Books I Read Thanks to Negative Reviews and Ended Up Loving

A couple of months back I talked about *all the positives with negative reviews* and one of the things I mentioned was how they can get you to EVEN MORE read books. And today I’m proving that point with a list of books that I read because of negative reviews. Sometimes you just need more of a kick to get to something you’ve been putting off; sometimes negative reviews point out things you might love! Here’s just some of the times it happened for me:

Hazel Wood– I have to admit, I was first lured into checking this book out because of the cover. Then I heard it was about fairy tales and my interest was piqued. Because it was an unknown author, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to give it a try, especially given some of the mixed reviews that were coming out. HOWEVER, when I actually read the reviews complaining about its slow pace, I stopped worrying, because while that criticism is valid, when I’m in the right mood for it, a leisurely plot is exactly what I need. And some of the other complaints were so invalid… I picked the book up in spite of them! Really glad I did because it’s one of my favourite fantasy reads!

Bear and the Nightingale– I was a little hesitant to start this because of all the hype. HOWEVER, I actually found negative reviews helpful in lowering my expectations. Not only did they make me aware of the slow pace before going into it, one review helpfully said the reason they didn’t like it much was because as an Eastern European they were so familiar with the stories it didn’t feel as cool as people were making out… For me personally this just added points for authenticity!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone– in the days before blogging, I heard good and bad things about this book. Ironically, I didn’t feel like I shared the same taste as some of its and in the end was more curious about what some of critics were saying… who knew I would end up raving about how much I love this book forever?!

An Enchantment of Ravens– the weird thing about this book was that I saw mostly negative reviews for it- and still my curiosity was there. In the end, reviewers arguing that it didn’t measure up to the author’s second book, Sorcery of Thorns, pushed me to read it sooner rather than later, because I figured I wouldn’t want to have that negative comparison in my head (funnily enough, while I love Sorcery of Thorns, I sometimes feel even more enchanted by Enchantment of Ravens– they’re both great books for different reasons!)

Cruel Prince– obviously I’d heard of this book because it was ridiculously hyped. And I’d read some good stuff by the author before, so I was vaguely curious. But what made me desperate to pick it up was actually someone critiquing it who didn’t like YA. Their candour pointing out everything they didn’t like made me realise “hey, this has all the ingredients of YA fantasy that I LOVE”. So, of course, I raced to get a copy and I’m really glad I did! If you need a fun YA series, then this will be right up your street!

Wilder Girls– everyone that’s read reviews for this book will know it’s really hit or miss. Naturally, I heard plenty of the criticisms before giving it a try. AND YET, I was so swayed by the concept, I didn’t care. It turned out the issues people had with it being gory and strange were fair… but the praise made sense too! For me, the good definitely outweighed its flaws! I’m glad I listened to my gut on this one.

Red Rising– okay, this is more of a case of my interest being SUPER HYPED that I didn’t feel I could read it. I was so scared of it not living up to my expectations that I talked myself out of reading it. But eventually I came across a review saying it took too long to get going… weirdly this made me more ready to pick it up! I figured even if I didn’t enjoy it at the start it would get better and my expectations were lowered enough to give it a go. Turns out I had nothing to fear because this was exactly my cup of tea!

Stranger on the Beach– weirdly enough, I heard about this book in a lukewarm review from someone who nearly always gives positive reviews. And even more strangely, when I read the book, I understood why she wasn’t crazy about it… BUT I also saw a lot of cleverness to the writing and I ended up incredibly impressed!

Catcher in the Rye– I heard so so many negative things. I went in assuming that I would be one of the many people that didn’t enjoy this book… but from the second I started reading I was pulled in by the voice. I saw instantly why people didn’t like it- however I also saw the realism and depth that had gone in to creating such a strong sense of character. Holden Caulfield may think I’m a phony for saying this, but

My Lady Jane– I was very worried about this not living up to all the acclaim- especially given how it can be really hard to gauge whether the humour will land. I stopped overthinking it after I saw some negative reviews saying they didn’t find it funny- I figured if I was in the same boat, I wouldn’t be alone. LUCKILY, the joke was on me once I read it, cos I thought it was hilarious. I shouldn’t have been so hesitant.

So, have you read any of these books? What books did you find thanks to negative reviews? Let me know in the comments!

My Most Ambitious Books List I.e. Books About Ambition

Hope I’m not overreaching myself with this one 😉 Title’s pretty self-explanatory- let’s take off and fly into the sun. 

