Top 10 Tuesday: Books I Enjoyed That Were Outside My Comfort Zone

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is a freebie! So I’m using it to do a topic from a few months back that I missed during my blogging hiatus – books I enjoyed that were outside my comfort zone.

Saga Vol. 1 – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

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This one may be a comic rather than a book but it’s too perfect for this list not to include it. I never read comic issues – the art is gorgeous but they go by so quickly! However, after seeing the Saga series pop up around Goodreads and on bloggers’ reading challenges repeatedly, I decided to give it a go for myself. It ended up being so much fun and has pretty much everything I need in a good series – action, humour, adventure and romance.

Eggshell Skull – Bri Lee

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Up until late 2018, non-fiction had never really been something I was particularly interested in reading. I’d always seen reading as a way of escaping reality. Nowadays I’ve started picking up the occasional one that interests me and been pleasantly surprised. Eggshell Skull is an example of that. Reading about how the state of Queensland (AUS) handles sexual assault cases as well as the author’s own experiences in bringing her case through the system was heartbreaking but absolutely fascinating. It was informative and the perfect example of why so many women don’t bother to press charges against their rapists.

Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman

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I’m not usually one for poetic, artsy books riddled with deep prose that people tend to label literature and spend long periods of time lovingly highlighting. They usually bore me to tears. Still, I gave this book a go after falling in love with the film. To my complete shock, I really enjoyed it. Better yet, I thought the writing was so beautiful at points that I even highlighted a couple of passages myself! There’s just something about this book that I can’t put my finger on – it’s emotionally a lot, but gosh if it isn’t a good reminder for me to try things outside my usual types of reads more often.

IT – Stephen King


This book was a little out of my comfort zone for a few reasons. While I love a good fantasy novel, I don’t usually read horror books. Also, in recent years I’ve started to move away from larger sized novels and yet, here this was, in all its over 1000 page glory. Still, something about it made me take it off my parents bookshelves that day. Despite a not so great ending, I had a great time reading the rest of it, even though it successfully managed to make me a little anxious for a while. The characters were great and the writing was enjoyable as well.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

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Another genre I don’t usually read much of – sci fi! While fantasy and science fiction are usually shelved together, I pretty consistently stick to books in the former rather than the latter. Yet, after hearing some good things about this novel, and in search of some lovable, diverse characters, I decided to try TLWTASAP (what an acronym!). While I can see it not being for everyone, I thought it was a nice change of pace to read something that was more about the people and the journey rather than the destination. It’s definitely encouraged me to think about trying out some other sci-fi books in future.

Red Sparrow – Jason Matthews


My decision to pick up Red Sparrow can very easily be attributed to me watching the film shortly beforehand and wanting to see how the book differed. This was a very out of field choice for me reading wise as I don’t think I remember ever reading another spy/espionage type book before in my life. I’ll repeat, I should really read more books outside my usual genres because I found this super engaging and illuminating at the same time. It’s kind of odd at points (there’s recipes randomly included) but at the time it was a refreshing change of pace.

The Lightning Thief ( Percy Jackson & the Olympians) – Rick Riordan

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The majority of the books I read during the year fall within the young adult classification. Middle grade, however, is something I generally stay away from (it’s a little hard connecting with characters that young as a 26 year old woman). But as Percy Jackson is generally put up on a pedestal as the Harry Potter of the generation below me, I thought it was important that I give the series a try. In the end, while it did read a little young (as I’d been expecting), the story and characters were so charming and fun that I ended up having a great time and continued through all five books in the series.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern


Looking at it, The Night Circus seems like a book that would fall very squarely within my comfort zone – a fantasy novel with magic and a bit of romance. At the same time though, it’s not something particularly known for its plot or characters, two things that are usually extremely important to me. It’s more about setting and gorgeous writing. This is actually why I put off reading it for so many years because I was worried I’d find it tedious. While I’m not obsessed or completely in love with it like some other readers, I did like it and really appreciated its beauty.

