Let’s Talk: The Types of Blog Posts I Enjoy Reading Most

As a book blogger, I’m always trying to come up with interesting and different post ideas to explore. However, I also have a selection of post types that are favourites of mine to write. But are the posts I enjoy writing also the ones I gravitate towards the most as a reader? Well, yes and no. On occasion, I do find that there are some types of posts I really enjoy reading from others which I find tedious to write myself. Then, on the flip side, there are posts that I like writing even though I know I’m unlikely to read something similar from another blogger. Bizarre, but that’s the truth. So, here are the categories of book blog posts that I find I enjoy/click on the most.

Lists/Rankings

Now, this is a type of post that I both enjoy writing and reading. From a reader perspective, it’s always fun to see how other bookworms rank or organise certain books (or things connected to them) in relation to specific topics. You get a lot of insight into the types of books, narratives and characters bloggers enjoy and there’s nothing like finding someone else who has the same favourites as you do. Even better, a lot of the time I end up finding new books to read because people have spoken so passionately about them or ranked them so highly.

Book Reviews for Anticipated or New Releases

When it comes to singular book reviews, I tend to only check out book blogs for those dealing with new or upcoming releases. Sorry, guys! Normally it’s because I’ve been looking forward to these books and am interested in reading a somewhat lengthier and more in depth review about them. I know this isn’t the best approach as it means I’m cutting myself off from potentially being introduced to some amazing backlist books I have yet to hear about. Unfortunately, it’s just the way I am. Despite often writing backlist book reviews for my own blog, I find that I usually source my reviews for these types of books in bulk through Goodreads (in other words, if you’d like to be GR friends, hit me up & I will happily read your backlist book reviews!).

Wrap Ups/Mini Book Reviews

Being someone with questionable patience and a short attention span at times (I’m flawed, I know), I really appreciate a good wrap up or mini-reviews post. I love getting a broad overview of what others have been reading and seeing people’s brief thoughts on a bunch of different books. I’m not especially picky when it comes to the types of books covered, but I do tend to click on posts which feature books I recognise. Personally, I always find writing wrap ups and mini reviews tough because once I get stuck into writing a review, the words keep spewing out. Luckily many bloggers are much better at this than I am.

Book Tags

Like lists, this is another post that falls under the ‘enjoy reading and writing’ heading. It’s purely because they’re so much fun and, again, give you insight into bloggers’ favourite things. Depending on the prompts, the way certain tags are answered can also encourage me add books to my TBR for particular tropes, character types or qualities that I would never have known about just by reading the blurb. Tags with quirky themes which link into my other interests are super enjoyable, too, particularly when they involve prompts that are tricky or different from the norm. Bonus interest points for when people try their hand at creating new tags.

Book Hauls & TBRs

My reason for enjoying these types of posts is extremely simple: I love seeing what other people are excited to read! There’s something so uplifting about seeing a stack of books that you just had to splurge on because they all sounded so wonderful or a list of titles that you can’t wait to get stuck into this month, hoping they’ll all be 5 stars. I especially enjoy when that excitement rubs off on me and I end up going out to pick up one of those same books for myself. Added bonus, these types of posts are usually quick, easy reads and great for when you only have limited time to check in with other bloggers.

Blogging Guides & How To Posts

I’ve been blogging for a few years now so I have a basic understanding about many of the things associated with it (emphasis on basic though, very basic). But, there are always so many new things for me to learn and others that I could improve or be doing better at. This is where the experience of other amazing bloggers comes into play. I love reading helpful posts with tips and guides on content, graphics, photography, SEO, and everything you can possibly think of that could assist me on my blogging journey. Blogging can be hard work sometimes and it doesn’t always pay off in the way you hope, so it’s great to find a post to assist you in better achieving your goals and making you feel a bit less stupid.


Everyone enjoys something different so I know not all of my most enjoyable types of posts to read will be the same as yours. What are your favourite types of posts? Are there any post categories that you actively avoid?

