Hello, hello, hello, bookish friends! Today I’m looking at five authors who I want to try reading books by at some point soon. Soon-ish. Sort of soon. Okay, at some point before I inevitably die (because isn’t that just bookworm life?). Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme created by Shanah at Bionic Book Worm and is now hosted by the lovely Meeghan over at Meeghan Reads.
In recent years I’ve been gravitating towards the occasional mystery/thriller type read, something I was pretty big on in my later teen years. Tana is one of the major authors in this genre and I seem to see her books pop up a lot because they’re pretty darn popular. I’m keen to read the first few of her Dublin Murder Squad books, especially The Likeness because of my recent interest in dark academia books. I’m not 100% sure whether I’ll like her writing but I guess there’s only one way to find out.
I somehow only found out about T J Klune towards the end of 2020. Flash forward to now and I have four of his books on my TBR. Three of them I’ve heard wonderful things about (they’ve all got like 4.4 average stars on Goodreads, like WHAT?) and one comes out later this year which sounds super cool from the blurb. The word is that he writes really heartwarming, diverse and funny stories, and I really, really hope that they live up to expectations because I’ll be a little bit heartbroken if they don’t.
N. K. Jemisin
At this point, I think I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve seen rave over the amazing-ness of Jemisin’s books. The fact that she’s won both a Hugo and a Nebula award is pretty damn impressive, too. I’ve definitely had The Broken Earth series on my radar to read for ages but as usual, I keep putting it off. I recently also added The City We Became to my TBR because the concept just sounded so different and intriguing that I felt I had to give it a go. I’m not sure when I’ll finally get around to giving her work a try but it’s certainly on the list for the future.
I’m sure you guys know that I’ve been reading a lot more adult contemporary romances over the last two years and having a heap of fun. Abby Jimenez is an author I’ve seen come up quite a few times during my scouring of the interwebs for some good reads to tackle during my romcom binges and I’m almost positive that one of her books will be included in my next one (whenever it may be). Her 2020 release, The Happy Ever After Playlist, was actually nominated for a GR choice award last year and I’m really looking forward her upcoming April 2021 release, Life’s Too Short, which sounds great.
Rachel Lynn Solomon
There are a couple of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s books that have grabbed my interest of late and I’m really excited to give them a read. From what I’ve heard, her YA books tend to fall on the older end of the age bracket in terms of themes and characters, something I really like the idea of, plus she has a couple of adult reads which seem interesting too. Right now Today, Tonight, Tomorrow and Our Year of Maybe are the two books at the top of my priority list (as an added bonus they have pretty cute covers, too).
What authors are on your list to try out in the future? Which books of theirs are you most interested in?
So, let’s not add ‘join a cult’ to our bucket list. But then again, I guess no one really plans to join a cult, do they?
Who, What, Where?
Following the death of her parents in a car wreck, thirteen-year-old Lo Denham was left in the care of her great aunt when her sister, Bea, mysteriously joined The Unity Project, a religious charity organisation working across Upstate New York. Now nineteen and alone, Lo hasn’t heard from her sister in years and spends her days working as an assistant to the head of SVO magazine. One day a stranger recognises her by name shortly before throwing himself in front of a moving train. The man’s father blames The Unity Project for his son’s death. Lo has always believed there’s more to the organisation and its charismatic leader, Lev Warren, than meets the eye and sees this as the perfect opportunity to not only expose the group and find her sister but to make her name as a journalist. To her surprise, Lo is granted permission to write her story and full access to both The Unity Project and Lev himself, the organisation hoping to prove once and for all that they have nothing to hide. Yet, the more Lo begins to investigate, the more she starts to question who to trust and what the truth is. But is the truth really what she’s looking for?
One of the things Courtney Summers is known for is her unlikeable but complex leading ladies, and Gloria ‘Lo’ Denham definitely fits the mould. I started out somewhat unsure about Lo. She’s acerbic, ambitious, stubborn, and because of the loss, rejection and trauma in her past, it often feels as though she walks around with a giant rain cloud hovering over her head. My connection with Lo is complicated in that while I never grew to “like” her as a person, with time I did come to care about what happened to her and to appreciate her emotional depth. Seeing other characters take advantage of her loneliness, fears and insecurities was difficult to witness and I hoped that she would find some level of peace by the end.
Having A Sister is a Promise
Like Sadie, at its heart The Project is a novel about the bond between sisters. The story is told effectively in dual timelines between Bea in 2012 and Lo five years later. Early on, I found it difficult to invest in Bea and Lo’s relationship as their scenes together are limited and mostly take place either when Lo is a baby or not fully conscious after the car accident. Yet, Summers managed to successfully build the connection over time through the intensity of the girls’ thoughts and actions to create a messy, raw and painful depiction of unconditional love.
There’s a beautiful contrast between the progression of Lo and Bea’s stories that I really enjoyed. Both girls start out with vastly different attitudes towards religion, The Unity Project, and themselves, and it’s interesting to see Bea’s eyes slowly open to the issues around her whilst Lo simultaneously seems to close hers for want of family, safety and belonging.
The Project is not a twists galore, drama-filled book. It’s a very slow build that takes time to get into, and as I was reading there were several points at which I wondered where it was all going. I later came to understand that this pacing is crucial to the story it’s trying to tell. As an Average Joe, it’s difficult to grasp the psychology behind people who willingly join and remain parts of religious cults. More so, how cult leaders can hold such power and sway over their members. The Project takes the time to illustrate this in a believable way. Through both Bea and Lo’s stories we’re able to see just how much influence a person can wield over those who are isolated, lost and broken by making them feel seen and valued, and giving them hope and purpose. The manipulation, control and gaslighting within The Unity Project is subtle and insidious. By the time the darkness underneath starts to reveal itself, the reader (like Lo) has been led into such a false illusion of peace and comfort that it’s difficult to recognise or process the acts of abuse so casually mentioned.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
Something I’ve come to realise about Summers’s books is that while they’re classified as YA and the writing feels like YA, her stories, characters and themes are much more mature and adult in essence. After Sadie, I expected The Project would be dark, especially considering the premise. And dark it was. This is a book which isn’t afraid to delve into the bleaker sides of humanity and religion. It deals with child abuse, suicide, grief, murder, torture, manipulation, PTSD, and intimate partner violence, just to name a few topics. Some of these elements take a while to creep up and rear their ugly heads, but eventually they do. While I enjoy these types of grittier narratives for their gravity and realism, I know a lot of other readers prefer to steer clear. However, I should note that despite its tough subject matters The Project manages to retain a strong underlying sense of hope and goodness in the world that will somehow shine through no matter how dark circumstances may seem.
Mixed Bag Ending
I have mixed thoughts on the ending for this one. There are parts that I liked, but there’s certainly one major component I wasn’t fond of at all, largely because there’s no explanation for it. Over the course of the novel there are several instances of events which characters interpret as being miracles but each of these have alternative real-world explanations. The sequence of events at the end of the book, on the other hand, does not appear to have any sort of non-miracle reasoning. My issue with this is that not only does it make the ending feel too neat but it has caused me to rethink the book’s overall scepticism towards religion as truth, leaving me confused as to how to interpret some of its overarching ideas.
While The Project may not have been as completely immersive and devastating an experience as Sadie, I enjoyed this book and feel as though it mostly succeeded in what Summers was trying to achieve. If you’re looking for a well written, strong and emotionally grounded story, and are willing to be patient for a pay-off, you’ll likely enjoy The Project.
To those who said this book was better than the first, you lied. I feel betrayed. Prepare yourselves for an unpopular opinion. A VERY unpopular opinion,
Plot, Wherefore Art Thou?