It Ends with Us – Colleen Hoover

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I’m not typically a big romance reader (although that has changed a little recently) and when I do read it, it’s usually the fun, fluffy type of romance rather than the series and dramatic kind. Colleen Hoover was an author I’d been interested in trying out for a while and after hearing such positive things about this particular book, I decided to start with It Ends with Us. It was quite different from what I’d been expecting but ended up being a great read because of it. Colleen handled some super difficult issues in a really fantastic way and it’s because of this book that I ended up reading and loving one of her other works, Verity.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

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As I’ve mentioned repeatedly on my blog, I’m not a classics reader. At all. Either they bore me (I’m somewhat of an impatient person) or frustrate me. Despite being very much aware of this, for some reason, in high school I was curious about Jane Austen and wanted to give her books a go. I’d seen the mini-series Lost in Austen (it’s fabulous, by the way) and loved it so I thought Pride & Prejudice would be the right choice. Going in, I was fully prepared not to enjoy it but like other books on this list, it surprised me. The characters were engaging, some of the dialogue witty, and who doesn’t like a good slow burn romance?

Over the last year I’ve come to realise how important it is to try different types of books once in while in order to stop yourself ending up in a reading rut or a slump. After all, you never know when something will end up being fantastic and open you up to a whole new range of stories. I definitely think I’ll aim to add to this list in the future.

What are some reads that were outside of your comfort zone which you really enjoyed?

More Breakfast & Books: The Waffle Book Tag

As some of you may have seen, I recently completed the pancake book tag. Well, I have now discovered that there is in fact also a WAFFLE BOOK TAG (courtesy of Kat at Novels & Waffles). So I thought, why let the breakfast book tag train stop at pancakes when we can make this a sweet buffet of fluffy goodness? Exactly. Both Eleven and Nina Zenik would approve.

The Rules

  1. Link back to Kat @ Novels & Waffles
  2. Feel free to use Kat’s adorable waffle graphics (and I shall, thanks Kat!) just make sure to credit her
  3. Tag as few or as many people as you’d like to partake in the waffle-y goodness

Okay, grab your fork and some syrup, and let’s get going!

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As someone who isn’t usually one for classic novels, I’ve got a limited pool to pick from on this one. In the end I’ve decided to go with good, old Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. While I do find it difficult to sift through the older style language and the wordy descriptions, as I do with classics in general, I actually like the characters (especially Elizabeth) and story in this one. It has some amusing dialogue and it’s certainly enjoyable seeing Lizzie and Darcy slowly re-evaluate their opinions of one another. Plus, I’m always a sucker for a slow burn romance.

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I heard the word wholesome and my mind immediately jumped to Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, because how could it not? I first read this book on a cruise through the pacific islands, the bulk of it by the pool, and it was an absolutely perfect fit – adorably sweet, funny, romantic, and light enough to get through in a short period of time. There’s also the added bonus that it’s virtually impossible not to have an enormous smile on your face for hours after finishing it.

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Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I’m going to bypass my typical answer for this one, Harry Potter, and go with something different. In my teen years, like everyone else, I was completely obsessed with The Twilight Saga. Ga-ga for it. As I’ve gotten older I’ve definitely come to realise the problems with the series and the central relationship but still, reading it always takes me back to crazy, teenybopper Ashley. I can’t help but feel extremely comforted by it. Weird, I know. I guess reading something about 100 times will do that to you…

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Cress from the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer is the very definition of sweet. She’s so freakin’ adorable and naive and loveable that I can’t help smiling whenever she’s in a scene. Her getting excited about seeing a tree for the first time and calling everything she sees in the desert beautiful is ridiculously cute and endearing. I also love her interactions with Thorne because she’s pretty much every reader of the series with how much she swoons for him.

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I loved Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer but it was certainly an emotional ride for my poor heart. Sure, it has a happy ending, but we’ve got a roller coaster of feels to get there. Juliet’s still dealing with her mother’s death and trying to reintegrate into the world, Declan’s got all this family baggage, anger and guilt, and then there’s Rev’s trauma, and it all just HURTS, OKAY? But it’s also super cathartic, so at least there’s that.

