the monarchy and military unite to keep control of Orïsha, Zélie must fight to secure Amari’s right to the throne and protect the new maji from the monarchy’s wrath.

With civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the stunning sequel to Tomi Adeyemi’s New York Times bestselling debut Children of Blood and Bone, the first title in her Legacy of Orïsha trilogy.

I’ll start with my biggest issue in this book, which was the characters. THEY FRUSTRATED THE HELL OUT OF ME and any development that they had over the course of the first book was completely erased.

Amari, who went on this amazing journey in the first book, seemed to really backslide in this one. I could understand her being more trusting of her brother than Zelie, but she definitely came across as overly naive. She also acted really out of character for a lot of the book: she shows a lot of disrespect for the Maji’s culture, perhaps not intentionally and she seems to have had a severe personality shift as she aims to win the war no matter the consequences. I honestly don’t see how she can be redeemed for her actions towards the end of this book, and it really jarred with her character because the Amari from the first book was kind and caring and just wanted to make things better and in this book, no matter how well meaning she might have been initially, she just comes across as power hungry by the end. She’s convinced that her ideas are the best and gets frustrated when the Maji won’t listen to her but she makes no real attempts to get to know them and their culture. It’s a shame because I really loved Amari in the first book, and I did feel for her at the beginning but she grated on me more and more as the book went on. I also didn’t really understand why she kept drawing on what her father would have thought, when she clearly wasn’t a massive fan of him and wanted to be a different kind of Queen.

Zelie, I also had similar issues with. I do understand that she was suffering from some PTSD after the death of her father, but she felt kind of stuck, like she hadn’t really developed from where she was in Children of Blood and Bone. She’s angry (which she has every right to be) but she’s also kind of self-obsessed with her own pain and refuses to acknowledge the pain others might be feeling. She’s also incredibly stubborn and her own desire for revenge overtakes listening to anyone who might have different ideas than she does. Objectively, I don’t think Zelie would make a good ruler and I don’t think she really wants to be either. She seems to have blinders on for most of this book, and it was incredibly frustrating watching her pursue paths that were unlikely to succeed and ignore any other suggestions just because they didn’t fit within her desire for revenge.

Inan honestly didn’t change at all from the first book. I honestly feel like it would have been better if he had just died in the first book because he didn’t really add anything here. His character arc from the first book was really just repeated and he didn’t really develop at all, he’s still weak and easily manipulated. Nehanda could have done his entire plot alone, and honestly it would have been more compelling.

Tzain still feels utterly pointless. In this sequel where pretty much everyone has magic, the big brother who doesn’t seems pretty useless and he didn’t really add anything to the plot, other than to be a romantic interest for Amari. I also found it strange that Zelie never once acknowledged Tzain’s loss: they both lost their father and yet Tzain’s grief doesn’t get a look in? It seemed like a bit of an oversight to not even have a single conversation between the two of them about that.

Once again, the romance in this book feel flat for me. Tzain and Amari seemed to have absolutely no chemistry, and you can definitely tell that they were only originally paired up as they were the two with no magic. Roen and Zelie, whilst somewhat better than Inan and Zelie, definitely felt a lot like insta-love, I barely remembered them being into each other in the first book? Though I will admit that I barely remembered Roen from the first book.

I still don’t understand why Zelie and Amari can’t be a THING! They have so much more chemistry together than the other characters, and Amari even describes her as the “girl she loves”.  There is one lesbian couple in this, but it does still by and large feel like a very heteronormative world.

I also wasn’t massively happy with the way Zelie and Amari were pitted against each other in this book, it’s 2020, girls being pitted against each other is really not the kind of story that I want to read.

Pacing was also an issue in this one. The chapters are incredibly short, you jump very quickly from one to the next which means you’ve barely settled into one character’s POV before you’re shunted into another one. This meant it was quite difficult to keep track of who was narrating at which point without looking at the title headers. Despite the constant shifts however, the actual plot itself is relatively slow paced, they spend a whole lot of time planning for battles, which although necessary is not that interesting to read about! It’s also difficult to keep track of time in this book

The plot in this basically goes around in circles, and by the end, you’re not entirely sure that they’re much further ahead than when they were at the start. The entire structure of the book can basically be put like this: fight the monarchy, fail, fight them again and repeat till the end. The first book they had a clear goal, bring magic back which they did. This book, the goal is still simple but I think because this series is meant to be a trilogy, Adeyemi had to bring up all these stumbling blocks because “Defeat the monarchy” can’t be achieved as a goal till the end. I almost wonder if it might have been better if this series had been a duology and this book had been expanded, then perhaps the plot in this one might not have suffered so much? I’m not sure.

I still could have used a glossary to explain what some of the incantations meant, a lot of them seemed quite similar, so actually knowing what the English was would have helped me know what they were actually meant to do. Still, I did love that this book had more magic in it and it was great to get to see what all the different types of Maji could do.

I did think that Queen Nehanda was a far more interesting villain than Saran, though I didn’t really understand her motivations? I mean King Saran’s family was killed by the Maji, so that makes sense why he would hate them, but she doesn’t really seem to have any motivation? I’d like to learn a bit more about her, though I doubt we will, since she isn’t a POV character.

The world building in this was still good, but I did have some quibbles about the magic, it seemed like the characters were simply able to do whatever magic they needed to when they needed it without any limits or restrictions. Even the limits on the moonstone seemed easily removed when it was necessary for the plot. The writing was still good, though there was a little too much repetition of certain words and phrases in places.

The epilogue for this was super confusing, where the last book ended off in a really exciting place, though this one is still a cliffhanger, I was more confused about what happened. I would have been okay if it had left off where it left at Chapter 90, the epilogue just got me more confused!

