Bookish Fun: Reacting to 1 Star Reviews of Books I Loved

Sometimes we fall in love with a book and sometimes…we really wish we’d spent our time doing something else. And, as we all know, just because you enjoy something that doesn’t necessarily mean other people will, too. Their reasons for this can vary from bizarre and hilarious to problematic to genuinely reasonable. With this in mind, I thought I’d try my hand at a post that quite a lot of other people in the community have done previously – reacting to some really negative reviews of books I loved. After all, sometimes it’s good to challenge your own viewpoint. So, I’ve scoured Amazon and Goodreads to find some short and complete opposite opinions to my own on a couple of my five star reads.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

I loved this book and even named it my favourite read of 2018. Here are a couple of people who were…less enthralled than I was.

While I loved the characters, I’m not going to argue with someone about not feeling the same way. Hate’s a strong emotion. At least they weren’t boring, right? In terms of ‘difficult to believe’, aren’t most of the crazy things that happen in Hollywood hard to believe? Seven husbands alone sounds ridiculous but, then again, Elizabeth Taylor got married EIGHT times. Plus, it’s a guarantee that many famous people in this era had to cover up the fact that they weren’t straight. Yes, the relationship between Evelyn and Celia isn’t perfect or entirely healthy but a large part of that is due to the stress of the circumstances and time. Besides, doesn’t that make it far more interesting from a literary perspective?

Hey, I’m sure plenty of other people wish that, too. Then they would’ve been further up the holds list at your library to read it.

Does every book need to do something profound or entirely new to be considered good or worthwhile? I mean, I love rom-coms largely for their predictable, fluffy formula. Everything has its purpose. As for particularly interesting, well, we disagree. I know plenty of people were divided over the content of the twist but placing it right at the end isn’t an uncommon way to use that device. As for boobs, lesbians, gossip columns, and green dresses, well geez, someone better call the literary police! We can’t have those infesting our books now, can we? Think of the children!


Skyward – Brandon Sanderson

The fact that the number of 1 star reviews for this book doesn’t even constitute 1% of the total on both Goodreads and Amazon gives me such warm fuzzies. But let’s check out that <1%.

Um, I may be missing something here but… how can something be overdramatic and super boring at the same time? But just speaking to the ‘boring and predictable’ part, I’m even more confused because this book has so much action. Literal SPACE BATTLES. Deaths, plot twists, alien attacks! Trust me, you missed a lot in those intervening pages.

“Teenage girl drivel”. *breathes heavily* What? Is it purely because Spensa is a teenage girl? Because if we’re talking stereotypical “teen girl” stuff (with which there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying, liking and/or partaking in), there’s basically nothing here. Spensa is training to become a pilot (a field dominated by men), she has almost no traditionally girly interests, and there’s no romance in the book whatsoever. It’s basically sci-fi Top Gun. Please, explain.

Not one? Really? Not a single, teeny, tiny thing? Even one vaguely amusing line of dialogue? Gosh, that sounds like absolute torture. I mean, I don’t give out 1 or 1.5 star reviews very often but even then I usually have at least something positive I can mention.


Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney

I’m probably asking for pain and suffering with this one because I know it’s divisive. Funnily enough, that’s what I’m actually expecting the 1 star reviews for CWF to say.

Hm, I guess it depends on your idea of “substance”. If we’re talking about plot, Rooney’s books are generally more about characters so the substance comes from them. However, I realise this is up to personal preference. Also, fair point about the lack of quotation marks. It is confusing before you get used to the flow and structure of Rooney’s writing. But mainly about lesbianism? That’s where you lose me. First, is this supposed to be a statement or a criticism? As far as statements go, it’s kind of wrong. Yes, f/f relationships play an important role in the book but the central character is bisexual and the central romance is between her and a straight man. Colour me confused.

Well, you’ll probably get just as much conversation from it as you would trying to converse with the book but you do you.

Ouch! Okay, yes, the characters aren’t the best people but that’s why I find it interesting. They’re layered and very flawed, and I get why they won’t be for everyone. But, come on, you read a book dealing with US attitudes towards race and this made you angrier? Sounds pretty suss to me. Now, a blurb that claims you can read this as a romantic comedy or feminist text? That can’t be right. *flicks through Goodreads* Oh god. As much as I hate to say this, he’s right. Whoever wrote the blurb for that edition, how do you read this as a romcom?! Romcoms are FLUFFY. I love this book but never in a million years would I call it a romcom. And while there are feminist commentaries in the book and it does involve strong female characters, I don’t know if I would label it a “feminist text” per se. I’m afraid you may have been misled here a bit, buddy. I blame the publisher.


The Poppy War – R F Kuang

I love this series but it’s one I can understand people not liking because of their tastes regarding things like violence. These books get DARK. However, as usual, there are always people who conflate ‘not for me’ with ‘not for everyone’ or just plain terrible. *sigh*

  • I might be wrong but the only similarities I see between TPW & Nevernight are that they’re fantasy and both involve the training academy and mentorship tropes (my faves!). I suppose there are Gods? But these aren’t important in Nevernight until book 3. Oh, and MCs who are orphans with something to prove, perhaps. Hmmmm…
  • Sure, there are some common fantasy tropes so I understand this. But also keep in mind it’s inspired by Chinese history so there are some limits to originality.
  • I sincerely hope the 45% mark was before all the violence otherwise this is worrying on many levels.
  • It’s kind of a chunky book. You can’t start the violence that early or it’ll run out of steam. But also, why are you actively waiting for violence?
  • Why skip pages? Just stop reading.
  • If you’d kept reading, you would have found out.
  • *eyerolls back* Sorry, it’s all I could think to say because I wanted the same number of points.

Firstly, TPW is classified as Adult, not YA. Second, ah yes, I can clearly see the glorification of drug use in: If you continue using drugs to commune with the gods, eventually you will go so insane that we will lock you up in a prison where you will remain trapped in rock but self-aware for the rest of eternity. Yep, gimme some of that. It just sounds so appealing!

