Mid Year Freak Out Tag 2022!

Hello all! Looks like we made it, look how far we’ve come… it’s halfway through 2022!! I’m having a great reading year and frankly I don’t want it to stop- let’s talk about why, shall we?

BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ YET IN 2020

Sword of Kaigen– this book was absolute FIRE!! It reminded me why I love fantasy, it reminded me why I love magic, heck it reminded me why I love reading!!

BEST SEQUEL YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2020

Cytonic– ever since I finished it, I cannot stop thinking about when the next one’s coming. I’m obsessed with this series. It makes me all starry eyed 😉

NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET BUT WANT TO

Gallant is the one I have highest on my list right now!

MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR

Pretty Dead Queens– Alexa Donne’s first YA thriller was killer- definitely looking forward to her next one 😊

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

The Coveit was just so meh. All the characters were bland and moany and boring. And even worse, I didn’t care about the so-called mystery. Not exactly thrilling for a thriller either. The good news is I’ll probably forget it by the end of the year.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

An Unkindness of Magicians– this book was pure magic, in every sense of the word. Dark, twisted and with excellent characters, I fell for this hook line and sinker.

FAVOURITE NEW AUTHOR

Elif Shafak– I’ve read two of her books this year and I could wax lyrical about her writing, her characters and her transporting storytelling. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover her books- so I’m trying to make up for lost time!

NEWEST FICTIONAL CRUSH

Ach I think I’d be making stuff up if I said I had one! I will say, in terms of romance, the biggest surprise was how much I loved One True Loves. I just love the concept, exploring how there can be more than one special love in our lives. And really, I also felt like the one she ends up with was the one she was meant to be with, in a way that was (ironically) almost like destiny. And if she had turned him down, I’d have definitely wanted to nab him for myself 😉

 NEWEST FAVOURITE CHARACTER

I’m going to go for a complete curveball here and say Tony Webster from Sense of an Ending. Reading about a washed out retiree isn’t normally my thing, but this played with my expectations and was a fascinating character study. Webster isn’t remotely likeable and his story isn’t groundbreaking- and yet it felt so real and telling. I was surprised by how much I connected with it.

BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY

Sword of Kaigen DESTROYED me

BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY

The No Show– this book really showed up for me and put a smile on my face- which you can always trust a Beth O’Leary book to do! It’s her best romance to date- and that’s saying something!

FAVOURITE BOOK TO FILM ADAPTATION

Last Kingdom– I mean, it’s got to be. That was the *perfect* finale to a tv series I’ve seen in a while. Most importantly, it tied up a lot of loose ends and concluded the most important story arcs that have been up in the air since series one. It was emotional, satisfying and dramatic as hell.

MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK YOU’VE BOUGHT THIS YEAR

I’ve not bought that many books so far this year, but I do have this pretty little copy of Galatea (which I still need to read 😉).

WHAT BOOKS DO YOU NEED TO READ BY THE END OF THE YEAR

I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to read anything specific this year. Still, as usual, I have quite a few books from the backlist that I really want to read. I’m not going to make any promises, but I have a few old Sanderson books in my sights.

Since this is an old one, I’m not tagging anyone specific- just feel free to do it if you like! What I wanna know is what’s your favourite book so far this year? And what are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Why I still like using ratings (even if they’re imperfect)

Obviously, not everyone is a fan of ratings. And that’s a-okay! I’m not writing this post to give anyone the idea that they *have to* use ratings. You don’t have to like them or even find them useful- but I personally find them a great tool for a reviewer.

Of course, a rating is not going to give you any level of detail. Of course, they are entirely subjective. BUT a rating can still be helpful as a snapshot of what someone thinks. While there is *a lot* of leeway between even a single star (or in my case banana) you can still gauge a reasonable amount from a quick glance at a rating.

Plus, for me, they can help with statistics (because as you all know I’m a stats nerd 😉). Looking at Goodreads, for example, I can quickly find out if a book is making waves or if it’s sinking. Which can satisfy a morbid curiosity (or create excellent fodder for discussion pieces 😉).

I’m not going to say that ratings are the be-all and end-all of a review. And I definitely don’t think they should be taken too seriously. However, they can provide an overall impression. Which is really no substitute for reading the review… so I guess you should do that too 😉

What do you think? Do you use ratings in your reviews? Do you love them or loathe them? Let me know in the comments! And take a banana or two for the road 😉

Treading Water in the House Across the Lake

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review***

house across the lakeThis was not the book for me. Obviously, the title should’ve raised some warning flags, BUT I consider the author an autobuy and I had high hopes for Sager doing something unique with the trope of a woman spying on her neighbours. WELL, he certainly did something unique- I’m just not convinced I liked it.