I have no idea how to talk about the plot of AKoFaF. If I had to sit down and write a summary, I wouldn’t know where to start because, aside from an early kidnapping attempt and a mild skirmish while travelling, almost NOTHING happens for most of the book. While From Blood and Ash had a few action-filled and dramatic events to keep things engaging, this book mostly feels like a million pages of Poppy talking (and “not talking”) to Casteel and side characters. When that’s not happening, it’s pages of inner monologuing about the same tedious things until you want to stab someone. Things start to pick up around 75%, or maybe a bit more, but by the time I was finally interested in what was happening, the book was over.
Keep the Tropes Rolling
I mentioned in my review of FBaA that it was a trope-filled bonanza. Well, it keeps on going in AKoFaF. Clearly JLA couldn’t handle missing a couple in book one. As a result, we get the soulmates, here comes the cavalry, and fake dating tropes. Now, I normally love fake dating but its use here was not only annoying but unnecessary. As we all know, the point of this trope is that by two characters pretending to love one another they actually do fall for each other. My issue is that Casteel and Poppy already love each other. That’s what the first book was for! So this whole ‘fake it til you make it’ layer to their relationship only serves to add frustrating, silly drama and makes Poppy spend ages questioning everything Cas does or says.
More Romance, Less Fantasy
While FBaA felt mostly balanced between romance and fantasy, AKoBaB is more the former. If you were disappointed by the number of steamy scenes in book one, there are certainly more here. A couple feel same-same in the middle, but overall they range from very decent to hot. The whole vampire aspect of the romance is played up more this time, too, which I was super happy about (just give the people want they want, alright?). Yet, I did find that the other interactions between Poppy and Cas got tedious as the book went on, mostly because their exchanges are so damn repetitive, even more so than in book one. Half the time it feels like JLA has hit copy & paste and changed one or two words of dialogue in the hopes we won’t notice.
By about 65% of the way through this book, I just wanted it to be over. I was also almost positive that I wouldn’t bother to read book 3. And then…the last couple of chapters came. *sigh*. Damn you, JLA. Why couldn’t the rest of the book be as interesting as the last 20%? WHY? The reveal at the end is predictable as all hell and still, I was like YES, PLOT DRAMA. GIVE IT TO ME. Unfortunately, now my brain keeps thinking it wants to read the next book. Good, God.
Poppy tested my patience in this book. She really did. Her personality can now be narrowed down to just two things – is violent and asks a lot of questions. I also find it ridiculously frustrating that, despite her empathic abilities, she’s a blockhead when it comes to understanding other people’s motivations and feelings. The cherry on top: her repetitive, constant and lengthy internal ramblings which made me want to scream by the end. Just figure your shit out already, girl.
Something I actually liked was that one of the plot points in this book deals with Poppy’s powers beginning to evolve. The reasoning is vague but we’ll allow it. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll be able to guess where that leads us by the end. This plotline really doubles down on the super special protagonist trope but because it feels like the natural progression for Poppy’s story to take (especially since people treat her like a super special snowflake anyway) I’m cool with it.
Other Random Thoughts:
Kieran is easily my favourite character. What a bro. His relationship with Poppy is cute, too.
I can’t help finding it really weird that Poppy feels people’s emotions as flavours. Like, why?
Why is it that people like Poppy or will like Poppy just because she’s stabbed Casteel? Um, how much do you people hate Cas? Poor guy.
“Heartmates”. Ugh. Had I been drinking something, I would have spat it all over my kindle.
Poppy and Cas getting it on in the back of a carriage right in the middle of a battle was a bit of a WTF moment. Like guys, to quote Kourtney Kardashian: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.”
A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire is longer than it should be, mostly filler, and loses some of the funner elements I liked about the first book. After everything I’ve just said, I wish I could say I won’t be continuing with the series but that would probably be a lie because, clearly, I hate myself.
In recent months my eyes have been opened up to the ultimate level of “coolness” that is dark academia. Clothes, music playlists, books, interior design, it’s all just so deliciously gothic and mysterious. And what better way to fully dive in than The Dark Academia Book Tag? This tag was created by *Emmie* and CarolynMarieReads on Booktube. So crack out your skulls, musty books, Greek philosopher busts and autumnal shades of tweed. We’re about to mess things up in the pursuit of higher knowledge!
I recently finished If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio which fits both dark and academia and loved it. There are a lot of similarities with The Secret History by Donna Tartt (which I also enjoyed) but still some big differences. I love seeing how bad decisions and secrets can lead people to completely implode over time. Plus, the way Shakespeare is woven into this book is very cleverly done.
In terms of “dark” movies, I really like The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, and it’s fairly comedic but The Mummy sort of covers both dark and academia in a different way.
I’m not much of a poetry reader but I really enjoyed studying the work of T.S. Elliot in high school. My favourite among his poems is ‘Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. It looks at things like social anxiety, isolation, insecurity, and inner vs outer life. It’s so wonderfully weird and melancholy, and there’s so much to unpack. I also quite like ‘The Hollow Men’ which deals with the aftermath of WWI. The last few lines of that poem, ‘This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper’ have stuck with me ever since I heard them for the first time.
I’m not so big on sculpture but I love art and frequently buy prints of pieces I really like. Just like with books though, I’d find it impossible to pick a favourite. So, a few of them are Almond Blossom & Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, The Thames Below Westminster by Claude Monet and for something more modern, Leonid Afremov’s Alley By The Lake.
How do people pick just one for these questions? There so many beautiful feats of architecture in the world! I have three favourites: 1) Basílica de la Sagrada Família, 2) The Alhambra and 3) the Palace of Versailles.
I’m not religious, however I have visited quite a few churches across Europe. The Sagrada Familia is easily my favourite. Those stain-glass windows are absolutely breathtaking. You stand in the middle of the room and it’s just a riot of colour and light. The carvings around the exterior of the church are gorgeous as well.
The Alhambra has a long, complicated history which is why its architecture is so complex and varied. Upon visiting there, you can’t help but be amazed by the beautiful details on every wall, ceiling and doorway, especially knowing the limited tools that were available to create them compared to today. The gardens and views of the surrounding area from the fortress are divine, too.
With Versailles, it’s the sheer level of opulence. Every little detail manicured to perfection. Looking at the beauty and size, you definitely understand why the lower classes hated the French monarchy as much as they did. There’s gold all over the place. Even the floors you walk on are works of art. I can’t even imagine how many staff are employed to maintain it all.
While I have some knowledge of Shakespeare, it’s only limited to certain plays (mostly Othello, Julius Caesar and Romeo & Juliet) so it’s a bit hard to know which lead I’d prefer to be. I’m also not much of an actor – the stage fright would likely kill me. However, I think I’d prefer one of the comedies (a tragedy is far beyond my capabilities). Something like Twelfth Night seems like it would be fun with all the romantic hijinks involved, plus I’d get to do some cross dressing, dueling and make plenty of confused expressions as Viola.
Alas, English is my only language. To all those multilingual people out there, I both envy and admire you. I did study French for a semester at University and didn’t end up continuing with it because of how intense the coursework was for such a short period of time, but I kind of wish that I’d given it a better crack now. Japanese would also be interesting to try out.
There are too many beautiful phrases from far too many talented authors to answer this question. Here are a few I love:
‘I am haunted by humans’ – The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
‘Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.’ – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid
‘Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?’– A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
‘I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.‘ – The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.” – The Two Towers, J RR Tolkien
Um, so I can’t just die peacefully in my sleep? No? Okay, in that case I’ll meet my demise via Avada Kedavra or The Killing Curse from Harry Potter. Quite a few characters in the series meet their end this way – Harry’s parents, Sirius Black, Fred Weasley, Cedric Diggery, etc. It seems to be pretty quick and painless which is a win. A flash of green light and you’re gone.