Lord, where do I even start? This may not have occurred to you before so brace yourself, but, some women do not want to be mothers. Whoa! Crazy, I know, but true, and calling childbearing ‘the greatest gift a woman has’ is absolute sexist rubbish. Women have so many fantastic qualities. Some become mothers and some don’t. Either way, they’re amazing. There are so many women out there who know that motherhood is not what they want even from a young age and struggle for years to find a doctor who respects their autonomy enough to give them a tubal ligation or hysterectomy, even when they have existing medical conditions. Rin may be young but she knows that she doesn’t ever want to have children. If she’s old enough to prepare to fight in a bloody and brutal war, she’s old enough for us to respect her decision on this. It is in no way a judgment on those women who do want children and what their capabilities are.


If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio

Oh, ho. I’m expecting some very unhappy campers on this book because it’s somewhat polarising. I’m also expecting A LOT of ‘terrible copy of The Secret History‘ comments.

Two seconds in and we have a The Secret History mention. I’m not even going to argue because yep, IWWV is pretty much The Secret History but Shakespearean. I love both so you won’t catch me complaining. As for being pretentious, I’ll give you that as well because you bet it is, but I’m known for liking the occasional pretentious book so… Let’s be real though, The Secret History is pretentious as hell, too. You can’t accuse one without the other.

I had a giggle over the title of this one. Can’t really argue with most of the points made because it’s all subjective and since I loved it I obviously disagree. Yet, I do think one or two of the characters could have been given more attention. To some extent, I find most dark academia to be a bit unrealistic but isn’t that all part of the fun? As for plagiarism, you do realise that plagiarism is trying to pass off the work of someone else as your own without acknowledgment right? Trust me, Rio acknowledges The Bard. Many, many, MANY times. Not to mention the plays themselves.

Don’t worry, I gave it 5 stars and still think I’m too dumb to fully appreciate it.


Okay, this is where I stop because otherwise I’ll never get out of the vicious spiral starting to occur whereby I question all of my reading taste (do I have any?) and whether I’ve somehow missed a million problematic elements of my 5 star reads. I know I poke fun at some of these reviews but everyone is entitled to their own opinion of what they read. We’re not always going to love the same things and that’s great because it allows for a more diverse publishing market.

What was the last book you gave 1 star to? (Mine was Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami).

And That’s a Wrap 2021: My Favourite Reads of the Year

It’s the final day of 2021 and that means the time has come to rave about the best books I read this year. In 2021 I read 60 books and, like last year, I had a lot of middle-of-the-road, 3-3.5-ish star reads. This meant that the books I loved (and the ones I didn’t) stood out a lot more than they would have otherwise. Yet, it also means I didn’t have as many 5 star reads as I would have liked. In fact, in 2021 I only rated 2 books 5 stars. Sad, but true. However, I did have a handful of 4.5 star ones, which is nothing to turn my nose up at either. And so, here are my 10 favourite reads of 2021…

Special Mention: Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir | Review

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I went back and forth for ages over what to rate this book. It came so close to getting an entry on this list so I feel I’d be remiss not to mention it because I had such a good time while reading. PHM follows a man named Dr. Ryland Grace who wakes up from a coma onboard a spaceship with no memory of who he is or how he came to be there. As he starts to piece things together, he realises he’s on a mission to save humanity. While there’s a lot of science-speak and Ryland does bear similarities to The Martian‘s Mark Watney, the story is super engaging from start to finish and full of questions you can’t help but keep flipping pages until you reach the answers for. There’s also a surprising and wholesome friendship that became one of my favourites of the year. Good to know that Andy Weir is back on form.

10. The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

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I used to read a lot of crime books back in high school but since then I’ve tended to pick them up a lot less. Karin Slaughter is one of the bigger names in the genre and has been successfully publishing for around 20 years. Now, having finished The Good Daughter, I understand why because her writing is exceptional. The overarching crime plot of the book (a school shooting) is engaging enough and maintains a good sense of momentum, however, the depth and strength of her main characters, sisters Charlie & Sam, are where it shines. I really appreciated the way the book slowly dug into their childhood trauma and how the events surrounding their mother’s death affected them into adulthood. I also liked the way it dealt with the complex nature of their familial bonds. It’s a dark and violent read at times but worth the time investment if you can handle the themes. I’ll be making sure to check out more of Slaughter’s backlog in the future.

9. A Ladder to the Sky – John Boyne

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The true winner of my 2021, it seems, was John Boyne with not only one but two books on this list! A Ladder to the Sky was one of my 5 star predictions and while it just fell short, I thought it was fantastic. It’s about an attractive & charming aspiring novelist named Maurice who possesses great writing talent but little creativity for coming up with original ideas. And so, he climbs the literary fame ladder by getting close to, manipulating, and stealing the stories of others. As time goes on, he has to go to greater lengths to stay in the spotlight. The dialogue in this book is great and I really enjoyed its criticism of the literary world. I loved the moral greyness of the characters, the dark humour, and that the shifts in time and narration kept me on my toes as to what would happen next. If you enjoy love to hate characters, this will be right in your wheelhouse. Even the ending was unexpected perfection. Aside from a couple of slower points, pretty darn good.

8. Crying in H Mart – Michelle Zauner

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I finished this beautifully written and heartbreaking memoir in under two days. I’ve never really been a fan of Japanese Breakfast’s music but after hearing so many wonderful things about singer/songwriter Michelle’s book, I knew I had to read it. I completely understand why this was picked as Goodreads’ best memoir & autobiography for the year. It details Michelle’s complicated relationship with her mother and the deep pain of losing her to cancer when Michelle was only 25. The sections outlining Michelle caring for her mother and worrying about having lost her link to her Korean heritage following her mum’s death absolutely broke my heart. I also loved reading about Michelle’s bond with food and how important it was in connecting with her mum and her Korean identity. I’m not sure if this book made me want to curl up into a ball or eat until I explode. Probably both.

7. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect with THIF. All I knew was that it was immensely well-reviewed and deservedly so. The book follows a gay man named Cyril and tells the story of his life in Ireland in the decades prior to the legalisation of homosexuality. As you can imagine, the story deals with some tough topics such as the religious and public persecution of LGBTI people as well as the AIDS crisis. Boyne’s writing is fantastic and perfectly straddles the line between comedy and tragedy. The style is a little absurd at times, especially the characters’ interactions, but if it’s something you can gel with you’ll have a lot of fun (well, with plenty of pain, too). I loved following the characters over a large part of their lives, although I do feel like I missed out on some things due to the time jumps. Still, this was an amazing read and I’ll be looking to pick up more of Boyne’s books in 2022.