Dr Faustus– yes let’s start with the guy who sold his soul to the devil (seems like a very good place to start… or not 😉).

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue– on the subject of selling souls, Addie Larue comes to mind. This book is so intricate, it makes me think of many different themes, yet at the centre of them all is a girl brimming with ambition. Too bad about that deal though.

Vicious– okay, yes, I’m including two Schwab books on this list- but I can’t help it! No one does books about hubris quite like her! And yet, this is so very different to Addie Larue… because these buckos aren’t always quite as sympathetic (and yet I love them!!)  

Cruel Prince– thinking of more characters with an edge, Jude comes to mind. Her ambition is perhaps a little less vicious, yet still has a bit of a bite.

Red Rising– taking off in a different direction, let’s head into space… where we get a rather ambitious tale of Roman-themed warriors fighting it out Hunger Games style.

School for Good and Evil– okay this is a bit less gory than the last one, don’t be fooled by the title 😉 This MG follows two girls, whisked off to a fairy tale school to be good or evil. And while one of them always dreams of going to this school to be good… the catch is she’s there to be evil. A very fun concept, enjoyably executed.  

Jude the Obscure– someone else desperate for an education was Jude… fair warning, this book is by Thomas Hardy, so it doesn’t quite work out (okay, I feel like I should say a bit more IE WARNING WARNING THINGS GO BADLY WRONG HERE!!)

Macbeth– on the topic of things going badly, Shakespeare’s ambitious Scottish play drops a few unsubtle hints about *why it’s a bad idea to kill a king you have over to stay*. It could get you into a spot of bother 😉

Game of Thrones– oh gosh this is jam-packed with characters trying to kill kings/bastards/boys/anyone with a head still on their shoulders… Suffice to say, if you’re looking for an ruthless read, this fits the bill (oh and given each book is a tome and there’s five out so far, getting into this series is a bit of an undertaking!)

Circe- but if you need something moreambitious, then definitely pick up this *outstanding* retelling. Staying true to the age-old myths and yet putting a new spin on them is quite an achievement in and of itself. However, even more impressive is how it handles the topic of hubris. I won’t spoil anything, except to say this surpassed my every expectation.

Daisy Jones and the Six- back to the real world and a very different kind of kickass female lead, this vibey book beats to its own drum, recording the exploits of a fictional rock band. What’s great about this one is how it explores meeting creative goals!

The Great Gatsby– finally, if you’re needing something *even more* glamorous, then here’s something that sparkles. Full of unfulfilled desires, this book achieves gorgeous prose and captures the exquisite pain of failure. It is a masterpiece.

And that’s all for now! Do you agree or disagree with any of the books on this list? Are there any books you would add? Let me know in the comments!

Underrated Books #3

Oh boy I haven’t done one of these posts since my blog was a baby back in 2015!! Which means this is LONG OVERDUE! I have read *a lot* of underrated books since then, so I’m going to have to share them!

Echo North- I read this recently and you’re going to have to prepare yourself for hearing me talk about it *a lot*! I discovered this beautiful, wintry read courtesy of the lovely Kat @Life and Other Disasters and the wonderful Pages Unbound. I am so so happy I took their advice on this seriously underrated retelling. Elegantly written and with a touch of unique magic, this was a story I needed in my life.

Wolf in the Whale– this may not seem underrated, because I talk about it PLENTY… and yet not enough people seem to pick it up (according to goodreads). And that’s more than a bit of a shame, because this atmospheric read was so memorable. Its frosty images and haunting tale are imprinted in my mind. I have to put in the caveat that it may not be for everyone, thanks to its dark subject matter, yet if you can handle some hard themes, this is a historical fantasy you won’t forget in a hurry.

The Book of Hidden Things– okay, another one that may be a bit out there! BUT, this magical realism story is so so worth reading if you’re looking for something a bit different. Set in Southern Italy this delves into mysteries both past and present. I can’t quite shake the hold this story has over me.

The Furies– a witchy story set in a school may sound familiar- but don’t be fooled. There’s nothing typical about this underappreciated book. Moody and with subtle depths, I think more YA fans should check this out.

Toffee– moving onto something a little softer, but with a bit of a bite, Toffee is perhaps for a younger YA audience. I will admit this is by a popular author, yet not talked about much on the blogosphere. Dealing with hard themes, it was ultimately very sweet.

Boy Who Steals Houses– by contrast, many, many people on the blogosphere may know about this book by C G Drews/otherwise known as Paperfury, but my goal is to spread the love a bit further! This contemporary Goldilocks retelling is a delight (and something I’ve just given my sister to read 😊).