Once upon a time, like everyone I suppose, I dreamed about going to Oxford. I love London and the University itself is just so beautiful and magical looking. There’s a great deal of history to it as well. Then, of course, I realised (a) how expensive it would be and (b) how difficult it is to get in. Trinity in Dublin is similarly stunning and I really enjoyed visiting there a few years back. I like the Gothic feel to parts of it and my goodness, the Old library is what bookworm dreams are made of. In reality though, I attended the Australian National University in Canberra.
If you want to murder someone successfully, it has to be poison. Something quick, easy and which comes off looking like a natural death. Anything else and you’re inviting too many potential opportunities for evidence to be created and used against you at a later date. However, if you can’t be neat about it and need to get rid of the body entirely, acid is the way to go. Yes, I’ve thought about this. From a fictional standpoint only, of course.
Hm, this is tough. My undergraduate major was in modern history so perhaps something related to English or French history? Otherwise, maybe English Literature. Honestly though, I don’t really have much interest in doing a PhD. I haven’t even paid off my undergraduate degrees yet!
While I certainly enjoy reading about stories based in Greek and Roman mythology, there’s no way I’d want to be a part of it. Those Gods are selfish, asshole-ish nightmares, constantly getting up in each other’s business and other people paying the price for it. Ancient Egyptian mythology, on the other hand, sounds awesome. I mean, sure, they had their problems as well (chopping your brother up into 42 pieces and scattering them across the land for your sister-in-law to find comes to mind) but overall, they’re a bit more stable. Plus they have some interesting concepts about death.
I have a lot of different fictional characters that I adore but there’s none I’d “die for” (Yes, I realise the question isn’t meant to be taken literally). Still, it’s hard to choose an ultimate favourite. There’s far, far TOO MANY. However, last October I did two posts in which I listed my favourite book characters by letters of the alphabet which you can find here & here.
Leather bound or Cloth Bound Books
Leatherbound – they feel nice and they’re a lot more durable than cloth bound, as lovely as cloth bound are. Although, considering the animal impact of leather bound, if I could do faux-leather bound that would be good.
Dog-earing Pages or Highlighting Pages
Do I have to pick one? Because if neither is an option, I choose that. If I do have to pick, it’ll be dog-earing because the idea of highlighter potentially bleeding through the back of a page is giving me serious anxiety.
Sculptures or Paintings
Paintings. I’m not much of a sculpture person.
Piano or Violin
Piano. I adore a beautifully written and played piano piece that hits you right in the soul.
Films or Theater
I enjoy both but there’s definitely something magical about going to the theater. More of a special occasion than an everyday activity. I actually cried the first time I saw The Phantom of the Opera performed. It just feels so much more tangible happening in front of you.
Poetry or Prose
Prose. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t really read much poetry, or any really.
Museums or Bookshops
Bookshops, of course! I do enjoy a museum trip but I feel most happy and at home in my favourite bookshops.
Smell of Books or Smell of Coffee/Tea
I actually don’t drink coffee or tea but I love the smell of coffee. It’s so warm, rich and lovely. So, as much as I enjoy book scents, I’m surprisingly going coffee here.
Fountain Pen or Typewriter
I’ve never used either but I really appreciate the vintage look and feel of a typewriter. It would be fun to try one out.
New or Used Books
New. I know used are better for the environment and that they’re well loved, but I have a weird thing about perfect looking books. Cracked spines and bent corners are my nightmare.
Would you look at that, we got through without anyone accidentally or intentionally dying. Go us. I definitely get the feeling I’m going to be seeking out more dark academia books in the future to see how they compare to the ones I’ve already read. Are any of you fans of this genre? If so, what’s your favourite dark academia read/film/tv show?
It’s been a while since I last put some US and UK book covers in a battle to the death. Okay, it’s not that dramatic. Still, I think it’s time to put the score board back up and see which region’s covers reign supreme. Just in case you need a catch up, here are rounds 1, 2 and 3. At this point the US is in the lead on 17 points with the UK right behind on 16 points. You guys know the drill by now, US covers on the left and UK on the right. Let’s dive in!
Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell
While I do like the idea of the renaissance style painting and the text on scripts of parchment on the US cover, I love the elegance of the UK version. The gold, nature based designs around the letter are stunning.
Verdict: UK Cover
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V. E. Schwab
This was an easy decision, especially considering how much money I forked out to get a copy of the US cover sent to Australia (UGH). I’m not sure what it is about the UK Cover, but I’m just not really a fan. The squiggly lines look a little odd and I wish that the text had been more elegant. The US cover is so simple but the text with the star constellation incorporated is magical.
Verdict: US Cover
The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
Now this is a tough one. I love the semi-abstract nature of the imagery on both covers. There’s so many organic, flowing lines. I also feel like both covers capture the idea of two sisters being different parts of a whole very well. In the end though, I’m going to go with the UK cover but only just! It’s mostly because I find the colour scheme easier on the eyes than the shades of blue, green, orange and pink blended together on the US version.
Verdict: UK Cover
The Midnight Library – Matt Haig
I’m definitely a fan of the starry sky background on the top half of the UK cover but the rest of it is kind of boring, especially the snooze-worthy title font. The US cover, on the other hand, is an example of a simple cover which still looks engaging. I love all the little images inside the ovals. They remind me of airplane windows. The colour contrast of the yellow and orange with the navy is nice, too.
Verdict: US Cover
Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo
Another difficult match up, again because the concepts are similar but the styles are different. I love how both covers utilise half the girls’ faces and a clear sense of colour contrast. I think I like the more realistic art style of the UK cover better, however I prefer the colour scheme (the use of green and pink to create harmony and difference is well done) and layout of the US cover.
Verdict: US Cover
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
This is another pairing where the publishers have executed a same-same vision with small differences. It’s a tough choice. I think the title stands out better on the UK cover and I like the way the dress falls at the bottom. I also feel as though the brown wall offers good contrast against the green. However, the US cover screams old Hollywood more and I believe it captures the sexy, glamorous image Evelyn portrayed to the world a lot better. Very Marilyn Monroe.
Verdict: US Cover (By a smidge!)
If I Had Your Face – Frances Cha
My god, that yellow and red overlay on the US cover is gorgeous. I love the way the title text takes up a lot of space and cuts through the colour so cleanly. Yet, the UK cover is really eye-catching, mostly because it’s super weird to look at. You just find yourself staring at it trying to make sense of what’s happening. I’m torn on this one, guys. There’s stuff to like about both. Tie it is then.
If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio
Considering how much I loved this book, I wish I’d bought the US hardback now. The skull, script and dark lighting are making all my dark academia dreams come true. The UK cover (which has since been redesigned) is very simple. I like the ’embossed’ bordering and big dramatic title text, however the dead sparrow image only really makes sense if you’ve read the novel and look kind of odd if you haven’t.
Verdict: US Cover
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
There’s something very soothing about the US cover for The Bone Clocks. Maybe it’s the reflected sky or perhaps it’s those beautiful layers of perfect circles, one after the other. Still, I definitely find the UK cover more striking and visually dynamic. The colours, sense of movement, and all the tiny details to pick apart make this one the stronger cover in my opinion.
Verdict: UK Cover
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson
Both the US & UK covers have the same concept here – a messy looking murder board – but they go about it slightly differently. I have to say, I’m more a fan of the US cover and it’s mostly because the title text is better integrated into the image than the splat-on-the-page approach of the UK cover. I also feel like the slightly grayer background feels more ominous looking than the stark white which is what you want for a mystery novel.