6. Twice Shy – Sarah Hogle | Review

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The fact that this book was not read by more people is a crime because it’s SO LOVELY. At this point, I’m starting to think Sarah Hogle is one of those authors who could write a shopping list and I’d read it. TS is about optimistic and romantic, Maybell. She inherits a large house after the death of her great aunt with plans to turn it into a hotel only to find she’s actually co-inherited it with the grouchy groundskeeper, Wesley. The two then work together to fix it up but with different end goals in mind. Gotta love that forced proximity trope. It’s a little corny at times but so darn adorable and uplifting. I loved the characters, their romance (especially the grumpy-sunshine dynamic), and that they handled their issues in such a non-annoying way. It wasn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as Sarah’s debut but I was okay with that. The perfect medicine for a rubbish day.

5. The Love Hypothesis – Ali Hazelwood

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I went into this fully prepared for it to be an overinflated product of the hype train. Guess the joke’s on me. This book was the perfect bundle of sweet, trope-y, sunshine-y fluff and I had so much fun. It’s about a grad biology student called Olive who starts a fake dating ruse with one of the university’s grumpy professors, Adam, to convince her best friend she’s over a guy. The banter and chemistry between Olive & Adam was so enjoyable and comforting, and I was super eager for them to finally get together. The STEM setting for the book was also great and felt developed & believable (probably because of Hazelwood’s science background). The miscommunication trope was utilised a touch too much for my liking but I lapped up the book’s self-aware approach to the ample other romance tropes included. Easily one of my favourite romances of 2021 and I would 100% reread it.

4. Empire of the Vampire – Jay Kristoff | Review

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When you’ve been waiting over 2.5 years for a book, expectations get high. To my immense relief, EotV mostly managed to meet them. JK has brought scary, rip-your-throat-out vampires back in a big way. The book is set in a world in which the sun has disappeared and vampires now rule. Gabriel de Leon, last of a holy order, awaits execution and is compelled to tell his life’s story to a vampire historian, including his journey to find the holy grail. It’s full of gore, violence, smut, foul language, moody-vibes, religious themes, revenge, and emotional moments, and I had a blast (well, except for when my heart was being crushed at the end). The world-building is fantastic, pacing spot on, and although I started out on rocky ground with some of them, the characters grew on me a lot. There are a couple of questionable things that let the book down a little, but overall, an amazing blend of action, adventure, romance, horror and drama. Give me the sequel, stat!

3. The Burning God – R F Kuang

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I really wish I wasn’t this predictable but here we are, with another entry from The Poppy War series. After books one & two took out spots on my 2020 and 2021 lists, I don’t think any of you are surprised to see The Burning God here. I was massively looking forward to this last installment in the series and while it wasn’t a perfect read, I wasn’t disappointed with the final experience. There were a couple of plotlines that I wish had played out a little differently but this was still such a fantastically action-packed, twisty, exciting and heartwrenching book. The ending wasn’t what I was expecting but still fit the trajectory of the series, despite its shocking nature (my brain literally had trouble processing it). I can safely say that TBG secured The Poppy War trilogy as one of my favourite series of all time and I’m excited to go back and reread it all one day.

2. The Push – Ashley Audrain

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Back in August, I was starting to get worried about the state of this list. Then The Push came along and holy hell. This book just breezed right on in and not only captivated me from start to finish but sent me on an absolute emotional rollercoaster. It’s about a woman named Blythe who becomes convinced that there’s something…off about her daughter, Violet. When tragedy strikes, Blythe believes Violet to be the one responsible. But is it all in her head? There have been quite a few books revolving around an ‘evil’ child dividing parents but it’s done so well here. The writing is just *chef’s kiss* – raw, stunning perfection. The Push seems to have been marketed as this big twisty thriller but it’s more of a psychological drama that explores things like grief, mental health, societal expectations, and family life. It also delves into this complex and often brutal idea of motherhood in contravention of stereotypes. It’s short, memorable, crushing and so worth a read.

And now for the big one.

My favourite read of 2021 is….

*DRUMROLL*

1. If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio

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Dark academia reigns supreme this year! I have no idea how to explain why I’m so obsessed with this book, but I am. Literally, the minute I finished, I wanted to reread it. IWWV follows a group of acting students studying the works of Shakespeare at a prestigious college. Their friendships and lives implode after one of them dies under tragic and mysterious circumstances. It’s a bit pretentious but, apparently, I’m into that. The book explores the ideas of life imitating art & art imitating life. I loved the way the story was structured like a modern tragedy, the characters were designed like theatre role stereotypes, and that the plays performed tied into the group’s reality. Even though it’s a mystery/thriller, what I was most enthralled by was seeing the secrets, guilt, jealousy, and love eat away at the characters and their relationships. I loved exploring their strengths, insecurities, and desire to change the way they’re perceived. However, I really wish I were better versed in Shakespeare’s works to fully appreciate all the nuances and subtext because I’m sure there’s so much that I’m missing. Ugh, this book was just so GOOD. I loved it so much, and that’s why it takes my number one spot.


And that’s it from me for another year. I hope you’ve all had a fantastic 12 months full of wonderful books and that many, many more are in store for you in 2022.

What were your favourite reads of 2021? (So I can add them to my enormous TBR).

The Dark Academia Reading List: 49 Books of Tragedy, Elitism, Secrets, Violence and the Pursuit of Knowledge

Quick Links (To Help Navigate this monstrosity of a post):

What is Dark Academia?

As you might already be aware, dark academia is both an aesthetic and a genre. When it comes to the aesthetic, at its heart it’s a subculture that revolves around education and the enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge. A romanticisation of learning, as it were. There’s a particular focus on the liberal arts – classic languages like Latin and Greek, history, literature, poetry, philosophy, and often a connection with old school universities like Oxford or Cambridge. As a result, it’s quite Eurocentric, a little on the pretentious side, and frequently involves some not so great approaches towards mental health, so it’s important to be aware of these flaws.