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The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum is certainly different. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like this in terms of both content and presentation. It’s dark and deep and takes an interesting look at mental illness and toxic relationships. Structurally it’s broken down into very short chapters, sometimes only a page long, and visually the book uses photographs, handwritten notes and other inserts along with varying degrees of black ink around the page edges to supplement the story.

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There are quite a few series that I’ve seen all the way through to the end but Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead is easily one of my favourites. I fell in love with these books, campy as they are, when I was in high school. At the time only three of them had been released and I anxiously waited out the remaining years as each of the remaining 3 came out. A butt-kicking heroine, funny dialogue, a fabulous friendship, some great romance, and a super entertaining plot – it’s got everything I need, and vampires to boot.

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Hm, this is hard. While I love my Kindle and collection of wooden bookmarks, for practicality reasons I have to go with my booksleeve. I do most of my reading on the train and to do so I keep my books in my handbag. Before getting my sleeve, my books would end up scratched, bent, and sometimes even the coating on the covers would start to peel up. It’s so much better being able to pop my books inside and know they’ll be protected. Also, bonus points because my sleeve has a HP marauder’s map design on the fabric.

We made it! And once again I’m left with an unbearable craving for sweet, fluffy breakfast food smothered in maple syrup or Nutella. Yum-yum. I’ve really got to stop doing this to myself…

Want to get in on the waffle and bookish fun? (Because, of course, you do). If so, I tag you!

Ghosts, Dark Magic, and Murder: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Now, this is a tough one.

Ninth House was easily one of my more anticipated releases for the second half of 2019. Magic, dark themes, secret Yale Societies and Leigh Bardugo. Why, hello there, irresistible combination. As Leigh’s first adult novel, I was also super intrigued to see how it would be different from her YA works. And yes, it’s definitely different. But good different or bad different? In the end, it’s a bit of both.

Who, What, Where?

Ninth House is set at a fictional version of Yale University. Here, the rich and powerful members of eight secret societies regularly engage in dangerous occult rituals dealing with everything from necromancy and portal magic to shape-shifting. These societies are kept in check by a smaller ninth house, Lethe. Every three years Lethe recruits a freshman to join its ranks, opening their eyes to the uses and potential dangers of magic. Twenty-year old Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is a high school drop-out from LA with the ability to see ghosts or ‘Greys’. After somehow surviving an unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is mysteriously offered a scholarship to Yale and the freshman position within Lethe.

The book largely flicks back and forth between two time periods – Winter & Spring. The Winter chapters take place shortly after Alex’s arrival at Yale and deal with her starting to learn about magic and the societies through the assistance of a Lethe senior named Darlington. The Spring timeline occurs following Darlington’s bizarre disappearance, with Alex now largely handling the duties of Lethe on her own. When a young woman turns up dead on campus with several unexplained connections to the societies, despite being told to do otherwise, Alex decides to follow her gut and look into it.

Dark & Mysterious

If I were grading Ninth House on a lettered scale, it’d easily get an A for atmosphere. Leigh’s version of Yale is dark, dangerous and full of secrets. Ghosts roam the streets, magical substances exist to charm people and remove their free will, and wealthy, privileged students abuse dark magic for pleasure and power. It’s an intriguing setting and grounded well by Leigh’s ability to mix her own knowledge of the real Yale with her fantastical take on it. This twisted depiction of the University is further aided by the fact that it’s also populated by a multitude of morally grey, and sometimes black, characters – people willing to do whatever it takes to better themselves regardless of the costs to others. Even Alex, herself, is not so morally clean cut, but necessarily so to be able to survive in this kind of environment.

A Trigger Minefield

As I said above, Ninth House is not a young adult novel, by any means, and it won’t be for everyone. This book goes to some dark places and the trigger warnings list for it is lengthy. Drug addiction & overdose, murder, self-harm, child rape, forced consumption of human waste, toxic and abusive relationships, sexual assault involving video and date rape drugs, and more. For the most part, these things do tie into important plot elements and character development rather than being simply thrown in for extra colour, but it’s important to be prepared if any of these are things you’re sensitive to.