Exquisite– moving on to something a little darker, I cannot recommend this exquisitely written thriller enough. This was good both on a line-by-line level and had a killer plot. With themes centring on writing and obsessive romance, this hit the spot for me.

The Weekend Away– this is perhaps more of your typical pulpy thriller… and I dug it. If you need a quick getaway into a thrilling story, then this is the book for you.

All That Still Matters At All– well known in Hungary, but not so much outside of it, this heart wrenching poetry collection is definitely worth trying if you: enjoy poems, like words, want to feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. Just go for it- and maybe I’ll stop bringing it up every five minutes (I won’t).

Man in the White Sharkskin Suit– there’s so much packed into this memoir- from the story of the 20th Century exodus of Jews from Egypt, an account of family history and a hard-hitting personal journey. This is one of my favourite ever memoirs and more people should try it!

So, have you read any of these? Do you plan to? And what’s the most underappreciated book you can recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Feel Good Reads for Stepping Out of a Funk – *Books with Positive Vibes*

Because if books can’t help, what can? I was looking for lists of books that can really help get you out of a funk and couldn’t find one that quite fit what I was looking for, so naturally decided to write my own. I have tried to look for books in a range of genres and moods- but all of them should be equally life-affirming! Enjoy!

Obviously, Man’s Search for Meaning goes without saying (reread it recently, still brilliant). But if you’re looking for MORE MEANING- then why not try Frankl’s recently translated series of lectures on the subject? Life-affirming and uniquely insightful, I feel like this is the perfect place to turn if you’re searching for wisdom.

Eat Pray Love– I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s non fic- it’s honest, hearty and very inspirational. This globe-trotting memoir is so much more than a simple journey- it’s about rediscovering hope and finding your way into healing.

Furiously Happy– if you need an out-of-the-box non fic about mental health, then this could make you furiously happy! I laughed so much at this book and found it so unusual.

A Man Called Ove– the way I’d describe this book is as an adult version of Up, in book form! This deals with dark subjects, in a moving and ultimately uplifting way. Focusing on friendship and the power of human kindness, this book shines a light on all that is good in the world.

The Flatshare– what I love about this quirky romance is that it doesn’t just focus on finding new love- it’s also fundamentally about overcoming past hurts and heartbreak.

Bookish and the Beast– this fairy tale has always had elements of second chances- and that’s really evident in this retelling. Coupled with an exploration of opening your heart to new possibilities and coming to terms with what has passed, this is my favourite in the Once Upon a Con series so far.

Afterlife of Holly Chase– okay, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t mention this book again until next Christmas rolls around, but I can’t help it! I love this retelling of A Christmas Carol! It perfectly captures the spirit of the original, whilst also giving it new life. Just do yourself a favour and get yourself a copy ready for the next holiday season!! If you don’t, I’ll haunt you!

Clap When You Land– in this moving contemporary YA, Acevedo shows us how hardship can bring us crashing down to earth, and yet also uplift us.

Bright Side– this one may be more of a kicker, so make sure you have tissues handy. It’s a beautiful romance about seeing the bright side in hard situations. Give it ago (when you are emotionally ready to have your heart ripped out).

Words in Deep Blue– I adore the way this book delves into grief- with such heart and deep thoughts. One of the most cathartic books I’ve ever read, it shows that there really is a road to recovery if you seek it.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society– layered with moving stories, this unforgettable epistolary novel is about people rebuilding their lives after they’ve been shattered by WW2. It demonstrates that there is life and love to be found after disaster.

And that’s all for now! Do you agree with any of the books on this list? And do you have any uplifting recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

Forgettable Books- Books I Can’t Remember… Though I Definitely Read Them (I think)

This has to be one of the most challenging posts I’ve ever written. Not because it’s going to be well thought out or involve any skill whatsoever… but because (for obvious reasons) I don’t remember which books I’ve forgotten! 😉 But I scavenged through my goodreads and found some books that I remember reading… however don’t remember anything about them.

Now, *big disclaimer here*, not all of these are bad books. There’s lots of reasons I might have forgotten them. For starters I like to forget as much as I can about books I plan to reread in a futile attempt to recapture the magic of reading them for the first time. Secondly, it might just have been pre-blogging/a really long time ago (part of the reason I love doing reviews is so that I don’t forget everything about a book!)