The overall vibe of DA could best be summed up as vintage meets Gothic. Think upper class 1930/40s fashion with plenty of tweed, layering and autumn colour schemes, moody weather, old & musty libraries, journaling and letter writing, classical music, dinner parties, and late night drinking sessions involving plenty of intellectual discussion.

Dark Academia as a Genre

The dark academia genre is often said to have taken off following the popularity of Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel, The Secret History. While a lot of people seem to believe that dark academia is simply a mystery in an academic setting, there’s more to it than that. More often than not, DA books are actually coming of age stories, twisted and bleak ones, but learning experiences for characters all the same.

So, what are some of the features of dark academia stories?

  1. An Academic Setting
    • Usually prestigious and somewhat isolated, e.g. boarding school, university, library etc.
  2. Emphasis on Knowledge and Learning
    • Allusions to the fine arts, potential forbidden knowledge or dark avenues of study
  3. “Darker” Themes and a Preoccupation with Ideas Surrounding Life & Death
    • Some popular themes are hubris, revenge, temptation, jealousy, obsession and paranoia
  4. A Tragedy
    • One the reader foresees/is forewarned about
    • Usually a death, one the protagonist was involved in somehow
  5. Close-Knit Groups of Individuals
    • A group of friends or secret society
    • Probably has toxic foundations
  6. Adult Authority Figure
    • Who abuses their power or exercises influence in damaging ways
  7. Damaging Secrets that Eat Away at the Characters
  8. Social & Economic Disparities + Fish-Out-of-Water Scenarios
    • DA deals with elitism and privilege, and how this can result in moral ambiguity, apathy, and arrogance
    • The protagonist is distinct from the privileged characters and acts as the reader’s window into their world
  9. Lavish Prose
    • Plenty of imagery, lengthy dialogue and internal monologuing

Not every book in this post ticks off all the dark academia elements above (particularly the learning and knowledge focus). If I were being stricter, the list would be a lot shorter. However, because I know people likely have broader views about what DA is than me, especially when it comes to YA reads, I’ve included some books that are more in the vein of ‘mystery/thriller in an academic setting’, too.

Now for the fun part, the list of DA reads! I’ll clarify in advance, I have not read anything close to every book on this list but rest assured, I’ve done LOTS of research to compile it. Hopefully you find something that floats your boat.

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Adult Dark Academia

Let’s just get the obvious one out of the way first, yes?

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

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After being accepted to an exclusive New England College, Californian Richard Pappen falls in with an exclusive, eccentric and clever group of classics students led by charismatic professor, Julian Morrow. Under Julian’s tutelage, the students are taught a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when an attempt at completing a Bacchian rite ends in tragic consequences, the group is pushed to take extraordinary lengths to cover it up. In the aftermath, secrets come out, relationships are tested and their lives are changed forever. I really enjoyed this book and it’s a must read for anyone wanting to give DA a go.

Alright, moving on…

Frankenstein – Mary Shelly

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A classic literature example of the dark academia genre as well as the aesthetic. Obsessed with creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the materials to fashion a new being, one which he shocks into life with electricity. To Frankenstein’s dismay, the resulting creature is a twisted, parody of a man. Rejected by his creator and denied human companionship, the creature sets out to destroy Frankenstein and all that he holds dear. A disturbing and dramatic exploration of birth and death, creation and destruction, Frankenstein is one of the most iconic horror stories of all time.

They Never Learn – Layne Fargo

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Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor and even better at getting away with murder. Every year, she tracks down and kills the worst man at Gorman University and so far, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself. But as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the deaths on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to plan…until she makes a mistake with her latest victim. Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Free of her abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies but her roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay. This is one of the ‘thriller/mystery in an academic setting’ books I mentioned.

The Likeness – Tana French

Also see ‘The Secret Place’ by Tana French

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Traumatised by her brush with a psychopath, Detective Cassie Maddox transfers out of the Murder squad and starts a relationship with fellow detective Sam O’Neill. Then Sam calls her to a crime scene: a woman stabbed to death outside Dublin who looks exactly like Cassie. What’s more, her ID identifies her as Lexie Madison – the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective. With no leads or clue to Lexie’s identity, Cassie’s old boss spots the perfect opportunity: say the stab wound wasn’t fatal and send Cassie undercover. It’s crazy, but Cassie is drawn not only to the prospect of working again but assuming the victim’s identity as a graduate student and infiltrating her close-knit group of secretive, intelligent, odd friends. As she is drawn into Lexie’s world, Cassie realizes that the girl’s secrets run deeper than imagined and she’ll have to tread carefully if she wants to tempt the killer out of hiding to finish the job. This is the second book in a series but they can be read out of order without difficulty.

For Your Own Good – Samantha Downing

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Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the esteemed Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest. He says his wife couldn’t be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while. Teddy really can’t be bothered with the death of a school parent that’s looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is on pushing these kids to their full academic potential. All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way. It’s really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.

Catherine House – Elisabeth Thomas

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I wasn’t so sure about including this one due to mixed reviews but if you’re big on atmosphere over plot, this might be for you. Hidden in the woods of Pennsylvania, Catherine House is a liberal arts school like no other. With an experimental curriculum, selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, it has produced the world’s best minds. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years completely removed from the outside world. Among this year’s class is Ines, who expects to trade partying, pills and boys for rigorous intellectual study – only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The students are encouraged to explore, expand their minds, and find themselves and their place within Catherine. But is it all too good to be true? Is there something sinister hiding beneath the school’s shabby splendor, hallowed history and advanced curriculum?

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife – Ashley Winstead

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Ten years after graduation, Jessica Miller has planned her triumphant return to Duquette University. Everyone is going to see the girl she wants them to see, not who she was when she left campus, back when Heather’s murder fractured everything, including the tight bond linking the six friends she’d been closest to since freshman year. Ten years ago, everything fell apart, including the dreams she worked for her whole life—and her relationship with the one person she wasn’t supposed to love. But not everyone is ready to move on. Not everyone left Duquette ten years ago, and not everyone can let Heather’s murder go unsolved. Someone is determined to make the guilty pay. When the six friends are reunited, they will be forced to confront what happened that night—and the years’ worth of secrets each of them would do anything to keep hidden.