Connecting with Characters

One of the things I love about Leigh’s previous books is her ability to write interesting and loveable characters. With Ninth House, however, I had great difficulty connecting with them. Alex is a complex character with clear personality traits and a detailed backstory but at the same time, it just never really clicked for me. In terms of the other characters, Darlington was easily my favourite and yet, he’s only in a small portion of the book. Then we have Lethe’s support staff and perpetual PhD student, Dawes, and Lethe’s police liaison, Detective Turner, both of which I thought were okay, but was again missing that spark with.

There are a lot of side characters in this book and at some points it does feel crowded. Society members, Alex’s roommates, Yale faculty, ghosts/historical figures, people from Alex’s past, etc. Some are better fleshed out and more important than others, but I do feel as though there could have been a slight cut back to reduce messiness and confusion.

Stop & Start Plot

The plot of Ninth House is a lot like a dying engine, stopping and violently starting at a moment’s notice. This book could definitely have been shorter than 458 pages and there are a lot of sections in which the pacing is very slow, especially early on (& the info dumping doesn’t help). Momentum on the murder investigation takes a while to kick in and even when things do start to pick up, after every new puzzle piece discovered or dramatic moment that unfolds, there’s a long, drawn out pause. This is usually to shift to character backstory or something else. If you find these side-plots interesting, you’ll get by okay but if not, there’s likely to be some periods of boredom. While I wasn’t gripped in a constant state of excitement, I will say that, for the most part, I did remain consistently intrigued in how things would turn out, even though the ending wasn’t the satisfying conclusion I’d hoped for.

Overall, for one of my most anticipated releases of the year, Ninth House was somewhat of a disappointment for me. However, despite its flaws, I can still say I found it a mildly enjoyable, if bleak and at times confusing, reading experience. As to whether I’ll read the follow up, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

3 Stars

And That's a Wrap: November Edition

Only one month to go before 2019 is over and we begin both a new year and a new decade. I recently reached my revised reading goal of 65 books and have managed to cross a few books off my purchased TBR of late, so I’m feeling quite relaxed going into December. Here’s how November went:

The Wicked King – Holly Black ★★★★.5 | Review

Why yes, this is the second time I’ve read this in 2019. I can’t remember as far back as January so a re-read was necessary to prep for The Queen of Nothing‘s release. As expected, still fabulous and once again finished it in the blink of an eye.

Darkdawn – Jay Kristoff ★★★.5

Having been putting it off since September, I finally hit up Darkdawn. It ended up taking me a while to get through because of some pacing issues, repetition and my reaction to a few plot choices. I admit, I’m just the tiniest bit disappointed because I love this series and have been waiting so long for this book. However, despite the negatives there were still a bunch of things I liked – Jonnen and Mia’s relationship, the new pirate characters, Mia getting revenge on SO MANY PEOPLE, Jay taking digs at his own writing, and the usual amounts of sass. Not my favourite, but not bad either.

The Queen of Nothing – Holly Black ★★★.5

Another release I’ve been dying to get my hands on & again one that didn’t reach my expectations. *sigh* I liked The Queen of Nothing, don’t get me wrong, I just have issues with it. The main ones are that I feel as though it (a) was lacking the drama, twists and scheming of books 1 & 2, (b) left some plot strands hanging while resolving others in quick, unfulfilling ways e.g. Taryn’s deceptions, Locke, Jude’s banishment, etc. (c) and…the ending was both a little anticlimactic & cheesy. Regardless, the pacing was good and Cardan & Jude turned out to be end game so I can’t complain too much.

More Than We Can Tell – Brigid Kemmerer ★★★

An enjoyable read but not as much as Letters to the Lost. I love the fact that Brigid isn’t afraid to tackle real issues and heavy themes in her YA novels. This book looked at child abuse, trauma, and online harassment/bullying, and I feel as though it largely handled them compassionately and well. I really like Rev as a character and it was great to see him in greater focus here but I wish the climax to his story had been different. I wasn’t a huge fan of Emma – despite what she was going through, I couldn’t get on board with how awfully she treated the people around her. There was also a side character’s story which I feel could have been handled better. Overall though, I still liked this one.