Let’s Talk: How Reliable Are My Past Book Reviews and Ratings?

This post is going to be several hundred words of me trashing myself. Just thought I would let you know in advance. Probably not the best decision for a book blogger, the whole basis of her blog being that people actually trust her reviews and ratings, but eh, let’s just go with it.

Book reviews and ratings are extremely subjective. What one person loves and gives five stars to, another person might hate entirely or not even bother to finish. Then there’s the fact that everyone has their own rating systems and ideas about what a specific star level means. It’s chaos, chaos I tell you! But what about the subjectivity between the reviews and ratings of an individual reviewer? If I look back at my reading, reviews and ratings of the last few years there’s definitely some major changes evident in the types of books I read, ways I review and things I consider in deciding my opinion of something. As you might expect, this makes me question the reliability of my past ratings and reviews.

Scaredy Pants Reviewer

I’ve mentioned in the past that, until recently, the idea of using low and really high star ratings was something that made me extremely nervous. Lord knows why. Where my silly brain was concerned, five stars was the god-tier reserved exclusively for Harry Potter and a one star rating was pretty much non-existent. Anything I loved was 4 stars, ‘okay’ or somewhat flawed reads got 3 stars, and to get 2 stars, heaven forbid, you really had to grind my gears. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this isn’t something I worry about too much anymore. If I really love something, it’s five stars. If it sucks or it’s not for me, 1 and 2 star ratings exist for a reason. However, looking back at the large number of 3 star and 4 star books that make up the bulk of my Goodreads ‘read’ shelf, I can’t help but wonder where things would sit if I had rated them with my current attitude and closer to how I really felt.

Change in Interests, Tastes & Reading Experience

The things we enjoy and the reasons we enjoy them change substantially over the course of our lives. Music I had on loop as a teen, in most cases, isn’t my go to in my mid-twenties (except maybe Taylor Swift & The High School Musical Soundtrack – those will always bop). The same thing applies to books. Over the years, as I’ve read more books from different genres and authors I’ve been exposed to a range of tropes, clichés, character & story archetypes, and writing styles. As a result, things that I once thought were original, exciting or humorous are now…less so. With this experience, my tastes and interests have also gradually shifted toward other things. For these reasons, I’m almost positive that were I to read certain books from years ago now, I’d feel very differently about them. But does that make my reviews and ratings of them less reliable?

This is a bit of a tough call. Although older and more widely read Ashley has better taste and awareness (I hope), my younger self was: (a) experiencing those books for the first time, (b) for YA reads, closer in age to the intended target audience and better able to relate to the characters’ emotions and experiences, and (c) perhaps reading about certain tropes, stories & character types before they became overused. Would I still love Harry Potter as much had I read it for the first time in my twenties? Maybe, maybe not. I hope so, at least, but I guess I’ll never know.

However, with this in mind, I will say that I often have to resist the urge to go back and edit my old reviews (they’re tragic, really) and ratings to make them more in line with my current ideas. It’s extremely tempting, but something I know I need to avoid to prevent further damaging their reliability.

Memory Based Ratings

Now for another tricky one. Review websites have only existed for a certain number of years and it’s fair to say that most people will have read a lot of books before ever deciding to start formally rating, reviewing and discussing them online. By the time we begin to do so, there’s a degree of separation between now and when we actually read those books, leaving us to rely largely on our memory of the content and how we felt about it.

I don’t know about you, but I often forget whether I remembered to unplug my straightener and pack my charger of a morning. So the very suggestion that I’m also able to remember how much I liked a book I read five plus years ago well enough to accurately rate and discuss it seems like a pigs flying kind of scenario. Do I have a general idea? Sure, but is it detailed enough to consider my casual clicking of the Goodreads star buttons for books I read pre-the site entirely reliable ratings? Eh, probably not.