Anyway, that out of the way, I’m going to jump into it- starting with the most recent and going back in time:

Starless Sea– I read this book? No, seriously, I did read it, I swear. However, as soon as I finished a sentence/page/the whole darn book, I was left with only fragments of images. My mind became a bit numb to the very verbose style. There isn’t a lot of plot to speak of and I didn’t feel any connection to the (quite surface level) characters. Now, I’m sounding really harsh, but there were reasons I kept going with this story: it’s beautiful in parts and its premise centres on loving stories. It wasn’t my thing, yet I kinda knew there was a chance of that going in (hence it wasn’t on my disappointing books list).

Unwind– this is one that annoys me. Not because I remember something particularly egregious about this book… but because I don’t. What irks me is that I really liked Shusterman’s writing in Scythe and so am curious about his other works. And I’ve heard people I trust swear this one is great. ONLY I GAVE THIS 1* 5 YEARS AGO AND I DON’T KNOW WHY! I’d love to know if I was wrong about this book… yet I’m far too scared to pick it up again because there was probably a reason I didn’t like it. Maybe I should just read a spoilery review.

Slated- I’m including this cos it’s ironic 😉 This is a book about not remembering who you are, from way back in the dystopia craze. What’s really confusing to me is that I apparently didn’t like the first one… but ended up liking the rest of the series? Which is super weird and unusual for me- especially when it comes to YA dystopian series. Let’s be real though, I’m going to have to be content not knowing why cos I doubt I’ll ever pick it up again.

A Gathering Light– by contrast, I remember really like the atmosphere for this one. And not much else. And I have very little to say about it… Except that this is one I constantly see in libraries and have frequently been tempted to read it… only to remember I already have!

Across the Nightingale Floor- this is another one that haunts me. Mostly because I’ve seen people talking about this and been curious to try again with the series (mostly because of the setting). I’ve even put the rest of the series on my TBR in hopes I will get to it one day (I won’t).

Red Necklace– I really like this author… however this is not one of her memorable works. It can’t have been that good, to be honest, since I’m fascinated by this era and would’ve remembered *something* if it was.

Passage to India– okay, this is one I distinctly remember reading. I was in a post-essay writing haze at uni (I’d pulled an all-nighter because I was a masochist/bad student). And I remember being in the tutorial and talking about the book… I cannot for the life of me remember what I said. I don’t know if I kept my copy, so I can neither confirm or deny if I annotated it as well (I swear I remember nothing about this book! It’s like my mind sinks into a memory hole whenever I think of it!) Most bizarrely of all, when I looked up the synopsis I was confused cos I didn’t remember anything it described happening and had inserted false memories into the story. I should probably reread it to get to the bottom of this mystery (but I won’t).

King’s General– by contrast to a lot of the books on this list, I definitely want to reread it (in fact this came to my attention because I thought about how much I want to reread it and had the rather pleasant realisation that I don’t remember much about it). I read this back in my Du Maurier phase and loved it. And while I have the plots of my two favourite Du Mauriers imprinted on my brain, apart from certain aspects of the history and setting, I don’t remember this nearly as well. And I’m so excited to re-experience this one!

Wind Singer– okay, I’m cheating by including this one, since there are parts (particularly to do with the beginning and ending) that I remember very well. However, I don’t remember all the details in between and actually would love to reread this one! (but am also scared it won’t be as good as I remember!)

So, have you read any of these? Did you find them more memorable than I did? And can you recall any books you don’t remember? 😉 Let me know in the comments! (And if you know what I mean, but can’t think of anything on the spot, feel free to come back later or make your own post! 😉)

Books that gave me a hangover

Usually when I finish a good book, it whets the appetite for another. Yet, on rare occasions, I am so intoxicated that I cannot read another one. These are just a few books that *ruined* me for others:

Wuthering Heights– heady and romantic and doomed… the kind of story that you can’t easily shake. It’s one of the first books I can remember giving me a hangover (when I was, I’ll admit, underage 😉). 

Jude the Obscure– after I finished this, I was so dumbstruck, all I could do was stare at the walls. I was completely unable to do anything, let alone read. It’s the kind of book that made me think “damn, never gonna do that again…” Needless to say, I don’t picture myself rereading it!

Sadie– there is no recovering from this any time soon- it delivers an absolute gut-punch of an ending.

High Lord– what started out much like any fantasy ended up breaking me. And I didn’t see it coming.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters– indeed there’s nothing quite like the perfect end to a series- and this dreamy Romeo and Juliet story of Angels and Demons was nothing short of *perfection*.

Winter of the Witch– I looked at my stats and didn’t remember any of the books I read after- they were all in its shadow. An enchanting end to an enchanting series.