Three Women – Lisa Taddeo ★★★

My latest foray into non-fiction. I found the writing in Three Women to be stylistically odd but also a bit frustrating as it frequently got bogged down by tangents, mundane details and philosophical musings about life, people and relationships. Content wise, I enjoyed myself and easily maintained the motivation to read it from start to finish. The stories of each of these women are not”the norm” enough for this to be considered the case study on female desire that it’s been marketed as, nor is it the super feminist read it’s been claimed to be. However, if you look at it purely as three stories of women’s different, individual experiences with sex and relationships, it’s interesting and entertaining.

I only bought four books this month. One I’ve already finished, and another I’m a fair way into so I’m pretty happy with that. I’m sure I’ll pick up a few more in December with gifts, sales, and extra down time over the Christmas break to read.

After taking a few months off, I returned to my blog this month with some good momentum and I’m happy with how things turned out. Here’s what I published in November:

This month I’ve been eagerly counting down the days until my office shuts for the Christmas break. I’ll get an absolutely wonderful two weeks off and as someone who works in real-estate and doesn’t usually get even two days off in a row, I am beyond excited. Christmas is my favourite time of the year so I’m looking forward to stuffing myself with good food, spending time with my family & cats, and recharging my batteries. I could do without the hot, humid weather but you can’t get everything you want.

I’ve also started thinking about potential holidays for 2020. Even after Christmas, I’ll have a lot of annual leave saved up and as someone who hasn’t had a proper holiday since January 2018, my travel bug is getting antsy. I’m still not sure where I’d like to go, but I’ve got plenty of time to decide.

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Movies and TV wise, this month I completely fell in love with Lucifer. I binged all 4 seasons on Netflix in less than two weeks and let me tell you, the withdrawal has been HARD. I’ll just be over here, sitting in a ball until season 5 drops some time next year. In movie land, I went to see Doctor Sleep and Charlie’s Angels, both of which I really enjoyed, and also sat down to watch The Knight Before Christmas (on Netflix) which was…er…well, pretty darn terrible.

That’s it from me for this month. I hope you’re all doing really well and that November has brought you some good things. Happy reading for December, everyone!

Mini-Reviews | Ashley’s Contemporary Romance Binge of 2019

As some of you may remember, towards the end of 2018 I went on a short contemporary romance binge to close out my reading goal for the year. Now, here we are in 2019, the year of the major book burnout, and once again the CR binge has made a return – with a vengeance.

Why read contemporary romance?

  1. They’re fluffy, sweet, sometimes mind-numbing, and just generally a lot of fun
  2. They often feature flawed protagonists older than I am still getting their life together, which is a fantastic reminder that it’s okay for me to not have my shit sorted yet
  3. And, they’re extremely easy to power through super quickly

During September I read 3 in the space of a week. And did I generally feel better about myself and the world? Why yes, yes, I did. And just like the books themselves, here are three short & light reviews of each of them.

Josh + Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating – Christina Lauren

Ever since I read Autoboyography last year, I’ve been wanting to give one of Christina & Lauren’s adult romance books a try and as far as first picks go, this ended up being a fabulous one. I was hooked from the start right til the very end.

As you can gather from the title, the book is about two friends, Hazel & Josh, who meet at university through a series of awkward interactions before bumping into one other again years later and becoming besties.  After Josh’s long-term relationship crashes and burns, Hazel comes up with what she thinks is the perfect way to get him out of the house again – set each other up on blind double dates. What could be better? Hanging out together plus the potential to find new partners. Because, I mean, it’s not like Josh and Hazel are into each other…

Although they’re completely different, Josh and Hazel are ridiculously likeable characters and I loved spending time with them. Hazel, a third-grade teacher with no filter, is the kind of person I think most of us wish we could be – quirky, spirited, completely comfortable in herself, and unwilling to change who she is for anyone. Josh, a physical therapist, is more reserved and organised, but also extremely sweet and supportive. He also happens to be of Korean heritage (WOOO, diversity!).