These Violent Delights – Micah Nemerever

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This book is definitely big on the dark themes part of DA. When Paul enters university in 1970s Pittsburgh, he hopes to move past the recent death of his father. Sensitive, insecure, and incomprehensible to his grieving family, Paul feels isolated and alone. When he meets the worldly Julian in his ethics class, Paul is immediately drawn to his charm. Paul sees Julian as his sole intellectual equal and wants nothing more than to prove himself worthy of their friendship. But as charismatic as he may be, Julian is also volatile and cruel, and Paul becomes increasingly afraid he will never live up to Julian’s expectations. As their friendship spirals into all-consuming intimacy, they each learn the lengths to which the other will go to stay together, their obsession ultimately hurtling them toward an act of irrevocable violence.

Confessions- Kanae Minato

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Confessions is another one of those academic setting mystery/thriller books but it has such good reviews, I had to include it. This is a Japanese translation so yay for some diversity. After calling off her engagement in wake of a tragic revelation, Yuko Moriguchi had nothing to live for except her only child, four-year-old Manami. Now, following an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation. But first she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that upends everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge.

Plain Bad Heroines – Emily Danforth

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In 1902, Flo and Clara are students of The Brookhants School for Girls, obsessed with each other and the author of a scandalous memoir, Mary MacLane. The girls establish a private club, The Plain Bad Heroine Society, and meet secretly in a nearby apple orchard. That is, until their deaths at the hands of a swarm of angry yellow jackets, a copy of Mary’s book found beside them. Five years, and three mysterious deaths later, the school closes its doors. A century later, the abandoned Brookhants returns to the news when Merritt Emmons publishes a breakout book celebrating its queer, feminist history. The book inspires a horror film starring lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing ill-fated heroine Flo, and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants reopens its gates and our heroines arrive to begin filming, past and present become entangled and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.

Kill All Your Darlings – David Bell

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Not to be confused with the film Kill Your Darlings (they’re completely different). 2021 seems to be all about plagiarism thrillers. After years of struggling to write following the deaths of his wife and son, English professor Connor Nye publishes his first novel, a thriller about the murder of a young woman. There’s just one problem: Connor didn’t write the book. His missing student did. And then she appears on his doorstep, alive and well, threatening to expose him. Connor’s problems escalate when the police insist details in the novel implicate him in an unsolved murder. Soon Connor discovers the crime is part of a disturbing scandal on campus and faces an impossible dilemma–admit he didn’t write the book and lose his job or keep up the lie and risk everything. When another murder occurs, Connor must clear his name by unraveling the horrifying secrets buried in his student’s manuscript.

Bunny – Mona Awad

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Bunny falls on the highly bizarre, absurdist, black comedy side of the Dark Academia scale (like The Secret History on a huge LSD trip). It’s about a scholarship student named Samantha Mackey who’s a bit of an outsider in her selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. That is, until she receives an invitation to join the Bunnies (a clique of rich girls who call each other “Bunny” and move & speak as one) at their fabled “Smut Salon”. Ditching her friend Ava, Samantha gets lost deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of the Bunnies’ sinister world. As she begins to take part in their ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure monstrous creations, the edges of reality start to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.

The Lake of Dead Languages – Carol Goodman

Also see Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

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Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson left the Heart Lake School for Girls after a terrible tragedy. Now she has returned to its isolated shores as a Latin teacher, hoping to make a fresh start. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories she’d rather stayed buried. Since freshman year, Jane and her roommates, Lucy Toller and Deirdre Hall, were inseparable – studying the classics, performing rituals on the lake, and sneaking out after curfew. However, the last winter before graduation, everything changed. Three lives were taken, all victims of senseless suicide. Now pages from Jane’s missing journal written at the time have reappeared, revealing shocking, long-buried secrets. And suddenly, young, troubled girls are beginning to die again . . . as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface.

The Maidens – Alex Michaelides

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Not one of my favourites, but it still meets the DA brief. Mariana Andros is a London-based group therapist still reeling from the tragic death of her husband a year prior. But when her niece Zoe calls from Cambridge after her friend, Tara, is found murdered, Mariana quickly finds herself caught up in the investigation. Of particular interest is Edward Fosca, the charismatic Greek tragedy professor and Tara’s potential lover, known for heading an exclusive, all female “study group” (aka secret society) known around campus as ‘The Maidens’. As Mariana looks closer at the crime and more bodies start to turn up, the more convinced she becomes that Fosca is the guilty party, alibis be damned. But how to find the evidence to prove it?

Black Chalk – Christopher J. Yates

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It was only ever meant to be a game played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University; a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares. But then the game changed: The stakes grew higher and the dares more personal and more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results. Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. Who knows better than your best friends what would break you?

The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood

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Bookish Oscar Lowe has made a life for himself amid the colleges of Cambridge and yet is a world apart from the students who study in the hallowed halls. But when Oscar is lured into the chapel at King’s College by the ethereal sound of an organ, he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student. He follows her into a world of scholarship, wealth, and privilege, and becomes embroiled in the machinations of her older brother, Eden. A charismatic but troubled musical prodigy, Eden persuades his sister and their circle of friends into a series of disturbing experiments. He believes that music — with his unique talent to guide it — has the power to cure, and will stop at nothing to prove himself right. As the line between genius and madness blurs, Oscar fears danger could await them all.

My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

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This is quite a different type of DA read than others on this list, probably because of the lack of murder, but it still fits. 2000. bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic forty-two-year-old English teacher. 2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her? Or is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager may be far different from what she has always believed?

The Truants – Kate Weinberg

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Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat gray skies of East Anglia for one reason: to be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr. Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess’s thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna’s thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly knit group of rule-breakers–Alec, a courageous South African journalist with a nihilistic streak; Georgie, a seductive, pill-popping aristocrat; and Nick, a handsome geologist with layers of his own. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken, until a tragedy shatters their friendships and love affairs, and reveals a terrible secret. Soon Jess must face the question she fears most: what is the true cost of an extraordinary life?