Don’t get me wrong, for books I obsessively loved or hated, this is probably less of a problem as the emotions associated with them are particularly strong, but with the ones in the middle, perhaps take them with a grain of salt.


So, how reliable are my past reviews and ratings? I suppose the answer is: it’s complicated. It all depends on the book, really – when I read it, what I rated it, how memorable it was, and so on and so forth. If that sounds messy to you, you’d be right! Then again, the fact that there are variations in the accuracy and quality of the reviews of an individual reviewer is no different than the mixed bag we usually sift through from multiple reviewers in deciding whether to read a book or not. I suppose it all comes down to finding reviewers who share your interests, tastes and views. When they recommend something, sometimes they’re on the money and other times they’re not. How reliable I am is up to you.

(But as a suggestion, maybe, just maybe check the year on individual reviews & ratings, and hold tasteless, illegible, teen Ashley to a lower standard. Please and thank you!)

Let’s Talk: Book Marketing Trends, Good and Bad

If you’re an avid reader, then you’re likely very familiar with many of the common trends utilised by publishers to market books these days. Where some methods seem to be effective from a sales perspective whilst also being enjoyable and useful from a reader’s standpoint, there are certain others that lean towards being deceptive or just plain annoying. After seeing a post by Michelle on Chelle’s Book Ramblings regarding how book marketing affects our reviewing, I thought it might be fun to look at the good and the bad of current book marketing methods. Let’s get stuck in.

For Fans Of

I’m almost positive that you’ve come across this method at one point or another because I know I have about, oh, a hundred times. You know the one, where a cover name drops one or two big name books, series or authors, claiming that if you’re a fan of them, you’ll definitely love this book. In all fairness, this trend has the potential to go either way depending on the book it’s being used to promote. Sometimes this can be helpful in finding something to read based on things you already like but my biggest problem is that the same books and authors are used over and over again just because they’re popular. This is the case even when the only commonality is genre. It’s a bit like a C-list reality celeb trying to name drop an Oscar winner at an actors party. Awkward. It’s also extremely deceptive to go into something marketed as being something it’s not. Hello, crushing disappointment and frustration. Sorry publishers, but as much as you’d like me to believe it, not every book in the YA fantasy genre is for fans of Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas.

Doppelgänger Titles

Is it just me or are book titles starting to look more and more like a game of fill in the blanks (E.g. [Something] of [Something] and [Something]) or as though publishers are only allowed to use words from a select list of specific terms (e.g. Shadow, Queen, Thorns, Daughter, Blood, Night, Ash, etc.)?Paperfury actually wrote an entire post about title based trends such as these if you’re interested. While I get that publishers are trying to stick with what they believe works in and appeals to the market, at the same time, I’m getting majorly confused here. I go looking for House of Salt and Sorrows and end up at Master of Sorrows instead, or how about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, and don’t even get me started on just how many ‘City of….’ based titles there are. Help a book loving girl out here! Try something a bit more memorable and original.

Sending ARCs to the Online Book Community

Photo: @readbydev

This is a marketing strategy that’s become very popular nowadays. From a reader’s perspective, it’s a great. Well, aside from making the wait for anticipated releases even more agonising. I love being able to read advanced reviews from people with similar attitudes to my own. It means I know what to expect going into something and whether or not it’ll be something I enjoy. With so much to read, I ain’t got time for disappointment.

For publishers, this strategy can fuel sales but also risks damaging them. In sending ARCs out, they almost guarantee that a book will consistently be on readers’ radars leading up to release day, fanning the hype flames. Even those who don’t ordinarily gravitate toward that type of read may buy it simply because they can’t get it out of their head. Add in a string of positive early reviews, and you’re pretty much set for success. However, there’s always the chance that early reactions to a book will be negative and widespread, severely damaging efforts for a strong release.