For all those friends-to-lovers trope fans out there, this book will definitely hit the sweet spot. While Josh & Hazel’s relationship does inevitably evolve into something romantic, I adored their perfect opposites attract friendship as well. There’s such a sense of ease to their scenes with one another and seeing them quickly become closer and closer (or should I say, seeing Hazel hit Josh’s life like a hurricane), is both lovely and entertaining. By the time the romance (or smut *wiggles eyebrows*) hits, it feels just right.

The plot in this book revolves almost entirely around the relationship between the two main characters. So, fair warning, if you need things going on outside the developing romance, you may get bored on this one. The series of failed double dates provides a bit of humour in that they turn out in a variety of different ways, especially as Josh & Hazel start to the hit the bottom of the barrel for potential suitors and realise their feelings for one another.

The one negative, and reason I deducted half a star, is that I wasn’t very keen on the ending. It felt rushed and unnecessary, and the transition between the final chapter and epilogue is unpleasantly abrupt. Still, while I wish the plot had gone a different direction, it wasn’t enough to badly damage the overall experience too much for me.

4.5 stars and I’ll make sure to keep this one on the back-burner in the future if I ever need something light and adorably wonderful to brighten up my week.

The Unhoneymooners – Christina Lauren

I will unashamedly admit that I bought and downloaded this on my Kindle about ten minutes after finishing Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating. I have zero regrets.

Our protagonist is Olive – single, unemployed, and just trying to get through her sister Ami’s wedding without murdering her nemesis, the groom’s brother, Ethan. After the reception buffet leaves everyone but Olive and Ethan with severe food poisoning, Ami’s all-expenses paid honeymoon to Hawaii goes up for grabs. Ami insists that Olive take it, while her husband gifts it to Ethan. With neither willing to budge on the chance at a free holiday, they agree to briefly put their differences aside to head off to paradise. However, when both Olive’s future boss and Ethan’s ex-girlfriend turn up at the same hotel, the pair find themselves pretending that they’re newlyweds. But the more time Olive spends with Ethan, the more she comes to realise that not only is he not who she thought he was, she might even like him.

While I may not have loved Olive and Ethan as much as Hazel and Josh, I did still really enjoy them (Olive more so than Ethan). Olive is one of those solid rom-com heroines that you can very easily get behind – the flawed, my-life’s-a-bit-of-a-mess-right-now-but-I’ll-turn-it-around kind of character. Meanwhile, Ethan is your standard start-out-as-a-stuffy-sarcastic-ass-before-showing-some-depth type of love interest that you find in enemies-to-lovers books. But hey, I have no problem with this archetype. The two characters have a great rapport and reading as the verbal barbs are thrown in both directions is very entertaining, particularly when they involve a good Harry Potter reference.

I’m a sucker for both the ‘enemies to lovers’ and ‘fake dating’ tropes so a story like this was guaranteed to be enjoyable for me, and it was. The first 70% deals with the wedding and Olive & Ethan’s time on holiday while the rest focuses on the effect their new relationship has on their lives and loved ones back home. Stage one is a lot of fun and contains all the hijinks and character/relationship building you’d expect. There’s a hot massage scene, a paintball competition with a bunch of thirteen-year-olds, a night involving too many Mai Tais, and a Norman Reedus look-a-like. Stage two isn’t as popular with a lot of other readers and I can understand why – it’s heavier and involves a few trust issues which I seriously question the logic of, especially where it comes to Ethan’s behaviour (it makes zero sense with the info he has at hand). Still, everything resolves itself in a satisfying way, complete with Olive fixing up a few elements of her messy life, in order to finish off with an adorably imperfect ending.

Overall, we’ll go with 4 stars for this one and I’ll just sit here wondering why my life can’t involve taking an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii with a hot man who can banter like there’s no tomorrow.

The Bride Test – Helene Hoang

During my binge of 2018, I tackled Helen Hoang’s debut The Kiss Quotient and had an absolutely great time. So, when I saw that the follow up, The Bride Test, had been released, I very quickly picked up that cheery, yellow beauty and took it straight to check out.