Summer Sons – Lee Mandelo

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This is a 2021 September release so be on the lookout. Andrew and Eddie were best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge. As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.

Never Saw Me Coming – Vera Kurian

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian - Penguin Books Australia

Another September 2021 release. It’s a thriller but definitely falls under dark avenues of academia. Meet Chloe Sevre: a freshman honor student and leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her. Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smart watches that track their moods and movements. When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

YA Dark Academia

If We Were Villains – R L Rio

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One of my favourite DA reads. If you’re a Shakespeare fan, this will be right up your alley. Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago. As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

The Orchard – David Hopen

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Ari Eden’s life has always been governed by strict rules. In ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, his lonely days are dedicated to intense study and religious rituals. So when his family announces that they are moving to Miami, Ari seizes the chance for reinvention. Enrolling in an opulent Jewish academy, Ari is stunned by his peers’ wealth and ambition. When the academy’s golden boy, Noah, takes Ari under his wing, Ari finds himself entangled in the school’s most exclusive group. These friends are magnetic and defiant—especially Evan, the brooding genius of the bunch. Influenced by their charismatic rabbi, the group begins testing their religion in unconventional ways. Soon Ari and his friends are pushing moral boundaries and careening toward a perilous future—one in which the traditions of their faith are repurposed to mysterious, tragic ends.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl

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After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue van Meer is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge—and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah’s friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide—or misguide—her. 

Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson

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Sixteen-year-old Stevie has an obsession with all things crime. Podcasts, mystery fiction, cold cases, you name it – Stevie is the expert and she dreams of one day becoming a great detective. When she’s accepted into the exclusive, and extravagantly funded, Ellingham Academy, Stevie is surprised but also excited. Founded in the 1930s by business tycoon, Albert Ellingham, the school is famous for its troubled past involving two murders and the kidnapping of Ellingham’s family, all unsolved. The only clue in the case: a morbid poem sent by someone known only as ‘Truly Devious’. When given the opportunity to choose a personal project, Steve’s choice is simple – solve the Ellingham murders. But when one of the students in her class dies mysteriously, Stevie begins to realise that perhaps real-life detective work is different from what she expected.

The Mary Shelly Club – Goldy Moldavsky

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New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends. To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own. When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

Ace of Spades – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

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When Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. Not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian. Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by ‘Aces’ begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them, threatening their carefully planned futures. As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become deadly?

The Ivies – Alexa Donne

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Everyone knows the Ivies: the most coveted universities in the United States. Far more important are the Ivies. The Ivies at Claflin Academy, that is. Five girls with the same mission: to get into the Ivy League by any means necessary. Even if it means disrupting class rankings or sabotaging academic competitions. In order to best secure their chances, each of the Ivy girls agree to apply to a different school, thus stopping them from competing against one another. As you might imagine, things don’t exactly turn out that way. When one of the Ivies turns up dead mere hours after being accepted into a different school than the one allocated to her, the question becomes: was it one of her friends taking out revenge or another student finally taking matters into their own hands?

The Year of the Gadfly – Jennifer Miller

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Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom’s Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers for even minor infractions. Iris Dupont, a budding journalist, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devil’s Advocate, the Party’s underground newspaper, and uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vicious rumours. Some involve the school’s new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter’s instinct, and her own troubled past.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson

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This one doesn’t have an academic setting BUT it does revolve around a school project with a dark topic. Pretty and popular, senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town. But she can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to it. She knew Sal and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer? Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her major project. She soon discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent… and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

How We Fall Apart – Katie Zhao

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Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app. They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow The Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too.

The Basic Eight – Daniel Handler

The Basic Eight eBook : Handler, Daniel: Amazon.com.au: Kindle Store

So apparently Lemony Snicket also writes dark academia. Meet Flannery Culp, a world-weary high-school senior. She is primed to take on the few remaining obstacles that stand between her and the rest of her life: the SAT, college applications, the fall semester….Mercifully, there are a few distractions: 1) her friends, the Basic Eight and 2) Adam State, the object of her affections. If only things hadn’t gotten out of control. If only Flan had stayed away from the absinthe. Then she wouldn’t be a topic on daytime talk shows, or incarcerated, or have time to edit her journals…. 

One of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus

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Had to include this fan favourite – even though it’s more along the lines of mystery in an academic setting. Five students enter detention. Less than an hour later, one of them is dead. Our suspects: Addy, the popular girl who can’t seem to do anything without her boyfriend. Cooper, the rising, young baseball star with a wicked fastball. Nate, the school drug dealer, currently on probation and the easy scapegoat. And Bronwyn, top of her class and destined for Yale. All have secrets, but which of them murdered Simon, Bayview High’s resident blogger and gossip king, to stop them getting out?

S.T.A.G.S – M. A. Bennett

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At St. Aidan the Great School, or S.T.A.G.S., new things, and new people, are to be avoided. Unfortunately, Greer MacDonald, scholarship student, is very much a new person. Usually ignored or mocked by the schools most admired circle of friends, The Medievals, Greer is surprised when they offer her an invitation to attend an exclusive weekend retreat at a private estate. It’s billed as a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin’,” and rumor has it that the invitee who most impresses the group will be given the privilege of becoming a Medieval themselves. As the weekend begins to take shape, however, it becomes apparent that beyond the fancy clothes and elaborate multi-course dinners, there are predators lurking, and they’re out for blood…

Looking for Alaska – John Green

Looking For Alaska :HarperCollins Australia

I can hear you saying ‘WHAT?’ from here. Yes, when you compare LfA with the DA list above, it ticks a lot of boxes. School setting, dark themes, a tragedy, discussions about life, death and literature…You see what I mean? Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.