Verdict: US Cover
City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert
This is another set of covers with somewhat similar concepts, this time with the use of showgirl costume feathers. I appreciate the colour scheme and bold, theater style text on the US cover, but there’s something about the image of the showgirl peering over the top of the text in the UK version that I really like.
Verdict: UK Cover
My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell
I have to say, I don’t really like the US cover for My Dark Vanessa. I appreciate the incorporation of the butterfly as a reference to Vladimir Nabokov who wrote Lolita (which is referred to many times in this book), but the image doesn’t do much for me. The UK cover, however, features one of my favourite colour combos on covers – orange and blue, a complementary pairing. I also love the bold, blocky title text woven into the hair strands. So clean looking.
Verdict: UK Cover
Okay, better stop before I get too carried away (which is easy to do when you’re looking at a bunch of cool book covers). Time to check the score board!
US Covers: 24 Points
UK Covers: 22 Points
It seems that the US is still in the lead. Hm, interesting. Better get your act together UK, you’re falling behind. As always, how would you have decided these match ups? Any favourite covers among the bunch?
I may not be twelve anymore (thank god), but for some reason my ears still prick up at the mention of ‘vampire romance’. I can’t help it. It’s like my brain’s been programmed against my will. So, you’ll understand why this + ‘most hyped romance of 2020’ lead to me giving into FOMO and reading From Blood and Ash.
Who, What, Where?
Our protagonist is Poppy, ‘The Maiden’ and chosen of the Gods. Poppy lives her life with strict restrictions on how she dresses and behaves as she waits for the day of her Ascension – a mysterious ritual that will supposedly secure the future of the Kingdom. However, Poppy longs to experience life outside her limited bubble and is drawn to activities and interests that risk her being found unworthy. After a kidnapping attempt, she’s assigned a new guard, the attractive and alluring Hawke who’s like no one she’s ever met before and makes her rethink her destiny. But when things inside the castle turn deadly and a fallen kingdom rises, determined to retake what was lost at any cost, Poppy begins to question whether everything in her world is what it seems.
You get a Trope! And YOU Get a Trope!
If you’re looking for something original, keep walking. However, if you’re a reader who eats tropes for breakfast, step this way. I knew going into this it’d be trope heavy, just not this heavy. Honestly, I wish I’d had a bingo card. Let’s start a list, shall we? Hidden/growing powers, dead parents, “The Dark One”, the servant confidant, ‘Not Like Other Girls’, the chosen one, a secret identity, forbidden romance, the virginal MC and experienced love interest…there’s more, but I’ll stop here.
Don’t Need a Crystal Ball to Predict This One
Tying in with what I said about the book’s reliance on tropes, From Blood and Ash is very predictable. Even going into this 100% blind, I guarantee you’ll work out all the major plot reveals from a mile away. Unfortunately, you then have to sit through the rest of the book questioning why characters (*cough* Poppy *cough*) are so freakin’ stupid that they can’t work it out themselves.
The Maiden & The Guard
In terms of our leads, Poppy is, for lack of a better word, okay. I love the fact that she knows how to kick ass and I do sympathise with her difficulties, but she also feels annoyingly young at times and extremely dense when it comes to seeing things right in front of her face. Hawke feels like many of the fantasy love interests I’ve seen before (especially if you’re a SJM fan). He’s generally likeable, has some depth, but he’s nothing new.
For the most part, I enjoy Poppy and Hawke’s relationship. It’s banter-y, fun, sexy and I love the scenes where they physically face off. Yet, there are a couple of things that bother me. First, Hawke does verge into toxic ‘alpha male’ territory at times and second, there are a few moments where their interactions verge on forced. For example, Poppy says something, and Hawke just has to give an arrogant/teasing/sexy reply even though it doesn’t really suit. They also weirdly have a couple of the same exchanges repeatedly (‘You’re so violent, it turns me on’, ‘There’s something seriously wrong with you’, ‘You love it’). I know they’re supposed to be in jokes but it’s a lot.
Steam Up Those Windows
No complaints here. If you’re in this book for some solid smuttiness just know that you’ll have to wait a long time to get there but it’s worth it. Also, bonus points for actually mentioning contraception. Woo!
Questionable World Building
Ah, world building. I wish I could say this book doesn’t fall into the trap of dumping boring bits of information on you in heaps right from the beginning, but I can’t, and it does. There’s even a chapter in which Poppy reads passages from a history textbook *face palm*. Even with these infodumps, I was mighty confused for a while. It’s probably all the terms – Rise, Rite, Ascension, Atlantians, Descenters, Ascended, Wolven…lord, help me.
This aside, there are elements that I liked. I just wish they’d been handled better than coming together at the end. I enjoyed the idea of the three different types of “vampires” and the distinctions between them – bloodthirsty traditional vampires, not-so traditional vampires, and the vicious, zombie-like Craven. I also enjoyed the reveal of the history between the Atlantians & the Ascended, although it does paint a very basic good vs evil scenario.
The pacing in this book is messy at points. While the opening scenes which take place at a gambling den/brothel are engaging, following this, things get slow and take some time to pick up again. After this point though, I found the story pretty addictive and raced through to the end. The latter chapters, however, is where things get out of sorts again, slowing down and speeding up in a weird mish-mash of events that left me feeling serious whiplash and confusion.
There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing as I was reading:
Ellipses. I’m probably a hypocrite saying this, but boy were they overused in this book.
JLA has a weird habit of repeating the exact same information about something in dialogue and Poppy’s thoughts, almost word for word, very close together. It’s bizarre and unnecessary.
For a high fantasy book, the language used by the characters is extremely modern. It does make the book more digestible, but the idea of characters using words like ‘totally’ and ‘whatever’ in this context is disorienting.
Two words, ‘female’ and ‘male’. Just no. JLA you’re banned from reading Ms Maas.
Now, the two big questions, do I think this book deserves the hype and best romance of 2020? No x 2. Still, despite my massive amounts of complaining, I didn’t mind From Blood and Ash. It’s not amazing or revolutionary but it’s addictive, fun and a good way to shut your brain off. With this in mind, I’ll be reading the sequel.
A new year, a new probably unrealistic list of books I’d like to tackle before the end of the year. In 2020 I set myself a list of 30 books I wanted to read from a bunch of different genres. I ended up only reading…well, 14 of them. Er, yeah. It could have been better. Anyway, here’s hoping that this year is more productive and less subject to intense shifts in my reading mood.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte: I bought a Penguin faux leather copy of this and it’s too pretty not to be read. Hopefully I like it a lot more than I did Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier: I’ve been putting this off for YEARS. Now that I’ve watched an adaptation, I feel I really, really need to finally read the book.
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott: Yes, this book was on my 2020 list. Yes, it’s here again.
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: Lately I’ve been wanting to try my hand at writing a ghost story. I should probably see how one of the experts does it.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benhamin Alire Saenz: I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book and it sounds so good.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne: Heaps of positive reviews, an interesting sounding blurb and recommended for those who liked A Little Life (which I did). Please don’t make me cry.
Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami: I tried reading 1Q84 many years ago and found it super weird. This is supposedly less so. I might hate it, might love it. Trying it for something different.
The Comeback – Ella Berman: There’s something intriguing about this book. It just seems like something I’d like. Plus very topically relevant in today’s day & age.
If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio: I read The Secret History back in 2020 and really liked it. This has been regularly recommend as being similar in feel. Yay, dark academia & murder!