Opening on a moody lake scene, Sager dredges up an intriguing premise and wades out into uncanny territory. Evocative and intriguing, the atmospheric writing instantly lends itself to a sense of mystery and character. I certainly felt fully immersed from the start.

Quickly, however, the story falls into a seemingly generic plot of an unreliable (drunk) narrator watching her neighbours. Unfortunately, this trope is becoming a little tired and I could barely stifle a yawn as she stays up late watching a random couple’s marital antics. At this point, the only thing I had to worry about was being bored.

… Annnnd then the book went right off the deep end. I guess the good news is it’s nothing like all those books where the woman watches a murder. Bad news: it’s a very weird book.

Of course, there were the typical twists and turns you can expect in a book like this, some of which I rather liked, yet then it went a little too far and I felt like I was drowning in the unknown (where all the ghosts and ghoulies dwell 😉). I can’t be too harsh, because as I’ve hinted at already, there was a promise of something supernatural- I can only blame myself for not taking those hints seriously enough.

Without spoilers, I can say that this starts as a psychological thriller- then abandons reality somewhere in the murky middle. So, if you like supernatural genre benders, like Behind Her Eyes, then this could very well be the book for you… Otherwise, this was a well written book of utter nonsense.

Rating: 2½5 bananas 

Okay, so have you read this book? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

The NeBUloUs Topic of ARCs

I am obviously *not* the expert on ARCs. I only request one or two a year, despite being a virtual blogging veteran at this point 😉 So perhaps I should keep my trap shut and let other more experienced bloggers take the lead on this topic… but then when have I ever managed to do that? I guess it’s about time that I address the NeBUloUs topic of ARCs (and why there’s no need to get in a tizzy over them).

What “inspired” me to talk about this was the latest twitter drama: an author having what can only be described as an unhinged rant about how people with small followings aren’t entitled to arcs. Which, naturally, made me want to rant I DAMN WELL AM ENTITLED TO ALL YOUR ARCS 😉 JK I just thought “wow this is a good way to put people off buying your books darling”. And more importantly, most people don’t care about your ARCs, chill out.

Really, there are a lot of perks not being too invested in ARCs. For starters, as The Literary Phoenix pointed out in her brilliant piece “Five Reasons I Kind of Hate ARCs”, they allow publishers to continue to undervalue bloggers. While they’re seen as compensation for blogging/vlogging/whatever, they’re actually more of a free marketing tool for the publisher. Ironically, the reward for all our hard (unpaid) work is… more work?! I dunno about you, but that seems a little off balance.

Admittedly, there has been a lot of (good-natured) discussion about Tiktokers getting paid and getting all the ARCs. Which seems part of the course at this point- when it comes to blogging, there’s always someone else on some other platform getting all the perks and opportunities. Luckily for us, as Krysta @Pages Unbound wrote in her fantastic piece “I’ve Accepted That Publishers Aren’t That Interested In Book Bloggers” there are definitely upsides to this. Not being valued as commercial commodities actually gives us the freedom to write what we want and say what we actually think!! I wouldn’t trade that for all the ARCs in the world… and yes, I do realise I’m saying that as someone who’s not a part of the ARC-machine 😉

Clearly, we don’t blog for the accolades and money and prestige. And that’s why I can safely say that ARCs don’t really matter to me as a reader. I personally have no desire to read every ARC. Especially given I’m perfectly content to read from the backlist, to get to the popular books after the hype dies down and to not be tied to deadlines. Reading is supposed to be fun after all!

This is not to disparage anyone who enjoys getting ARCs. And honestly, more power to you- I know what kind of graft you have to put in to get them nowadays. That said, it’s never going to be the end of the world if you can’t get hold of the latest ARC. After all, if you’re just looking for free books, you can always head to the library 😉

So, what do you think? Are ARCs important? If so, how important? Really wanna hear your thoughts on this one!

Tiktok made me read some pretty average books…

I’m clearly an old fogey. Tiktok is not a thing I like or understand- so do bear that in mind before reading this post. I can’t say that I’m the target audience because a) I’m a millennial and b) I don’t like the snappy, bizarre-inexplicable-squeeing format for book recs. Still, I have the sneaking suspicion that there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the books recommended on there.

Aside from the books that were already popular wayyyy before Tiktok became a thing (ie Song of Achilles, We Were Liars, The Hating Game etc) I’ve only found one decent read through the endless waves of eeking and squeaking over *THE NEXT BIG THING*!