The Bride Test turns its attention to Khai, Michael from The Kiss Quotient’s cousin. Khai is Vietnamese-American, autistic, loves mathematics, and believes himself to be emotionally defective. Due to his lack of effort in the romantic department, his mother decides to go to Vietnam to select him a wife. Here she meets Esme Tran, a mixed-race cleaner and single mother living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City who dreams of meeting her American father. When Co Nga offers Esme a three-month trip to California in exchange for her attempting to pursue a romance with Khai, Esme sees the opportunity to give herself and her family a new life. And so, she heads to the US, moves in with Khai, and our story properly kicks off.

One of the best things about The Bride Test is that although it does have many of the sweet, fun and sexy moments you look for in a romantic contemporary, it also manages to be emotionally deep and showcase some more serious plot elements. Seeing Esme and Khai fall in love is great, but it’s also enjoyable and satisfying to follow their individual journeys. Esme tries to track down her father, pursues an education, and struggles to independently secure a future in the US for her and her family. Meanwhile, Khai deals with grief and realises how his autism effects his emotional responses and relationships with people. The way in which these plotlines play out does feel somewhat contorted and frustrating at certain points (the conflicts drag on longer than I would have liked) but overall, the story itself is entertaining.  

As characters, I really liked both Esme and Khai. Seeing Esme try to navigate both a new country and Khai himself was really endearing. She’s caring, considerate, hardworking and I loved just how determined she was to better herself. Although Khai has autism much like Stella in The Kiss Quotient, Hoang doesn’t simply rehash old territory and Khai’s experiences are very much his own. Learning about a different expression of the disorder was really interesting for me and I found that because of the boundaries and communication Khai’s autism required of Esme, it actually brought a fantastic element of consent and greater degree of intimacy into their relationship.

Aside from the autistic element, I have to note just how fantastic it is to have a mainstream romance novel involving two non-white leads. The book uses Vietnamese names, heavily integrates elements of Vietnamese culture, and details the difficulties of poorer immigrants in moving to a new country with very little to their names and minimal knowledge of the language. If you do choose to read this book, make sure to also read the author’s note. You would be remiss not to.    

If you’re looking for a diverse, inclusive, sweet, steamy, and heartfelt novel, this is one to add to the list. 4 stars

And that’s all for now, folks! Have you got any fun romantic contemporaries for me to add to the list for my next binge? I’m always on the lookout.

Top 10 Tuesday: Favourite Literary Names

This week’s TTT topic is actually a freebie to do with being thankful but because (a) we don’t do Thanksgiving here in Australia and (b) I’m weirdly coming up blank on potential topics, I’m going to do something different. Back in early 2018 I did a TTT post on literary names that I thought best suited their characters. It’s been a little while since then so I thought it might be fun to try my hand at another names based top ten, this time on character names in books that I just generally love (and would name many The Sims babies after). Just to state up front, this isn’t a comment on any of the characters these names belong to, only their names.

The Ember Quartet (Sabaa Tahir)

Aurora Rising (Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman)

The Bone Season (Samantha Shannon)

Ash Princess (Laura Sebastian)

A Curse so Dark and Lonely (Brigid Kemmerer)

Call Me By Your Name (Andre Aciman)

Arc of a Scythe (Neal Shusterman)

Percy Jackson & The Olympians (Rick Riordan), The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue (Mackenzie Lee)

Throne of Glass Series (Sarah J. Maas)

Sorcery of Thorns (Margaret Rogerson)

Do any of these also float your boat? What are some of your favourite literary names?

Battle of the Book Covers: US VS UK (Round 2)

It’s time for round two of the book cover battle – US VS UK covers! Because we all need a fun post once in a while. As of round one, the US is in the lead, 6 points to 5. If you missed round one, check it out here. Let’s see how they both fare this time around. As before, US covers will be on the left and UK on the right.

They Both Die at the End – Adam Silvera

This match up is a very easy one for me. I’ve actually put off buying the UK/Aus cover at my local bookstore because I’m so determined to get the US hardback. The design and imagery is gorgeous – the skull in the sky, the shadows coming together to form a grim reaper, it’s great. I also love how clean the colour scheme is.