Circe– I was so under this Odyssey retelling’s spell, that nothing measured up after. Circe completely captured my soul with its beauty and ingenuity.

Six of Crows– can you imagine what it was like not to have the next one when I finished this?? Such a brilliant series- but I recommend having both on hand at the same time (oh and maybe some tissues).

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue– I couldn’t stop thinking about this after I finished. And now you’re going to have to deal with me talking about this over and over 😉 Not one I’ll be forgetting in a hurry!

Carry On– a Harry Potter parody is not the kind of thing I would’ve expected to give me a terrible book hangover- and yet I loved this so much, after I was done, nothing else would satisfy me than picking it up and starting all over again!  

With the Fire on High– there was something so simply satisfying about this that I just didn’t find anything else as appetising after. Nothing was quite the same. It’s the kind of contemporary YA that just hits the spot.

So have you read any of these? Do you feel the same way? And what books gave you a book hangover? Let me know in the comments!

Looking back on 2020 Resolutions- Success or Failure?

I find it almost hilarious to put “2020” and “success or failure” together in a sentence. 2020 has been a year… or 20 years in one, which is why I won’t even attempt to sum it up. I wish I could say I was someone who was productive in all the various lockdowns… but I wasn’t. And usually I find inspiration in my midyear’s resolutions to *keep going*… but I didn’t. I pretty much gave up with most of my goals early on.  Which is why my results are all over the place… 

Bookish

READ MORE NON FIC!

Starting off with a massive success- I have no idea how I did it, but I managed to read 26 non fiction books in 2020!!! This is an absolute record for me!!

Score: 10/10

(shame I didn’t cheat and add points to this in the mid-year post cos I could’ve done with picking up a few- even if I’d already read over my target…)

READ MORE CHALLENGING BOOKS!

Oof massive fail. I just wasn’t feeling this after Covid struck.

Score: 1/10

READ MORE POETRY!

Not a bad result considering I gave up on this too!

Score: 4/5

READ MORE PLAYS!

No idea how I did it… but I did it!! Really surprised and happy with this win!

Score: 5/5

DO SOME REREADING!

I did well here! Somehow I managed to read more than my target of 5! I’m especially happy with this cos I always enjoy rereading (but I wouldn’t do it if not for this challenge!) Every single one of these books was an absolute pleasure to revisit. Pratchett in particular was a real tonic! And I finally started rereading the His Dark Materials trilogy!

Score: 5/5

Non Bookish

DO MORE ART!

Ehh as I mentioned in my mid-year’s post, this was a poorly defined goal. I should’ve done more for it, but at the same time, I’ve done a gazillion cartoons this year (off the internet). I’m counting this as a win.

Score: 5/5

Do more yoga! 

So this is another big success! I completed three yoga challenges midway through the year and was actually inspired to keep going with another three challenges! So original challenge and extra credit combined gives me:

Score: 10/10

(if anyone’s interested in trying out the challenges, I did a bunch of the Yoga with Adriene ones- my favourites being Revolution and Home)

START A NEW WRITING PROJECT!

Done!

Score 5/5

I did have some stretch goals, but let’s face it, they were too much of a s-t-r-e-t-c-h!

SORT THROUGH BOX OF STUFF

Yeahhh I still can’t believe I was in two lockdowns and didn’t manage to finish this… but there were reasons (I swear not excuses) that I didn’t. I mean, when I was doing nothing but working, I didn’t much fancy doing a clear-out with the limited free time I did have. Much better to just watch the Tiger King (yes I know I could’ve easily combined those two things shhhh). Anyway, this is over half empty.

Score: 3/5

Total Score: 48/60 = 80%

B

Ahh I’m actually really happy with that! Can’t believe I’ve scraped through with a B! I’ve done worse before and it wasn’t 2020… so I’ll take it! How have you done with your resolutions this year? Let me know in the comments! And a ***Happy New Year*** to you all!

Top 20 for 2020!

Oh my goodness, I can safely say that even if 2020 was not an amazing year, I read some pretty phenomenal books! Which is why I decided to expand the list to twenty for a change! Yes, that’s right- the reason I’m not doing 2 posts this year is because there were just TOO MANY INCREDIBLE BOOKS TO TALK ABOUT! This was one of the hardest years to narrow down and rank because SO MANY OF THESE WERE OUT OF THIS WORLD! And even though I increased the number to 20, I still had too many books to talk about!! But since it’s my blog and I make the rules, here’s a few honorary mentions before we get started:

Yeah there’s a couple there that easily could’ve been in the top twenty in a normal year… which should give you an idea how good this list is going to get! ***As usual all pics link to reviews*** Now let’s kick off because there are so many great books to talk about! 