Embracing Cover Trends

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Every genre has its own set of cover trends. Modern romance? Cute, graphic designed people. Crime? Photographs of ominous buildings or female faces. Contemporary fiction? Large, funky looking title text. You get the picture. They’re all targeted to appeal to the audience that reads those books. By adhering to cover trends, publishers are able to package a book in a way that’s familiar to genre readers (especially with debuts), encouraging them to draw similarities between it and others in the genre they’ve liked. The problem is though, sometimes this can end up being misleading when it comes to content.

Just because a book falls under a specific genre doesn’t mean it also sits within the same subgenre as books which have previously embraced that cover trend. One example Michelle raised in her post was Meet Cute by Helena Hunting. This is a romance book whose cover makes it look purely like a fluffy, cutesy romance. In reality, it’s a lot more serious in that it revolves largely around a a custody case and involves multiple personal tragedies. While a book may still be enjoyable despite not being what you expected, it’s hard not to feel a little deceived and betrayed by a misleading cover.

Pre-Order Bonuses

This has to be one of the smartest book marketing strategies on this list. Why? Because there’s basically no downside to it for publishers (except perhaps printing costs or the like) AND readers (ecstatic because they’ve gotten something for nothing). Pre-order numbers are extremely important for authors, especially newish authors. So offering readers an incentive to pre-order is a great way of getting early purchase numbers up for a book, which can potentially impact the size of the print run. All the publisher has to do is throw in a free print or perhaps a chance at winning a signed copy and they’re golden. As a reader, all your doing is paying what you would have had you purchased the book post-release, so it’s pretty much a ‘why not?’ scenario. Win-win.

Author Tours/Signings

Author signings are another marketing strategy which usually work well for both readers and publishers. If there’s something bookworms love, it’s getting to meet the writers of their favourite reads and bombarding them with questions. Signings increase the hype for a release and encourage readers to buy the book purely so they can get a personalised signed copy. I will say, though, this does work better promotion wise when you have a charismatic, interesting or funny author. I’ve been to signings where people are there purely because of friends, having never read one of the author’s books, but come away buying a copy because they enjoyed an author’s personality and Q&A so much. Still, these tours seem to be the done thing for authors these days regardless.


It’s clear that book marketing methods aren’t always the best for readers and publishers simultaneously. And while these strategies may be all the rage now, it’s reasonable to expect that new approaches will develop in the near future. After all, if it works, it works, right?

Which book marketing strategies do you most appreciate from a reader’s POV? Which ones drive you mad with frustration?

Let’s Talk: Things I Wish Were Found in YA Lit More

As much as I enjoy young adult books, there will always be things that aren’t featured, included or found as often as I would like them to be. But as they say, you’ll never get what you want unless you ask for it. So here are 8 things I’d love to see more of in YA in the future:

Characters & Families from Different Cultural Backgrounds

I’m definitely not alone on this one. As a white, Australian woman from a middle class family (we’re extremely boring), I absolutely love reading YA books featuring families and characters with different cultures, customs, and ideas. It’s such a personal way of learning about how other people experience the world as well as the things that bring them joy and the difficulties they experience. This is massively important from a representation standpoint but in terms of narrative, boy does reading about the same types of characters get extremely repetitive and tedious.

Sex

This is a slightly controversial one. In fact, I wrote an entire discussion post about it. Despite what some people claim, sex is an important part of the lives of a lot of young people. It can be difficult in some settings for them to get information about it or to find realistic depictions of the circumstances surrounding it – consent, protection, health, communication, preparation, etc. Especially since many of the books that do deal with it commonly find themselves banned. I’m not looking for super explicit sex scenes, those don’t belong in YA in my opinion, but I would love to see characters talking about it in a healthy and realistic way, and, even better, without shaming one another for it.