The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

Now, this is a tough one. Why? Both covers have the same colour scheme and very similar design styles. While the hand on the US cover does look a little awkward, I really like the image of the circus tents with the famous clock overhead. The swirls around the title are super pretty, too. Meanwhile, the cut out figures on the UK version are great and with the font, the cover really encapsulates the spirit of the novel. Honestly, I think this one might just have to be a tie. A point for both.


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

This is a tough match up because I quite like both covers for different reasons. The US cover has this fabulous complementary colour scheme going with the orange and the blue. Meanwhile, the UK cover is so clean looking. I really like the use of the matches (it’s all very symbolic) and the font choices. Hmmm, I think I’ll go with the the UK cover on this one. There’s just something about it.


Enchantee – Gita Trelease

If we were going off use of colour, the US cover would win here. I love the rustic, french flag like appearance and the torn paper effect through the middle. The cursive script for the title is quite nice, too. However, the weirdly obscured model at the centre does put me off somewhat. I really like the UK Cover as well. The fancy entrance gate is sweet, especially with the coloured accents against the black, and I appreciate the symmetry of it all. Difficult decision but I keep going back to the US version. Still, I’d be happy with either in my bookcase.


The Institute – Stephen King

On first look at these, I found myself leaning towards the UK cover but the more I look at them, the more the US cover has grown on me. The bright blue of the UK version is lovely and I quite like the image of the boat with the reflection of the institute in the water. Still, there’s something about the muted colour scheme of the US cover which feels very rural America. I love the clean lettering and the design of the bedroom within the train car is very visually interesting.


Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

When this book first came out, I was very much on team USA. I liked the way the image was cut to make it look like an album cover, the “worn” edges, and the muted but classy colouring. But, after buying and looking at the UK cover as I read it, that version eventually began to pull ahead for me ever so slightly. The title font has such fun 60s vibes and the colour scheme is very period appropriate. It’s also super eye-catching when you have it lying about. A very close call on this one.


And I Darken – Kiersten White

As you guys know, I am not a fan of people on covers. The images always seem to look forced. Weirdly enough, I don’t find this particular cover that bad. I haven’t read the book itself yet but from what I know of it, this cover seems like it encapsulates the dark, bloodthirsty vibes of it and the central character. Nevertheless, I still find myself leaning more towards the spear and bright purple flowers. It’s just that little bit more visually dynamic.


Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Another challenging match up. When I first started this post, I was leaning towards team UK but as I’ve continued to compare them, I’ve changed my mind. With the UK cover, I love the brushed on title font and the image of the house figurine brightly burning down in the centre. Yet, from what I know of the book, the US cover seems like it fits very well with the story, which is about the events affecting the residents of a small community. The flames subtly showing through the front windows are also a great touch.


Skyward – Brandon Sanderson

I love this book and while both covers are certainly great, I’m more in favour of the UK version here. Charlie Bowater’s art is always stunning, but I can’t help finding the straight on, character based image a little odd. Spensa, why are you trying to stare into my soul? Points for the stunning purple sky background though. I quite like the art for the UK cover and the small touches of yellow to contrast the shades of grey.


The City of Brass – S. A. Chakraborty

The last match up for round 2 of the book cover battle. Although the US cover is far brighter, there’s just something I don’t like about it. I don’t know if cheap is the right word but for some reason that’s all that will come to mind. While the UK cover isn’t exactly dynamic either, I do like that it looks the gates to a mysterious, fantasy city. There’s a sort of elegance to it. Then again, this might be one of those books you have to read to properly appreciate the US version (it’s on my TBR, okay?!). At least for now, I’m going with UK.


And that brings us to the end of round 2. Let’s check back in at the updated scoreboard shall we…

US Covers: 12 Points

UK Covers: 10 Points

Looks like the US has started to pull ahead a bit. Guess I’ll have to wait and see if round 3 can even things out again.

How did you score the covers from round 2? Any favourites here?