The Boy From the Woods – Harlan Coben: I came across TBFtW while perusing the GR Choice awards noms. I do enjoy a good mystery from time to time and this one certainly sounds exciting.
The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager: It’s bizarre, I am so keen on reading Sager’s books despite having this nagging feeling that I won’t love them. This one is set at a camp which is cool yet creepy.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson: This is my next stop in the search for an amazing YA crime/thriller book. I’ve been burnt before but reviews have been great so fingers crossed!
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher Paolini: The size is definitely intimidating but as if I’m going to pass up new Paolini, and an interesting sounding one with a gorgeous cover at that.
Dark Age (Red Rising 5#) – Pierce Brown: You guys already know how much I love this series. I FINALLY read Iron Gold last year so that means it’s time for Dark Age. I’m preparing my heart.
Ready Player Two – Ernest Cline: Reviews on this one haven’t been great but a) I got it for Christmas and b) I really liked the first book. So we’re doing it in 2021.
The Midnight Library – Matt Haig: The Goodreads Choice Awards Fiction winner for 2020! This book sounds so good and I’m almost 100% positive that I’m going to love it.
The Burning God (The Poppy War 3#) – R F Kuang: I’m legit obsessed with this series. Book two was my favourite read of 2020 and I’m SO keen for the last book. Pain is coming, I can tell.
Piranesi – Susanna Clarke: Shiny foiling on covers, I can’t resist it. Piranesi sounds super different from other things I’ve read in recent years and I’ve seen some amazing reviews, too.
The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2#) – Brandon Sanderson: I have a sudden desire to go back to this series (blame Skyward maybe?). I read The Final Empire back in 2015 but for some reason didn’t continue onward. I’ll have to reread it before tackling TWoA but I’m really looking forward to it.
Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett: I’ve had Foundryside on my radar for a while now and I think it’s finally the time. Magic, politics, a heist, adventure…sign me up!
Layla – Colleen Hoover: It’s been hit or miss with Colleen Hoover reads, but I like the sound of this. Hopefully it’s more Verity & It Ends with Us than Confess. I also got it for $2 on kindle, SCORE.
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird – Josie Silver: The concept for this sounds kind of weird but I enjoyed Josie Silver’s One Day in December so I’m keen to give this a whirl.
From Blood and Ash – Jennifer L. Armentrout: Blame the hype. I have to see what people are talking about. I’m sure it’ll be tropey and cringey to the max but the FOMO is too intense.
Today, Tonight, Tomorrow – Rachel Lynn Solomon: This looks like a solid ya rom-com. It also features enemies to lovers (= my crack). I’m worried about rushed development because of the time frame but we shall see.
What’s on your list of backlist books to read in 2021?
Let me preface this by saying that there are so many amazing looking books due to come out in 2021. I am ridiculously excited. So, that means, DO NOT BLAME ME THAT THIS POST IS LONGER THAN WAR AND PEACE, okay? My reading tastes tend to gravitate towards fantasy, romance and mysteries/thrillers (both YA & Adult), so expect to see a mix of books from these genres below.
Lore – Alexandra Bracken | January
Every seven years, the Agon begins. As punishment for a past rebellion, nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines, all eager to kill a god and seize their divine power and immortality. Long ago, Lore Perseous fled that brutal world in the wake of her family’s sadistic murder by a rival line, turning her back on the hunt’s promises of eternal glory. For years she’s pushed away any thought of revenge against the man–now a god–responsible for their deaths.
Yet as the next hunt dawns over New York City, two participants seek out her help: Castor, a childhood friend of Lore believed long dead, and a gravely wounded Athena, among the last of the original gods.
The goddess offers an alliance against their mutual enemy and, at last, a way for Lore to leave the Agon behind forever. But Lore’s decision to bind her fate to Athena’s and rejoin the hunt will come at a deadly cost–and still may not be enough to stop the rise of a new god with the power to bring humanity to its knees.
A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses 4#) – Sarah J Maas | February
Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.
The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.
Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.
Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance-and healing-in each other’s arms.
The Project – Courtney Summers | February
Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.
When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.
The Mask Falling (The Bone Season 4#) – Samantha Shannon | February
Dreamwalker Paige Mahoney has eluded death again. Snatched from the jaws of captivity and consigned to a safe house in the Scion Citadel of Paris, she finds herself caught between those factions that seek Scion’s downfall and those who would kill to protect the Rephaim’s puppet empire.
The mysterious Domino Program has plans for Paige, but she has ambitions of her own in this new citadel. With Arcturus Mesarthim-her former enemy-at her side, she embarks on an adventure that will lead her from the catacombs of Paris to the glittering hallways of Versailles. Her risks promise high reward: the Parisian underworld could yield the means to escalate her rebellion to outright war.
As Scion widens its bounds and the free world trembles in its shadow, Paige must fight her own memories after her ordeal at the hands of Scion. Meanwhile, she strives to understand her bond with Arcturus, which grows stronger by the day. But there are those who know the revolution began with them-and could end with them…
Sing Me Forgotten – Jessica S. Olson | March
Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.
Cast into a well at birth for being one of the magical few who can manipulate memories when people sing, she was saved by Cyril, the opera house’s owner. Since that day, he has given her sanctuary from the murderous world outside. All he asks in return is that she use her power to keep ticket sales high—and that she stay out of sight. For if anyone discovers she survived, Isda and Cyril would pay with their lives.
But Isda breaks Cyril’s cardinal rule when she meets Emeric Rodin, a charming boy who throws her quiet, solitary life out of balance. His voice is unlike any she’s ever heard, but the real shock comes when she finds in his memories hints of a way to finally break free of her gilded prison.
Haunted by this possibility, Isda spends more and more time with Emeric, searching for answers in his music and his past. But the price of freedom is steeper than Isda could ever know. For even as she struggles with her growing feelings for Emeric, she learns that in order to take charge of her own destiny, she must become the monster the world tried to drown in the first place.
Rule of Wolves (King of Scars 2#) – Leigh Bardugo | March
The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.
The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.
The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.
King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.
Yolk – Mary H.K. Choi | March
Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.
On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer. Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying.
She’s Too Pretty to Burn – Wendy Heard | March
The summer is winding down in San Diego. Veronica is bored, caustically charismatic, and uninspired in her photography. Nico is insatiable, subversive, and obsessed with chaotic performance art. They’re artists first, best friends second. But that was before Mick. Delicate, lonely, magnetic Mick: the perfect subject, and Veronica’s dream girl. The days are long and hot―full of adventure―and soon they are falling in love. Falling so hard, they never imagine what comes next. One fire. Two murders. Three drowning bodies. One suspect . . . one stalker. This is a summer they won’t survive.
Inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, this sexy psychological thriller explores the intersections of love, art, danger, and power.
Every Last Fear – Alex Finlay
After a late night of partying, NYU student Matt Pine returns to his dorm room to devastating news: nearly his entire family—his mom, his dad, his little brother and sister—have been found dead from an apparent gas leak while vacationing in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they won’t tell Matt why.
The tragedy makes headlines everywhere because this isn’t the first time the Pine family has been thrust into the media spotlight. Matt’s older brother, Danny—currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend Charlotte—was the subject of a viral true crime documentary suggesting that Danny was wrongfully convicted. Though the country has rallied behind Danny, Matt holds a secret about his brother that he’s never told anyone: the night Charlotte was killed Matt saw something that makes him believe his brother is guilty of the crime.