Overall, this book definitely suffered many of the classic problems facing second books in a trilogy, and whilst it was by no means a bad book, I definitely didn’t enjoy it as much as the first. I’m hoping that the third and final book of this trilogy will live up to the promise set by the first book, because this sequel definitely didn’t.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my May #RockMyTBR book, The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzi Lee, the second book in the Montague Siblings series.


Book Vs Movie: Noughts and Crosses

Hi everyone! This month’s Book Vs Movie is actually a Book Vs TV, I’m going to be talking about one of my favourite YA books, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses which was recently made into a TV show for the BBC. I read the book for the first time when I was about 11, so it’s been a long time between the two!

Book Thoughts:


Noughts and Crosses is one of those books that definitely sticks with you long after you’ve read it. I think it was probably the first book I read that had black main characters and definitely the first book that made me think about racism in any real way. It’s also the first book that I remember being truly heartbroken by, that ending is definitely one of the biggest gut punches I’ve ever experienced whilst reading!

TV Thoughts:

Noughts + Crosses - Wikipedia

I was quite apprehensive about the TV show, because obviously I loved the book so much and you really want the screen adaptation to do it justice. Thankfully, I really did enjoy it! The actors are great, the costumes are great, the sets are great and it definitely does justice to the book. They do change quite a lot: the characters are aged up, so because the book takes place over a number of years, events are mixed up and certain things are missed out but it is by and large a faithful adaptation. I did kind of miss the childhood friends to lovers aspect of the books and I wish they hadn’t cut Callum’s sister Lynette out of the story, as Callum’s motivations for joining the LM don’t seem as strong in the show without that background. The ending of the first series may be controversial for fans of the books, but they actually don’t get to the ending of the book, so I’m sure if there is a second series, we will see that on screen.

TV or Book Judgement:

Book, but I do think the TV show did a pretty great job of adapting it, the book will just always be close to my heart!

That’s it for this month’s Book Vs Movie. I will be back next month with another post, this time talking about The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants and its film adaptation.

Top Ten Tuesday #261


Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good week since I last did one of these, we’re into week six of lockdown here and I’m definitely feeling more than a little impatient and frustrated at still being cooped up. Of course I understand why it’s happening but it doesn’t make it any less difficult.

Anyway, as it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you all, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week we’re talking about Books We Wish We’d Read As A Child. I read a lot as a kid, but of course there’s still so many books out there both that I missed at the time, and also that have come out since that I would have loved to have read. So here we go, Books I Wish I’d Read As A Child:

  1. The Golden Compass-Phillip Pullman

For some reason, I was very adamantly against reading Phillip Pullman’s books when I was a kid (I have absolutely no idea why) and so I never read the His Dark Materials series. I tried watching the TV series and it seemed pretty cool, but I didn’t really understand what was happening, and I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d read the books. I have the first one, so I still might read them someday, but I wish I’d not written them off when I was a kid.

2. Coraline-Neil Gaiman

I recently read this one, and whilst I enjoyed it, I reckon I would have loved it so much more if I’d read it when I was a kid, it probably would have seemed a lot more scary to me when I was 8 or 9 than it did at 23!

3. White Boots-Noel Streatfeild

I really loved Noel Streatfeild’s books when I was a kid, but they were quite hard to find as most of them were out of print so I had to get them from second hand bookshops and I couldn’t find all of them. I would have loved to read this one as a kid as I really enjoyed ice skating, so I reckon I would have enjoyed this book.

4. How To Train Your Dragon-Cressida Cowell

I’ve watched the film of this and it was cute but I reckon these books would probably be a bit juvenile for me to read now. I actually don’t know why I missed this series when I was a kid, I loved dragons and the first book came out when I was about 7, but for whatever reason I never read them.

5. Swallows and Amazons-Arthur Ransome

Again, I’m not really sure why I never read these ones, my sister had them and I could have borrowed them but for some reason I was never all that interested. I’m not really sure why, pirate, kids going on adventures, it should have been something I really got into!

6. Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging-Louise Rennison

These books passed me by as a teenager, and I think my reading tastes have changed to much to really enjoy them now, but I really enjoyed the movie (cringey as it is) and I reckon if I’d read the books I would have enjoyed them.

7. War Horse-Michael Morpurgo

I did try Michael Morpurgo’s books when I was a kid and there was only one I was ever able to get into (Born To Run) but I wish I’d read this one. The stage show is absolutely beautiful, but I didn’t see it until I was 14 and by that point I wasn’t really interested in reading the book. Now I wish I had, because I reckon I would have enjoyed it.

8. The Hobbit-JRR Tolkein

Lord of The Rings never really interested me, and to be honest, it still doesn’t but I reckon the Hobbit might have been a bit more up my street. I don’t know why I never read it but I’m honestly not really sure Tolkein would be my thing now from what I’ve heard about his books, so I think I kind of missed the boat on this one.

9. My Friend Flicka-Mary O’Hara

I was massively into horse books when I was a kid but this one was never on my radar, I think just because it was on the older side and not easily available in bookshops. I really enjoyed the film and I reckon I would have really liked the book but I probably wouldn’t read it now.

10. Alanna: The First Adventure-Tamora Pierce

I’ve seen so many fantasy authors talk about Tamora Pierce and particularly this series, but it was first published way before I was born and I honestly don’t remember it being around when I was a kid. I think I’ve kind of missed the boat on when I would have really enjoyed this book, though I may still try it at some point.

Have you read any of these? Did you enjoy them? What books do you wish you’d read as a kid? Let me know in the comments!

I will be back next week with another Top Ten Tuesday, the topic is Top Ten Things We’d Have At Our Bookish Party, so I’ll be talking about Top Ten Fictional Characters I’d Have At My Bookish Party.

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!