Sorcery of Thorns– I had loads of fun with this. The romance was adorable and the characters cute- but what I enjoyed the most was the magical library setting!

Winter Rose– I read my first two Patricia McKillip books this year and enjoyed both of them. While Atrix Wolf may have been technically better, this is the one that really snared me. I can’t explain it- I just have a weakness for creepy, enchanted forests… and this was done so exquisitely well.

Uprooted– this Russian-inspired Beauty and the Beast somehow managed to feel really fresh and different. The world was vivid, the protagonist striking and the romance especially tantalising. And one can only stand back and admire Novik’s writing style.

Enchantment of Ravens– it may surprise people that this is higher on the list than Sorcery of Thorns, but the heart wants what it wants! This is not a perfect book and yet I liked it so much more than I thought I would. I loved how Rogerson explored the idea of immortality here and found she made craft something special. I’ve been under this book’s spell for months and can’t shake the enchantment!

Winterwood– as I’ve said many times, I have a real weakness for witchy woods. This had an intensely dark and mysterious atmosphere- I couldn’t help but be captivated by it. I will admit that I could see a lot of the paths that this would take, yet that didn’t make them any less enticing and exciting. I couldn’t look away from this haunting tale. I gobbled it up faster than two lost children coming across a gingerbread house 😉

Labyrinth of the Spirits– this was not my favourite of the series, but it absolutely did the story justice. Taking us back through the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, along for stories of war and beyond, this tied everything together. Zafon clearly showed us he had the string to guide us through this labyrinthine saga all along. 

Lair of Dreams– I’m rather excited to give this series a mention, because it is surely a definitely part of my reading year. And for once I’m not cheating and plonking the whole series on the list, just going with my favourite! (Although, honestly, if you get into book 1, why would you stop there?!) Starting out as a straightforward (but pos-i-tutely fab-u-lous) ghost story, this is the kind of series that expands in scope. What I loved most about this quartet was how the intriguing powers intertwined with characters and backstories. I also loved how all the family relationships, friendships and romances were to die for. Plus, let me tell you, I listened to the audiobook version, which was insanely long, and yet I was entertained for hours on end!

This is How You Lose the Time War– a hate-to-love story in space about two people on opposite sides of a time war falling in love?! Yes please! However, what ultimately makes this so vivid in my mind is how wonderfully written it is! By both authors!

The Huntress– this memorable historical fiction crosses deftly into thriller territory. Chasing a Nazi called the Huntress, this is a story of how the hunted become the hunters. With multiple timelines seamlessly interweaving, this story had so much scope. Everything about this story held power to me. I have definitely found a new amazing author to follow.

Art of War- (not to be mistaken for the war of art 😉). I learnt so much from this! No, I’m not planning on going to war any time soon 😉 I just found the advice more universal than I was expecting! 

Nevermoor– this perhaps deserves to be even higher on the list, because it’s one of the best MGs I’ve ever read! In a lot of ways it deconstructs the typical tropes of the category, whilst bringing all the whimsy and delight you’d expect. It’s really a wonderful take and I know I’d have loved it even more if I was a kid!

With the Fire on High– there’s no two ways about it: this was a delicious read. A masterful contemporary with colourful prose, this brought heart and soul to the table. The plot revolving around culinary ambitions and the realistic characters were paired perfectly on this plate. I especially appreciated how this gave light to stories we don’t typically see in YA.

The Afterlife of Holly Chase– this was more than just an enjoyable YA retelling of Christmas Carol. It had a depth I wasn’t expecting, taking the classic in a unique direction. Exploring every facet of redemption and what leads someone to become a Scrooge in the first place, this packed an emotional punch I wasn’t expecting. This got to the heart of the original and thought beyond it. That’s a bold and brilliant move. I also listened to this on audio and loved every second of it.

Alias Grace– no one is more pleasantly surprised than me that I loved this so much. I’ve always admired Atwood’s writing, but haven’t clicked with her stories… but this was different. It’s one of the books that made me the most obsessive this year. Not only is it masterfully written, it’s so addictive and layered and conjures incredible pictures to my mind even now.