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Magical Dark Academia

Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo

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This book is all kinds of dark academia. Ninth House introduces an alternate Yale where rich and powerful members of eight secret societies engage in dangerous occult rituals dealing with everything from necromancy and portal magic to shape-shifting. These societies are kept in check by a small ninth house, Lethe. Every three years Lethe recruits a freshman, opening their eyes to the uses and dangers of magic. Twenty-year old Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is a high school drop-out from LA with the ability to see ghosts. After somehow surviving an unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is mysteriously offered a scholarship to Yale and the freshman position in Lethe. The book alternates between two storylines- winter & spring. The former deals with Alex’s arrival at Yale and her learning about magic and the societies. The latter follows her investigating the death of a young woman on campus with several unexplained connections to the societies.

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

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In A Deadly Education, our lead is Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins, a loner teenage witch with a talent for destructive magic and a dark, end the world type prophecy hanging over her head. El is currently in her penultimate year at Scholomance, an international school for young mages with a frightening survival rate. Dropping out isn’t an option so students have little choice but to push through their coursework whilst trying to avoid getting eaten by one of the many monsters (maleficaria or ‘mals’) lurking throughout the school’s corridors and crevices. And even then, they still have to make it through graduation – a monster-mage blood bath of epic proportions, survival of which depends largely on students’ ability to form alliances. However, this school year has proven to be more deadly than normal and if she wants to see it through, El might just need to start finding some allies.

The Atlas Six – Olivie Blake

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This book has been on my TBR for forever and it sounds so good. Every ten years, six unique and talented magicians are chosen to be considered as initiates into the Alexandrian Society, a secret group of magical academicians who act as caretakers of lost knowledge from great civilisations of antiquity. Yet, only five will make the cut and receive power, wealth and prestige. Enter: Libby and Nico, who exert control over elements of physicality. Reina, who intuits the language of life. Parisa, a telepath who can traverse the subconscious. Callum, an empath who can influence the workings of a person’s inner self. And Tristan who sees through illusions to a new structure of reality. Recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have a year to qualify for initiation and will be judged on their contributions to subjects of impossibility: time and space, luck and thought, and life and death. Most of them will succeed. Most of them.

A Lesson in Vengeance – Victoria Lee

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This one’s slightly less outright ‘magical’ than others, but I’m including it here anyway. After dropping out following the death of her girlfriend, Alex, Felicity Morrow has returned to Dalloway School. She’s even back in her old dormitory, said to be haunted by the spirits of The Dalloway Five – a group of girls gruesomely and mysteriously killed centuries prior who some believe were witches. The school doesn’t like to talk about its troubled history, but the students do. Before Alex’s death Felicity was researching the deaths as part of her senior thesis but she’s now determined to leave it all behind her. However, she soon finds herself drawn to new student Ellis Haley, a prodigy novelist similarly researching the Dalloway Five. When Ellis asked Felicity for help, she can’t bring herself to say no. But when history starts to repeat itself and new information comes to light about Alex’s death, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway and in herself.

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

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If you’d like some heavy romance with your fantasy dark academia, this is the book. Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from a distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of magical creatures soon descends upon the library. Among them is the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist who Diana is inexplicably drawn towards. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels. For, little does she know, Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries and she is the only one who can break its spell.

The Devil Makes Three – Tori Bovalino

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Tess Matheson only wants three things: time to practice her cello, her sister to be happy, and for everyone else to leave her alone. Instead, she finds herself working all summer at her boarding school library, shelving books and dealing with the intolerable patrons. The worst of them is Eliot Birch: snide, privileged, and constantly requesting forbidden grimoires. After a bargain with Eliot leads to the discovery of an ancient book in the library’s collection, the pair accidentally unleash a book-bound demon. The demon will stop at nothing to stay free, threatening those Tess loves and dismantling Eliot’s strange magic. Tess is plagued by terrible dreams of the devil and haunting memories of a boy who wears Eliot’s face. All she knows is to stay free, the demon needs her… and he’ll have her, dead or alive.

The Magicians – Lev Grossman

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I’m much more a fan of the TV adaptation, but I’d be remiss by not including this book under this section. Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of children’s fantasy novels, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

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This book has some dark themes but the way it’s written makes it feel a lot lighter than it actually is. Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magical. She is perfectly happy with her life. She has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha. But when Ivy is hired by the headmistress to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

Also see Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

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I can’t explain why this is DA without spoilers so you’ll just have to accept that it fits. Advance warning though, it’s a weird example of it. Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands of statues, each one different from the rest. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

The Furies – Katie Lowe

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Like A Lesson in Vengeance, this is less ‘magic’ than the other books in this section but because of witchcraft, it’s here. In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. In the present, our narrator Violent looks back on that night and the series of events that led to it. After an accident involving her family, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town known as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet is soon invited to join an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by charismatic art teacher, Annabel. While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals, warning the girls off the topic, the girls start to believe magic is real and they can harness it. But when a former member of the society is found dead nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself.

Vicious – V E Schwab

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You can’t go wrong with a Schwaby read. Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl with a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

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Couldn’t resist the chance to use one of my favourite books. Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined. Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest group of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to her vengeance. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Vita Nostra – Sergey and Marina Dyachenko

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A Ukrainian approach to fantasy dark academia. While vacationing, Sasha Samokhina meets the strange and sinister Farit Kozhennikov. When Farit directs her to perform a task, Sasha finds herself powerless to refuse in the face of potentially terrible consequences. As the days go on, Sasha continues to carry out tasks for Farit until eventually he directs her to enter the mysterious Institute of Special Technologies. Even though she doesn’t wish to go, Sasha feels like the school is where she should be and so begins her education. She soon discovers that the institute’s “special technologies” are unlike anything she’s ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, lessons maddeningly obscure, and work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school punishes their families for transgressions and failures. Despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.

Middegame – Seanan McGuire

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Not a favourite of mine but popular with many others. Roger and Dodger are twins. While Roger has always had an aptitude for words and languages, his sister views the world in numbers and equations. Having grown up at opposite ends of the country, the two only meet when they realise that they have a psychic connection with one another. Little do they know that they are the carefully crafted experiments of an alchemist named James Reed, designed to embody the two halves of the Doctrine of Ethos, language and mathematics, believed to be the key to commanding all things. Reed seeks to use these abilities to ascend to a place known as The Impossible City, and in doing so gain unimaginable power. But the more Rodger and Dodger try to fight their destiny, the faster it seems to sneak up on them.