When Matt returns to his small hometown to bury his parents and siblings, he’s faced with a hostile community that was villainized by the documentary, a frenzied media, and memories he’d hoped to leave behind forever. Now, as the deaths in Mexico appear increasingly suspicious and connected to Danny’s case, Matt must unearth the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison—putting his own life in peril—and forcing him to confront his every last fear.
Twice Shy – Sarah Hogle | April
Parrish has always been a dreamer and hopeless romantic. But living with her head in the clouds has long been preferable to dealing with reality, whether it’s navigating the wild world of dating apps or getting her coworkers to show her a little respect. So when Maybell inherits a stately old Tennessee manor from her Great Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start.
But when she arrives at her new home, it seems her troubles have only just begun. Not only is the manor practically falling apart around her, but she isn’t the only inheritor: she has to share everything with Wesley Koehler, the groundskeeper who’s just as grouchy as he is gorgeous–and it turns out he has a very different vision for the property’s future.
Convincing the taciturn Wesley to stop avoiding her and compromise is a task more formidable than any of the many other dying wishes Great Aunt Violet left behind. But when Maybell uncovers something unexpectedly sweet beneath Wesley’s scowls and silences, she realizes they might have more in common than she ever dreamed. And as the two slowly begin to let their guards down, they just might learn that sometimes the smallest steps outside one’s comfort zone can lead to the greatest rewards.
The Forest of Stolen Girls – June Hur | April
Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.
To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.
Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
Life’s Too Short – Abby Jimenez | April
Vanessa lives life on her own terms — one day at a time, every day to its fullest. She isn’t willing to waste a moment or miss out on an experience when she has no idea whether she shares the same fatal genetic condition as her mother. Besides, she has way too much to do, traveling the globe and showing her millions of YouTube followers the joy in seizing every moment.
But after her half-sister suddenly leaves Vanessa in custody of her infant daughter, she is housebound, on mommy duty for the foreseeable future, and feeling totally out of her element.
The last person she expects to show up offering help is the unbelievably hot lawyer who lives next door, Adrian Copeland. After all, she barely knows him. But as they get closer, Vanessa realizes that her carefree ways and his need for a structured plan could never be compatible for the long term. Then again, she should know better than anyone that life’s too short to fear taking the biggest risk of all...
Girl, 11 – Amy Suiter Clarke | April
Once a social worker specializing in kids who were the victims of violent crime, Elle Castillo is now the host of a popular true crime podcast that tackles cold cases of missing children in her hometown of the Twin Cities. After two seasons of successfully solving cases, Elle decides to tackle her white whale—The Countdown Killer. Twenty years ago, TCK abruptly stopped after establishing a pattern of taking and ritualistically murdering three girls over seven days, each a year younger than the last. No one’s ever known why—why he stopped with his eleventh victim, a girl of eleven years old, or why he followed the ritual at all.
When a listener phones in with a tip, Elle sets out to interview him, only to discover his dead body. And within days, a child is abducted following the original TCK MO. Unlike the experts in the media and law enforcement who have always spun theories of a guilty suicide, Elle never believed TCK had died, and her investigation was meant to lay that suspicion to rest. But instead, her podcast seems to be kicking up new victims.
Malibu Rising – Taylor Jenkins Reid | May
Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.
The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.
By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.
Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.
The Soulmate Equation – Christina Lauren | May
Single mom Jess Davis is a data and statistics wizard, but no amount of number crunching can convince her to step back into the dating world. Raised by her grandparents—who now help raise her seven-year-old daughter, Juno—Jess has been left behind too often to feel comfortable letting anyone in. After all, her father’s never been around, her hard-partying mother disappeared when she was six, and her ex decided he wasn’t “father material” before Juno was even born. Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard…and lonely.
But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that’s predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: this Jess understands.
At least she thought she did, until her test shows an unheard-of 98% compatibility with another subject in the database: GeneticAlly’s founder, Dr. River Pena. This is one number she can’t wrap her head around, because she already knows Dr. Pena. The stuck-up, stubborn man is without a doubt not her soulmate. But GeneticAlly has a proposition: Get to know him and we’ll pay you. Jess—who is barely making ends meet—is in no position to turn it down, despite her skepticism about the project and her dislike for River. As the pair are dragged from one event to the next as the “Diamond” pairing that could make GeneticAlly a mint in stock prices, Jess begins to realize that there might be more to the scientist—and the science behind a soulmate—than she thought.
Tokyo Ever After – Emiko Jean | May
Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.
In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.
Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?
Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir | May
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
One Last Stop – Casey McQuiston | June
For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.
But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.
Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.
The Maidens – Alex Michaelides | June
Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.
Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?
When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.
Survive the Night – Riley Sager | July
It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.
Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?
What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing—survive the night.
The Dead and the Dark – Courtney Gould | August
Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.
Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.
The Heart Principle – Helen Hoang | August
To most people, Quan Diep is nothing but a surly-looking, underachieving playboy. The problem is he’s not any of those things. And now that he’s the CEO of an up-and-coming retail business, he’s suddenly a “catch,” and the rich girls who never used to pay any attention to him are looking at him in a new way—especially Camilla, the girl who brushed him off many years ago.
Anna Sun dislikes Quan Diep almost as much as germy bathroom door handles. Or so she tells herself. She will never admit that she has a secret crush on him, especially because he only has eyes for her charismatic and newly engaged younger sister Camilla. Over the years, Anna has worked hard to overcome her OCD, but she’ll still need to find a way to bury her anxieties and seduce Quan so he doesn’t ruin her sister’s engagement, and with it, a crucial real estate development deal.
Slowly, Anna breaks down Quan’s dangerous and careless exterior while peeling off her own tough, protective shell. But when Quan discovers Anna’s true intentions, he’s forced to confront his own hurtful past and learn to forgive, while Anna must face her greatest challenge: truly opening herself up to love.
If the Shoe Fits – Julie Murphy | August
After having just graduated with a degree in shoe design, and trying to get her feet on the ground, Cindy is working for her stepmother, who happens to be the executive producer of America’s favorite reality show, Before Midnight. When a spot on the show needs filling ASAP, Cindy volunteers, hoping it might help jump-start her fashion career, or at least give her something to do while her peers land jobs in the world of high fashion.
Turns out being the only plus size woman on a reality dating competition makes a splash, and soon Cindy becomes a body positivity icon for women everywhere. What she doesn’t expect? That she may just find inspiration-and love-in the process. Ultimately, Cindy learns that if the shoe doesn’t fit, maybe it’s time to design your own.
Empire of the Vampire – Jay Kristoff | September
It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness.
Gabriel de León is a silversaint: a member of a holy brotherhood dedicated to defending realm and church from the creatures of the night. But even the Silver Order couldn’t stem the tide once daylight failed us, and now, only Gabriel remains.
Imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last silversaint is forced to tell his story. A story of legendary battles and forbidden love, of faith lost and friendships won, of the Wars of the Blood and the Forever King and the quest for humanity’s last remaining hope: The Holy Grail.
Under the Whispering Door – T. J. Klune | September
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead. Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over. But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.
When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
I’m stopping here before I break my blog. There are a few other books which are also rumoured to be coming out in 2021 but still not confirmed yet, e.g. Skyward 3# by Brandon Sanderson and V. E. Schwab’s first Threads of Power book, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Which 2021 releases are you most dying to get your hands on?
Here we are, both the last day of 2020 and my final wrap up post of the year! Today is the day that I get to gush about the amazing books I read this year *happy dance*.
According to my reading tracker, my most frequent ratings for books this year were 3 and 3.5 stars. I also did quite a few re-reads in 2020 (which I exclude from these types of lists). With these two things in mind, picking my top 10 this time around wasn’t as difficult as it has been previously. However, it also means that this list only includes a couple of books that I actually rated 5 stars. For those who saw my mid-year favourites post, you’ll notice some familiar faces here.