Inheritance– I can’t stop thinking about this thrilling genealogical memoir. Set up like something of a detective story, I found myself turning the pages at an alarming rate, wanting to know what was going to happen! Beyond being utterly compulsive, I liked the depth of themes. It begins by tussling with the question WHO AM I and ends by getting to the root of WHO ARE WE? It doesn’t give you any firm solutions either- leaving you thinking. It’s truly an experience if you want to be intellectually stimulated and challenged.

Wild Swans– this is more than just an intergenerational memoir- this story covers so much of China’s history and gets into the truth about what happened under the Mao regime. This does more than take you on an emotional journey- it is a true education. Everyone should read it.  

Big Magic– an inspiration and a must-read for any creative, there’s something so delightful about this book. Elizabeth Gilbert has a way of bringing joy to her non fic. If you like to procrastinate, this will surely prod you in the right direction. And if you need it, this will give you the spark to keep going.

Ten Thousand Doors of January– I haven’t been able to shut up all year- and for good reason. This took me beyond this world- into countless others. A layered fantasy, it opens the door to something new.

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue– the more I think about it the more I just love this book. On the surface, it’s about a girl cursed in exchange for immortality. Yet it’s so much more than that simple description. It is quite simply one of the most unique and compelling books I’ve ever read. It’s the kind of story that stays with you. 

Once and Future Witches– this was undoubtedly my most magical reading experience of the year. I LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK. Interlacing history and fantasy and myth in a remarkable way, this book utterly bewitched me. I couldn’t stop reading: for the characters, for the beautiful writing, for the story. Harrow must know something about how to command the ways and the words herself, because I am absolutely spellbound by her work. There’s more than a pinch of genius here.

So, have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? And what was your favourite book(s) of 2020? Let me know in the comments!

My Most Disappointing Reads 2020

We’ve made it! It’s the end of 2020! Luckily for me, books haven’t been such a big disappointment this year, so I haven’t made it to a full list of ten (for the second year in a row!!) As per usual, this is not necessarily going to be the worst books I read this year, just the most disappointing (amazingly, some books that I didn’t like surpassed my expectations and didn’t make it onto the list). I’ve only written reviews for some of these- which are linked- but a fair number will be the first (and last time) I’ll be talking about them… So enjoy the rants while they last! 😉

Girl Woman Other– this was undoubtedly the worst book of the year- possibly of any year- but it wasn’t as disappointing as some of the other books on this list. Partly because a) I shouldn’t have bothered reading it given my track record with prizewinners lately and b) I should have stopped reading once I realised the writing was so shocking (I did stop once, yet saw so much praise, I had to go back and see if there was any merit to it. There wasn’t). So, you see my expectations weren’t that high to begin with- however since I hated it this much, I couldn’t reasonably leave it off the list altogether. Putting it last is a compromise.

The Hand on the Wall– I was too generous when I reviewed this one, cos I wanted to like it so badly. But really, the solution to the mystery was not satisfying enough and too many subplots took over (*spoiler alert*: I didn’t invest all that time for it to be all about money). In truth, I should’ve seen the writing on the wall after book 2 plummeted into politics-ville.

Bringing Down the Duke– in retrospect, I don’t know why I hated this book quite as much as I did, because it really is supposed to just be a bit of fun. However, for me, something grated about the historical inaccuracies and I ended up not loving it as much as I wanted to.

Foundation– this was quite simply not my cup of tea- I didn’t enjoy the fact it was more philosophy than storytelling and didn’t click with the writing.

Slaughterhouse Five– this is another one that just wasn’t for me. Not just because it was a bit odd, but because I never enjoy stream of consciousness. I wasn’t the right reader for this book.  

Wait for Me– this would have been a fairly “meh” read if not for a couple of issues that really irked me. One, I’m not totally on board with the whole Nazi/German rehabilitated romance. It’s a weird trend that’s not to my taste. Two, the writing killed the atmosphere. There was very little sense of place except for the occasional “aye”. Worse still, the teens didn’t just sound modern, they sounded very immature. From the writing, I’d have guessed this was a MG, but the romance was a bit too much of a central focus for this to be aimed at 12 year olds. Either way, it’s safe to say I’m not the target audience for this book, so please bear that in mind.

Queen of Ruin– this was worse the more I thought about it. My biggest issue with this was the fact that characters need to grow in sequels… otherwise what’s the point? Especially in this case- where they didn’t finish the first story as the best version of themselves. After starting strong in book 1, Nomi had made a big mistake, meaning she needed to toughen up and stop being so naïve. Serena had gotten really tough in the first book, but it could have been interesting for her to learn to soften. It would’ve been great to see both characters meet somewhere in the middle and realise that both parts of their personality were important. Instead, nothing happened to their character arcs. It was all action and not-so-subtle lecturing. Very disappointing indeed, since it had so much potential as a series.