The Ravens – Kass Morgan & Danielle Paige

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Kappa Rho Nu isn’t your average sorority. Their parties are notorious. Their fundraisers are known for being Westerly College’s most elaborate affairs. But beneath the veil of Greek life and prestige, the sisters of Kappu Rho Nu share a secret: they’re a coven of witches. For Vivi Deveraux, being one of Kappa Rho Nu’s Ravens means getting a chance to redefine herself. For Scarlett Winters, a bonafide Raven and daughter of a legacy Raven, pledge this year means living up to her mother’s impossible expectations of becoming Kappa Rho Nu’s next president. Scarlett knows she’d be the perfect candidate — that is, if she didn’t have one human-sized skeleton in her closet…. When Vivi and Scarlett are paired as big and little for initiation, they find themselves sinking into the sinister world of blood oaths and betrayals.

Dark Academia Aesthetic Reads

Below are a couple of books that are generally considered to be DA reads in terms of aesthetic rather than the genre. I thought I’d include them for interest.

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In the Mood for a DA Movie or TV Series Instead?

Thought this would be a fun little bonus to add on to the reading list. Some of these are very much DA genre and others are more about the vibes and aesthetic. Some are both! Either way, enjoyable times to be had.


There we have it! As I’m sure you’re aware, this is by no means an exhaustive list because…I would be dead before I finished it. That, or slowly losing my sanity. Still, I hope this is helpful for those who are curious about the genre and looking to read some of the books within it.

Do you have a favourite dark academia book, movie or TV show?

My Favourite Reads of 2021 (So Far)

Once again, we’ve hit July and that means another half year has bit the dust. For the last few years I’ve made a habit out of doing a mid-year favourites post. It’s something I really enjoy because not only does it allow me to look back at the amazing books I’ve loved the most over the last six months, but it’s interesting to compare it with my end of year top 10 rankings. Some books manage to remain among my best of the best while others get knocked out by other fantastic reads. It’s a book eat book world out there, guys.

In 2021 so far I’ve read 30 books and I’ll admit, this is less than what I was hoping or expecting to be at by now. The main reason is that I hit a major slump around early May and my reading over the last two months has been abysmal. Up until yesterday, the last book I’d finished was around June 2nd. Fingers crossed I manage to snap out of it soon and better things are in store for July. As it stands, I currently have 5 books on this list. It’s not a lot but I can genuinely say I loved reading each of these. In no particular order, they are:

The Burning God – R F Kuang

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To say I was looking forward to this book’s release is an understatement, so there were definitely some high expectations there. To my relief, although there were a few plotlines I wish had been handled slightly better/differently, I wasn’t disappointed. This final installment secured The Poppy War Series as one of my absolute favourites. The Burning God was a complete emotional rollercoaster and ended in such a dramatic way that I almost couldn’t process the gravity and scale of what had happened. It again really drove home the brutal realities of war and reminded readers that there are never any true victors. The writing was fantastic and the story and characters remained compelling. Memorable right to the very end. I can’t wait to read whatever Kuang does next.


If We Were Villains – M. L. Ro

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I didn’t expect to fall in love with this book the way that I did. I really should have though considering its similarities to The Secret History but with Shakespeare instead of classical history. It follows a group of acting students whose friendships and lives start to destruct after one of them dies under tragic and dark circumstances. I was completely enthralled by this and got so invested in the characters (especially Oliver & James) who are designed like theater role stereotypes. The structure of the novel itself is so fantastically done as well and I really wish I had more knowledge of Shakespeare’s works so I could’ve appreciated all the little nuances even more. I regret not writing a proper review for this now. However, I did try at the time and had so much difficulty putting my thoughts into words. I’m sure I’ll reread it in the future so maybe then!


The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

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The Good Daughter was my first introduction to Karin Slaughter’s books and I understand why she’s so popular because this was fantastically done. It’s technically a crime novel but the strength of the book is in its characters, particularly the two MCs, Sam & Charlie. They’re complex, well written and I really liked the way the book slowly dug into the childhood trauma surrounding their mother’s death and how this affected them into adulthood. The pacing is good and the ending is sastisfying, which is always nice for a novel like this. It’s definitely on the more dark and violent side of things, but I didn’t have a problem with it. I’ll 100% be trying out some of Slaughter’s other works.


The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

The Heart's Invisible Furies | Rakuten Kobo Australia

I picked up The Heart’s Invisible Furies based on recommendations made because I loved A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. While the two books are very different, I ended up loving this all the same. The book follows Cyril, a gay man living in Ireland in the decades before the legalisation of homosexuality. It wasn’t what I expected but in a great way, mostly due to the writing which has this magical blend of comedy and tragedy. It’s super quirky and absurd at times but it works. I also have a thing for books which follow characters over lengthy periods of their lives and this fits into that category. Because of the time jumps I did feel a little like I had missed out on things sometimes but was able to move past it quickly. I wish I’d gotten to know certain characters better to properly appreciate their big emotional moments but regardless, this was amazing and I’ve already got several of Boyne’s other books lined up to read.


Twice Shy – Sarah Hogle

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This book was so sweet and uplifting, and it’s cemented Sarah Hogle as an auto-buy author for me. It does get a bit corny and odd at times but you can’t help but love it anyway. The story is another version of the forced proximity trope and involves our leads co-inheriting a large house, then working to fix it up together. The characters are super loveable – dreamer, romantic Maybell & anxious, vulnerable Wesley – and really wonderful together. They have this lovely and gradual journey to understanding each other which I loved and they deal with their issues in such a healthy, non-frustrating way. There’s less banter and humour than in Hogle’s debut but that’s completely fine. Definitely recommended for those with Covid or mid-week blues.


Help me defeat my slump! Recommend me one of your favourite reads of 2021 so far and tell me why you enjoyed it so much.

The Dark Academia Book Tag

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.

Basílica de la Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

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, Granada, Spain

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.

Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France

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.

Twelfth Night | Book by William Shakespeare, Dr. Barbara A. Mowat, Paul  Werstine | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

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

Animated gif about gif in Bellatrix Lestrange by Goddess

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?

2021 TBR: 24 Books I Want to Read in 2021

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?