Like in 2019, I’ll be ordering this list from the bottom to my top read of the year. Now, let’s start the count down!
10. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
This fantastic, little novella swept in at the last moment to score a position on this list. For something so short (only 135 pages, in fact), it crafts such a wonderfully immersive journey. The story follows a four astronaut research team sent to explore far off planets and study their local lifeforms. It’s a quiet, gradual story, more focused on scientific discoveries, the joy of exploration, and the bonds between the characters than action or high speed adventure. The writing can be quiet science heavy at points but it really does add to the believability of it all. I loved how diverse the cast was, both ethnicity and LGBTI wise, and how hopeful the story felt. However, I do wish that the mental health of the astronauts had been dealt with in more depth, especially during one troubling part of their mission. As a whole though, beautifully done.
9. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Classics usually aren’t my thing, even the modern ones. In the interest of trying new things I decided to give The Secret History a go hoping to find some murderous, dark academia magic. Shockingly, I really enjoyed it. I’m still kind of mystified as to how it happened really – slow pacing, unreliable narrator, characters who are all shitty people, general sense of pretentiousness, and YET it’s so good! The best way I can summarise it is: a group of university classics students who try a Bacchian rite end up killing someone and have to cover it up. Dark, immersive, mysterious, over the top, tension-filled…insert a multitude of other adjectives here. The only reasons I couldn’t rate it higher on this list are my complicated feelings about the ending and a slight lull in the middle. Still, I can definitely see myself re-reading it in a few years time to see what I missed.
8. Boyfriend Material – Alexis Hall
I confess, I picked this book up because it gave me serious Red, White and Royal Blue vibes. In the end, it was different but wonderfully enjoyable all the same. It’s about the son of a rock legend named Luc who, in an effort to clean up his public image, makes a deal with a barrister called Oliver to fake a relationship for the press. Although it was super sweet, Boyfriend Material was also so much funnier than I expected it to be. The banter and chemistry between Luc & Oliver was fantastic but the supporting cast was hilarious as well. While a plotline involving Luc’s dad didn’t really end in a satisfying way, I didn’t mind so much because of how much I loved the way the opposites attract relationship developed. Easily one of my favourite romances of the year.
7. Know My Name – Chanel Miller
Many of you will be aware of the Stanford Rape Case in which swimmer Brock Turner was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster during a frat party. For years, this woman was known only to the world as Emily Doe but, in fact, her name is Chanel Miller. In this memoir, Chanel tells her story in her own words. It’s so difficult to rate and review memoirs, especially one as difficult to put to paper as this would have been. However, this is honestly one of the most beautifully written, raw and powerful things I’ve read. I was expecting this to be a hard book to read, what I wasn’t expecting was how fantastic a writer Chanel would be. Everyone should read this and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
6. Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin
I’ve been raving about this book all year (to the point where I think you guys are glad it’s almost 2021 just so I’ll finally stop). As if it wasn’t going to make an appearance on this list. Wolf by Wolf is an alt-history story set in a world where the Axis won WWII and now hold an annual, deadly motorcycle race across the world. Yael, a shapeshifter, survivor of Auschwitz and member of the resistance enters the race as part of a plan to assassinate Hitler. I’m not usually big on journey narratives but I love a good competition plot and this one was handled fantastically. The pacing is good, the MC is strong yet vulnerable and well developed, the story itself is engaging, the romance is subtle and there’s a great cliffhanger ending. If only the second book had been this good but hey, it was a high bar to overcome.
5. Becoming – Michelle Obama
By the looks of my top 10, I should be reading more biographies/memoirs. Becoming is a fantastic autobiography and I’m so glad I decided to go with the audiobook. What could be better than Michelle herself telling you her story? I really enjoyed learning about Michelle’s life, all the way from her childhood on the second floor of her great-aunt’s house in Chicago to her time as FLOTUS in The White House. In retelling her journey, Michelle touches on so many important topics such as politics, parenting, relationships, the experiences of Black Americans, and the difficulties of the working class. This is the kind of book I believe anyone could take something away from. I know I certainly learnt a lot. Even if you’re not a Michelle Obama fan, it’s a thumbs up from me.
4. Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
As I mentioned in my surprises and disappointments wrap up, I did not expect to love Conversations with Friends as much as I did. This little book came out of nowhere, stole my heart and I’m still shocked. The characters are largely unlikeable people and yet they’re complex and just feel so real and human. The book deals with love, intimacy, monogamy, loneliness, and youth, and I honestly couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. It’s about a college student named Francis and her ex-girlfriend Bobby who are drawn into the world of a journalist named Melissa and her husband, Nick. Francis soon begins an affair with Nick which changes her outlook on life and herself.
3. Starsight (Skyward 2#) – Brandon Sanderson
Another entry from my mid-year favourites list which managed to make its way onto my end of year list. As soon as I finished Starsight, I knew it would be sitting on this top ten somewhere. Skyward was my number one pick of 2019 so I was incredibly relieved that the sequel was so darn good. While it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting and very different from the first book in terms of narrative, pacing and characters, it was still a really engaging and entertaining read. I loved the expanded world building and additional character development, and I am crazy excited for the next book in 2021.
2. A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
This is another book that I haven’t shut up about this year so no one should be surprised to see A Little Life in the number 2 slot. With its very difficult content and 700+ page count, this definitely isn’t a book for everyone. But despite the fact that it completely wrecked me emotionally, I adored it (clearly I’m a masochist). The book follows a group of four university friends who move to NYC together and showcases the highs and lows of their lives over several decades. I loved the writing and have a special place in my heart for the characters. I don’t know if this is a book I can recommend exactly but I can say that I thought it was beautiful, memorable and worth all the tears.
Okay, time for the big one, my favourite book of everything I read in 2020…
1. The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War 2#) – R. F. Kuang
Yes, that’s right. While The Poppy War may have cracked the number three spot in my top reads of 2019, it’s The Dragon Republic which takes out the number one for 2020. When the first book in a series is amazing, I always get super nervous about the sequel but this one blew me away. I loved every minute of its 650-ish pages. The world is amazing, characters fantastic, battles engrossing, and the plot is the chef’s kiss, it’s so, so good. There’s so much action but Kuang manages to balance it out perfectly with emotional content and character development. I easily consider this series among my favourites now and I cannot wait to read the final entry. Perhaps it’ll take out the crown in 2021?
And that’s it for 2020! For those who’ve been following my blog for a while now, thank you for your continued support, it means the world to me. To those who discovered me this year, welcome! I hope my little blog has, at the very least, helped take your mind off what’s been a troubling year for many people. I’d like to wish you all and your families a very happy new year and plenty of five star reads for 2021.
If there’s one things that’s for certain, it’s that Hollywood will always turn to books instead of trying to come up with their own original ideas for movies and TV shows. Sometimes they’re good and others…err, let’s just say we’d prefer to forget them or hope for a remake.
Due to Covid 19’s impact on cinema access, 2020 was a difficult year when it came to movie releases but for streaming services like Netflix, it was golden. Here are the book adaptations released this year that I got around to watching(the titles with a star next to them are those I’ve read the book for):
Film | Based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Synopsis:Jo March reflects back and forth on her life, telling the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women, each determined to live life on her own terms.