Unorthodox– ugh I hate even talking about this book… which is why this’ll be the first (and probably last) time I ever mention it. I didn’t have a good experience reading this. Not because it was shocking (which it is) or because it’s unfamiliar territory (which it is) but because I couldn’t quite find my feet with the narrative. A lot of things didn’t add up. After doing some research, I found a lot of claims disputed. Add to that the fact she deliberately changed (vital) parts of her story (sometimes to supposedly “protect the anonymity” of people… whose pictures she included). That’s just not something I’ve come to expect from “true stories” and made it hard to take the story at face value. It felt more like he-said, she-said rather than a typical biography and I don’t feel that comfortable getting in the middle of it. Let’s just say it’s an unorthodox way to write a memoir and leave it at that.

War of Art– not to be mistaken for the Art of War 😉 I don’t know why, but something about this just rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve already ranted about this, so I’ll keep it brief. I expected quite a lot from this book- especially after enjoying some inspirational books on similar topics- but it let me down faster than a whoopie cushion.

So- dare I ask- what do you think of these? Have you read any of them? And what were your worst books of 2020? Let me know in the comments!

Books I successfully DNF’d #2

A few months back I did a post talking about books I successfully DNF’d. What I loved about doing that post is it encouraged me to give up on books I’d have otherwise powered through… So I decided to do another one for the other books I’ve DNF’d this year! I might even make a tradition of it (if I can keep up the DNFing that is). For now, let’s just jump into it:

Devouring Gray– at first, I thought there was no real reason to DNF this, cos I liked the opening and thought it was pretty atmospheric. Still, I hit a roadblock at 43% and couldn’t seem to get passed it. I simply didn’t care where it was headed and I was trying to have more pleasurable reads in the pandemic, so quit while I was ahead, thinking I could try it again at some point. I really wanted to like it, so a month or so later, I picked it up again… only to get stuck again at 15%. That’s when I realised the problem wasn’t in my head. I think there’s a serious pacing and character issue for me here.   

Fix Her Up– this really didn’t work for me as a “fake girlfriend/boyfriend” story. They started getting it on pretty fast- so it doesn’t really qualify. It also didn’t help that I didn’t find the characters very likeable. However, what absolutely killed this book for me was how awkward the descriptions were for the romance- things like rashes are just off-putting and shouldn’t be anywhere near a sex scene. Worst of all, while they’re making out, the male lead thinks she’s looking at him like she’s going to “harvest his organs”- how… sweet?

Hygge Holiday– I borrowed this for my sister, but of course, once it was in my hands, I thought I might give it a try too… I got a few chapters in before deciding “not for me”.

Nine Perfect Strangers– I borrowed this on overdrive, cos I loved Big Little Lies by the same author. Yet, after two weeks of struggling to get into it, I realised it wasn’t going to work. Sadly, the characters remained strangers to me and I just couldn’t connect with any of it. Plus, the reviews weren’t looking too positive, so it didn’t seem worth powering through. 

Angel Mage– this book did nothing for me, unfortunately. I got about 2/3 of the way in before I started skimming. At that point I knew it was only a matter of time before I DNF’d. I think I only had 10% left before I gave up.

The Secret Barrister– I couldn’t stand the longwinded pomposity. I quit after 2 (very long) chapters. I think he was trying to copy Kay’s success with a professional memoir… but this is nothing like This is Going to Hurt. It’s got none of the charm, humour or heart- just plenty of virtue signalling.

The Ragwitch– I just had a completely different view of what this book would be. I thought it was going to be a spooky story, but it was in actuality a slightly MG adventure story. Not a bad thing, but not the kind of thing I wanted to be reading.

Hot Milk– this is my latest (and really recent) DNF. I tried with this one, but I just couldn’t stick out the 200 pages to the end! Unfortunately, after a well-written opening, it just became a bit staid and samey and wasn’t doing anything for me. I’m blaming the morose tone and flat voice- after the year we’ve all had, I just didn’t want to be in this Debbie Downer’s head a moment longer.

Annnnd that’s all I have for now! Not bad for me- but could be better! Especially since there was a real stinker that I DNF’d and picked back up again (which will be mentioned in my most disappointing of the year).

But what I want to know is- did I make a mistake with any of these? If you’ve read them, do you recommend finishing? Or did you get more out of them? Let me know in the comments!