Don’t get me wrong, hyped books often have their pitfalls. However, there’s usually at least one or two gems in the latest trend of popular titles (see above for some suggestions). This time round though… I’ve got nothing. Let’s have a more in depth look, shall we?

Iron Widow– this was a big NAH for me. To put it simply, I found this book E-X-A-U-S-T-I-N-G. Maybe I’m getting old (haha definitely true) but other than the ANGST I didn’t get much emotional range from this book. I also didn’t see much growth from the main character- which I guess could make it a static hero story… except with an anti-hero, so instead of the main character staying the same and everyone learning from their positive example, everyone learns to be unpleasant from the protagonist… YEESH. Not the book for me.

Ace of Spades– I feel like this was popular everywhere, but I’m counting it, as it’s on every TikTok list and it’s a very Gen Z book (and as we’ve already established, I’m too old to be cool at this point). I’m- quite simply- not woke enough to like this book. Plus, it didn’t work as a thriller for me, since once I cracked the messaging, I knew exactly where it was going. 

Well Met– I kept reading to try and figure out who the love interest is supposed to be and why I should care… which is when I realised I should stop reading and find something less bland.

Ex Hex– great title, nice nineties nostalgia fuel, yet ultimately more forgettable than a toadstool.

You’ll be the Death of Me– okay, I should’ve known this one would do nothing for me, since I wasn’t all that into One of Us is Lying. After struggling for a third of the book to give a monkeys about the characters and the mystery, I DNF’d it and I have no regrets. 

Atlas Six– guys I don’t get the hype?! It’s a messy book with messy characters and I just… don’t care?

Love Hypothesis– annnd the one book I actually enjoyed turns out to be Rey-Lo fanfic (what are the chances?!) But seriously, it explains why I thought so much of it was flawed and couldn’t get behind the love interest. Turns out he’s based on a sociopathic dad-killer. At least she got his unlikability down to a T, even if the sex scenes made me squirm (and not in a good way).

As you can see, this is not an extensive list (if you want better research into Tiktok and its issues, definitely recommend checking out Krysta @Pages Unbound’s post on the topic). And some of this is clearly a sign that I am outgrowing YA (which I’m sure will be a whole other discussion). Either way, I’m clearly not going to be converted to Tiktok any time soon. Though admittedly, I did have the same attitude to Youtube, Twitter and Instagram… so I’m sure I’ll get into it as soon as the trend dies 😉. Until then, I’m gonna die on this hill: TikTok don’t impress me much 😉

Alright, am I missing something? What is so great about TikTok other than dog videos? Have you made any awesome bookish discoveries over there? And am I totally wrong about all these books? Let me have it!

An Unkindness of Magicians Deserves All the Goodwill!

I swear this is severely underrated. I’d heard really mixed reviews, but ultimately loved the sound of it from Murphy Napier’s channel, so I took a chance on it and I’m so glad I did! 

Set in the secret magical underworld of New York, this urban fantasy takes duelling magicians to a whole other level. Pitting magician against magician in a deadly competition for supremacy, we see that there’s more to power than meets the eye.

Darkly intriguing and full of complex world building, an Unkindness of Magicians is unlike anything I’ve read before. With gaspworthy twists and turns, I could never quite decipher which direction the story would go. Every page kept me on the edge of my seat; every new revelation took my breath away.

Howard cleverly layers subplots and storylines, building depth to the characters and their backstories. The shadowy history of magic shifts from the sidelines and takes centre stage. It was hard to tear my eyes away as the narrative unfolded.

Beautifully and sparingly written, I became so immersed in the storytelling and invested in each and every one of the characters. Layering myths and legends, from the Arthurian to the Shakespearean, it felt both familiar and entirely new. This is by far one of the best fantasies I’ve read in a while.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

So, have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Truly MAJESTIC Reads Featuring Royalty – Some of my Favourite Books About Kings and Queens!

The Queen isn’t the only cool royal out there- fiction is full of kickass kings and queens. I’m gonna share a few of them with you today!

American Royals– turns out if America had royals, they’d be the biggest drama queens in the world and I’d be first in line to see the show 😉

My Lady Jane– the only way that the Tudors could be more fascinating is if they could all turn into animals at the drop of a hat… and that’s what this alternate history offers! Sit back, throw historical accuracy out the window and enjoy this royal romp.