While this movie came out in most countries in 2019, in Australia it wasn’t released until New Years Day 2020. I really enjoyed this one and have rewatched it several times since I first saw it in cinemas. The cast is fantastic and it was definitely the start of my obsession with Florence Pugh. The score is gorgeous, the costuming is great and it’s 100% pushed me to want to read the novel. We just have to overlook Emma Watson’s frequent accent breaks…
To All the Boys: PS. I Still Love You ★
Film | Based on P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
Synopsis:Lara Jean and Peter have just taken their relationship from pretend to officially official when another recipient of one of her old love letters enters the picture.
I was super excited for this release because I love the books and really enjoyed the first movie. I have to say though, I was kind of disappointed. While Jordan Fisher as John Ambrose is perfection casting if I ever saw it, the movie feels like it’s trying too hard a lot of the time and there are some frankly bizarre direction choices at points (the THREE different aerial shots of a car driving at the beginning, Lara Jean randomly lip-syncing down a school hallway, the bizarre floating kiss at the end?). On the whole though, the movie (as well as Lana & Noah) is still charming enough to be enjoyable, it just isn’t one of my favourites.
Film | Based on Emma by Jane Austen
Synopsis: Beautiful, smart and wealthy, Emma Woodhouse navigates her way through misguided matches, romantic missteps and the challenges of growing up — all to finally realize the love that has been there all along.
I saw Emma back in March and little did I know that it’d end up being my last trip to the cinema for 2020 (thanks Covid). There are a few changes from the original novel, especially in the later parts of the film, but they’re not entirely unwelcome in that they add humour, modernise the story slightly, and give audiences more insight into some of the characters. I enjoyed this movie. It drags a little around the middle (similarly to the book) but the scenery and costumes are great, Bill Nigh is fantastic as Mr Woodhouse, and I liked both Anya Taylor Joy and Johnny Flynn’s performances as Emma & Mr Knightley. Their chemistry is also great to watch. Overall, it’s a fun take on Austen even if it isn’t a perfect adaptation.
All the Bright Places ★
Film | Based on All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Synopsis: The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of the original book on this one and I felt pretty similarly about the adaptation. My issues with the mental health and suicide representation aside, there just isn’t all that much of a plot and the relationship between the two characters is really bland. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t rectify this. My sister and I were so darn bored watching it that we found ourselves checking how much longer we had to go several times. The film also cuts out quite a few key components from the book that contribute to the depth of the characters e.g. Finch’s abusive father. Book or movie, sorry, not for me.
Normal People ★
Limited Series | Based on Normal People by Sally Rooney
Synopsis:Normal People follows the relationship between Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron, as they navigate adulthood from their final days in secondary school to their undergraduate years in Trinity College.
This is one of those rare cases where I enjoyed the adaptation more than the book. To give you an indication of how much I loved it, I watched it twice within the space of about three months. The book and series are fairly similar but I really appreciated the adaptation’s switch to presenting events chronologically and the small changes it made to the narrative such as the altered ending (it makes so much more sense). The acting here is also phenomenal. The chemistry between the two leads is unbelievable and I’m telling you, it’s almost impossible not to feel something when Paul Mescal is crying. As a fun bonus, the soundtrack is top notch, too.
The Queen’s Gambit
Limited Series | Based on The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis
Synopsis:Abandoned and entrusted to a Kentucky orphanage in the late 1950s, Beth Harmon discovers an astonishing talent for chess while developing an addiction to tranquilizers provided by the state as a sedative for the children. Haunted by her personal demons and fueled by a cocktail of narcotics and obsession, Beth transforms into an impressively skilled and glamorous outcast while determined to conquer the traditional boundaries established in the male-dominated world of competitive chess.
2020 was certainly the year of The Queen’s Gambit. It may be slow at first but once it really gets started, you’re just gripped. The cinematography is wonderfully done and I adored all of the period details from the cars to the fashion. Anya Taylor Joy is absolutely amazing in the lead role and I will never stop being impressed with hers and the rest of the cast’s ability to play all of the chess games from memory (the speed chess scenes are insane!). You don’t have to be a chess fan to get lost in this one.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
TV Series | Loosely Based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Synopsis:After an au pair’s tragic death, a man hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with their chef, groundskeeper, and housekeeper. Little does the nanny know that the manor is haunted.
THoBM is quite different from Henry James’s novel but it uses The Turn of the Screw as a foundation for the story. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Haunting of Hill House so I was hoping that I’d enjoy this more. Unfortunately, no. It started out promising but I quickly grew bored with how insanely slow it was. By the end, I realised I didn’t really like the story of the lady in the lake and was frustrated by the way certain things were explained (or not explained). Honestly, the last episode was probably my favourite because it felt like an entirely different show but also because the acting by Victoria Pedretti and Amelia Eve was so good. I’m guessing I should give up on watching any further in this anthology.
After We Collided
Film | Based on After We Collided by Anna Todd
Synopsis: Tessa finds herself struggling with her complicated relationship with Hardin; she faces a dilemma that could change their lives forever.
Don’t ask me why I keep doing this to myself. I recognise the fact that this series is an absolute trainwreck. I really, really do. The plots are terrible and the relationship is as toxic as ever. It’s essentially just Hardin and Tessa alternating between fighting and having sex. Hardin does something stupid and Tessa forgives him. And still, I continue to watch. Then again, maybe we need the occasional bit of rot your brain garbage, and perhaps in 2020 more than ever. I can say though that Hero Fiennes Tiffin was slightly less of a wooden board acting wise than he was in the first one (but I guess that’s not really saying much, is it?).
Tiny Pretty Things
TV Series | Based on Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
Synopsis:After tragedy strikes Chicago’s most prestigious ballet school, where every dancer is both friend and foe who compete fiercely for coveted roles, it threatens to unravel close friendships and to expose a constellation of secrets that could bring down a world-renowned institution.
Admittedly, I’m only a couple of episodes into this series so try not to spoil me too much in the comments. I’ve heard that the adaptation has some big differences from the book here. It’s set in Chicago rather than New York, the characters are less cutthroat, it’s centered around a mystery which isn’t a big deal in the novel, there’s a lot more sex, and the ending is altered. For me, this feels like just another teen drama except with ballet. It has those Pretty Little Liars vibes. Nothing particularly new but will I probably still binge watch the rest of it? Um…Yes.
Film | Based on Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier
Synopsis: A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death.
I really, really wish I’d read the book before watching this adaptation. I was going to hold off but Netflix kept bringing it up and next thing you know… As someone who didn’t know much about the story going in, I can say that while I found it intriguing there did feel like there was something missing, a hollowness of sorts, which kept the movie from landing the way it should have. I quite liked Lily James in the lead role but as much as I love Armie Hammer, I can’t help feeling like he wasn’t the right choice here. On the upside, visually the movie is gorgeous – the cliffs in Monte Carlo, Gothic shots of Manderly at night, Armie’s statement mustard suit, it’s a feast for the eyes.
TV Series | Based on The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn
Synopsis:Wealth, lust, and betrayal set in the backdrop of Regency era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family.
If you’ve heard that this series is basically Gossip Girl crossed with Pride & Prejudice, you’ve heard right. It’s far from a dramatic marvel but it’s a fun guilty pleasure watch for over the Christmas/New Year break. From what people have said, there are a few changes from the book series but it’s visually striking, sexy (beware if you’re planning on watching with family), and features a diverse cast. I should mention, however, that there has been some controversy over a particular sex scene in episode 6 so just be aware. Otherwise, if you enjoy a bit of romance, this would be a good pick. I’ll definitely be on the look out for season 2.
What were some of the best and worst book adaptations you watched this year? Which ones are you most looking forward to in 2021? Mine are Shadow and Bone, Conversations with Friends, A Discovery of Witches Season 2, The Witcher Season 2, and Daisy Jones & the Six!