I Coriander– another take on history that’s *not quite* what really happened… but if you ask me, this version of the restoration is better 😉

Cinder– what list about royals would be complete without a fairy tale retelling or two? And this sci fi retelling of Cinderella is tons of fun 😊 Speaking of retellings…

Thorn– I love this take on the goose girl, particularly because it shows us what truly regal qualities are.

Abhorsen– I just love how this book engages with the topic of legacy and inheritance and titles. Like the others in this series, it explores the coming of age theme in a really original and emotionally deep way.

Prince Caspian– I may have included this more for Aslan than the titular prince 😉 No one is more royal than a lion!!

Stardust– very much in the vein of a classic storybook royalty- and yet because it’s Gaiman it could never be called anything but unique.

Princess Bride– perfect if you’re looking for a classic swashbuckling tale, featuring kings, queens and (evil) princes (and yes, this is me saying I finally read it!! Hallelujah!)

Iron King– this is one of those stories that starts off with the typical “oh you’re secretly the daughter of the fae king”… but then it goes in a *very* unexpected direction. Don’t be fooled, this YA fantasy is tricksier than it lets on.

Cruel Prince– because not all princes are charming 😉 And yet sometimes when they’re cruel, they’re all the more endearing 😉

Prince of Thorns– on the subject of unpleasant royalty, Jorg really takes the crown! But that’s what makes his story truly grab you. 

To Kill a Kingdom– yeah this is the little mermaid, but wayyyy darker. Because in this version, the siren princess has to cut out the heart of princes… So if you want some more cutthroat royals, then this standalone is for you.

Game of Thrones– you win or you die as they say 😉 Frankly I’d rather take a dragon thousands of miles away from Westeros than sit on that very uncomfortable chair- however there’s clearly plenty of people prepared to fight it out for the pleasure. And my goodness is it fun to read about them doing so.  

The Shadows Between Us– this is a book about a girl who knows what she wants- and what she wants is to be queen… at any cost! A Slytherin love story to die for, this takes scheming royalty to a whole other level.

That went in a much darker direction than I anticipated! What books featuring royalty do you love? Let me know in the comments!

(Some of the) Best Quintessentially British Books to Read this Bank Holiday Weekend!

Yes, I did have to make a list like this because of the jubilee. We are all under strict instructions as British people to make a whole song and dance out of it- or we’ll find ourselves up on tower hill for treason 😉 Better jump into it- chop chop! 😉

Wind in the Willows– let’s be honest, this book is why we all think that the countryside is magical 😉 I for one always encounter talking toads when I’m out walking.

The Hobbit– apart from acting as a mythology for Britain, his books are also filled with the oddities and humour of this island.

Mort– Death eating a curry is the most quintessentially British thing change my mind 😉 Seriously though, Pratchett’s eccentric humour makes it a real winner.

Peter Pan– after all, in this country, we never grow up 😉

Harry Potter- because the best boarding school book is a *magic* boarding school book.  

Remains of the Day– reflecting more of a “classic” part of British culture, but either way this upstairs-downstairs drama definitely makes the cut.

Pride and Prejudice– Austen’s books are full of British charm and habits- but most of all she captures all the different types of people you’ll meet at parties over here. And if you think you’ve never met a Lady Catherine De Bourgh, I’m sorry to say you’re her 😉

Sense of an Ending– this is a new one for me, yet it absolutely captures a sense of Britishness (see what I did there 😉). Partly because it talks about class, but mostly because of how much of a downer it is 😉 (just kidding… sort of).

Oliver Twist– this list wouldn’t be complete without a Dickens book. And, don’t be fooled by the musical version, this one has some particularly gritty and grim elements.  

The Woman in Black– there’s got to be a hint of the gothic on this list- and what more fun than the spooky spectre of this story? 😉 Plus it makes me think of every small town I’ve visited after dark 😉

Armadale– mysterious, evocative and above all fun, this is perfect if you need an intense classic to sink your teeth into.

And that’s all I have for now! But of course, there could be so many more books on this list- what book is most quintessentially British for you? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – June 2022!

Hello all! Wahey it’s summer time!! And time for another monthly mini reviews 😉 (what a segue that was 😉) Last month was wild– packed with work events, general chaos and some hiking! Bluebell season was in full bloom out in Kent- have a look at these beauties:

Now, I have to admit I didn’t have an amazing reading month- I was choosing a lot of the wrong books, DNFing left right and centre, and didn’t have a lot to say about what I did finish. That said, I’ve cobbled together an interesting range of books here:

Jade City– this is definitely well written… but my god it’s not for me. I just didn’t care enough about the characters and found the plot too slow for the word count. I’m just not that into hundreds of pages of political machinations without any real excitement. I did find that it picked up somewhat by the end- though sadly I’m not invested in the story enough to continue with the series. It’s a shame, because the concept of an Asian inspired magical mafia sounded really cool. But I think for this kind of fantasy saga, I have to care more about the family, otherwise I’m just not going to be fussed if they’re all bumped off.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

Three Daughters of Eve– ahh now this was more like it. Shafak is quickly becoming a new favourite author. I feel like I sink into her storytelling and get swept away into her world. Beautifully written, with such real characters, this story provided a fascinating view of Turkish culture and multicultural Britain. I will admit that I didn’t love this as much as Island of the Missing Trees– simply because there was a lot going on. Don’t get me wrong, I was on board for a lot of the interlocking plots- from its intriguing exploration of academia to female friendship to tyranny. I even liked the supernatural dimension and how it showed how familial trauma haunts us. I just felt like having a mugging at the beginning and (highlight for spoiler) gunman at the end was too much all in one day!! Otherwise it was really excellent.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

The One– what a great thought experiment this was. In this alternate reality, it’s possible to find your soulmate by simply taking a DNA test. This story explores the stories of five individuals who’ve found their match… and all the pitfalls that come along with that. I loved the ideas this brought forward. It definitely covered every single conflict imaginable in these circumstances. I especially appreciated how distinctive each of the characters and their challenges were- it kept me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next! This book made me gasp, it made me wince and it sent shivers down my spine. I will say that for me this had a bit too much of an ick factor to give it five stars- I think there’s just something about this author’s style that makes me a bit squeamish!! But top marks for ideas and execution.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas  

The Sense of an Ending– by far, this was the most unexpected delight of the month. A Booker Prize Winner about a middle age bloke looking back on his past and struggling with the typical lit fic issues, I didn’t necessarily think it’d be my thing. And yet this was a poignant and intriguing read. In this story, we follow a man reflecting on the suicide of his friend many years earlier and trying to retrospectively make sense of it. Being inside the protagonist’s head, however, we learn far more about him and his habits than the friend, who is reduced to the periphery and poorly understood. What’s really interesting about this book is how the main character is actually quite unlikeable and yet rather endearing in his increasingly desperate attempts to insert himself into a narrative that isn’t his. In a way, I felt this was almost a critique of the pretentious lit fic character who describes life in unearned and highfalutin terms. Over the course of the novel, we understand his frustrations and inability to come to terms with his rather average life. A life that contrasts the youthful desire at the start to be distinguished and special (and the kind of person who wears his watch on the inside of his wrist). Somehow I think this book manages to evoke the affectations of literary fiction, whilst fundamentally undermining it. Which is probably why it’s one of the few Booker Prize winners I’ve actually enjoyed. It also didn’t hurt that it wasn’t overlong 😉

Rating: 4½/5 bananas  

And lastly, I thought I’d share a quick recommendation:

That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you all had a good month!

Great Reads Featuring the Great Outdoors – Travelling the World in Books!

Because we all love travelling vicariously through books 😉 And these are just some of the books that made me feel like I lost myself in the wilds of their pages.

Wild Silence- Iceland– evocative and steeped in history, this treads ancient paths from Cornwall to Iceland. And no one is quite like Winn at bringing landscapes to life. I could practically feel the earth beneath my feet as I went on a journey with this book.

Where the Crawdads Sing- North Carolina– here setting does more than providing backdrop for the plot, it elegantly becomes a part of the narrative, intrinsically linked to the mysteries, romances and character growth.  

East of Eden- Salinas Valley– there’s no disputing the beauty of Steinbeck’s descriptions. Personally they have always made me want to drop everything and see the landscape he speaks of for myself.

Return of the Native- Wessex– because no list about landscapes and the outdoors would be complete without a quick diversion into Hardy’s Wessex.

Island of the Missing Tree- Cyprus– Shafak is a recent discovery for me and I find her writing deliciously vivid. The way she captures the sights, smells and tastes of Cyprus made me long to go there.  

Journey to the River Sea- Brazil– captivating and fairytale-esque, Ibbotson’s writing can transport me anywhere- from Europe to Brazil… which is exactly what this book did.

Snow Child- Alaska

if you’re looking to cool off, this book is perfect. An enchanting tale set in Alaska, it draws on Russian mythology and creates a world of its own. A world you can step into merely by turning a page.

That’s all for now! Hope you enjoyed that quick jaunt! What books make you feel like you’re transported into the great outdoors? Let me know in the comments!