Friends Growing Apart

I’m used to finding two types of friendships in YA: 1) the ride or die friends that give us major friendship envy, and 2) the characters who were childhood friends before one became a massive jerk. As anyone who’s ever, well, lived knows, sometimes friends just simply grow apart. It’s not because someone did something wrong but simply because at one point your paths diverged. Maybe it’s a new school, a change in interests, or an increasingly busy schedule? One minute you’re speaking to each other every day and the next you can’t remember the last time you saw them. It can be a hard thing to accept, especially during teen and early university years, and I really wish it was something featured more in YA as a part of growing up.

(Speaking of Friends) More Great Friendships

YA stories have a tendency to focus a lot on romantic relationships and while I love a good romance, I have a special place in my heart for fabulous friendships. New ones, old ones, all ones. Give me some more platonic, and well developed, relationships in my YA.

Academic Pressure & Other Future Pathways

The pressure of academic success is familiar to a lot of YA readers. With the expectations of family, teachers, and academic institutions on top of you, it’s very easy to feel suffocated and burnt out. Over an extended period, it can have a profound impact on mental & physical health, and socialisation. This pressure is also connected with people’s hopes for the future, specifically university. Many students see university as their only choice and some are so focused on getting into a specific course or school simply because it’s what’s expected of them or they feel they should do, they don’t stop and think about what they want. The minute something disrupts the plan, they feel their life is over. I would love to see more characters dealing with these obstacles and books showcasing other pathways as options.

Smart AND Strong Heroines

I adore books which feature kick-ass female characters (provided they also have a personality). There’s something warm and fuzzy about seeing a heroine defeat someone with their epic magic or superior sword fighting skills. Yet, what I wish I saw more of is women with the ability to take people down with their mind. I want to see ambitious women, women able to outsmart those around them, women who understand people, and more importantly, women who know how to get things done when a physical assault just won’t do.

Non US & English Settings

Let’s be honest, the majority of big name YA books, if they’re not in fantasy/dystopian worlds, are set in either the United States or England. There’s nothing wrong with these locations but they’re just two of many, many countries in the world. It would be great to read some stories set in other places. Think of the untapped potential! If you can’t physically travel, at least you should be able to do it through books, right?

More Bisexual & Asexual Characters

The fact that gay and lesbian characters are starting to become more and more common in books is something that makes me immensely happy. However, I often feel as though bisexual and asexual characters have been left behind somewhat. These two sexual orientations often face a lot of misunderstanding and judgment, and I’d love for them to get their time in the spotlight.


And that concludes my YA lit wish list! What things do you wish were more commonly found in YA books or, if you’re not a big YA reader, just books in general? Characters, themes, plotlines, it’s all fair game!

Let’s Talk: My 2019 Book Burnout and How I Finally Sent it Packing

2019 has been an interesting year for me. I wish I could say it’s because I read more amazing books than any year before but, in reality, it’s because for a large chunk of it I was in the midst of a book burnout. Before this year, while I was very used to seeing the phrase ‘reading slump’ pop up around the web, I had yet to experience one for myself. Goodreads always seemed to be full of status updates of people lamenting how badly they wanted to read things and feeling unable to do so, and on WordPress I’d see blog posts labelled things like, ‘Tips for Surviving the Book Slump’, or ’10 Books to Beat Your Reading Slump’. At the time, I sat there going: That sounds like it sucks. I’m lucky that never happens to me!

And…here we are.

Now, Ashley, I hear you saying, that’s all good and well, but why are you calling this a ‘burnout’? How’s it any different from your average, run of the mill slump? That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked. When I say, ‘book burnout’ I’m not just talking about, oh, I had trouble reading a few books. I’m talking about slumpageddon! (Yes, I realise I’m being a bit dramatic. Just let me live). I’m talking:

  • Having trouble engaging with/enjoying books & reading them at snails pace
  • Being disinterested in buying books and unable to make it past the first two sentences of a blurb because IT ALL JUST SOUNDS THE SAME
  • Getting behind on my yearly reading goal and then having an existential crisis about the purpose of said goal
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the number of must read, new releases coming out that I need to cover in order to keep up with the book community
  • Being unable to muster excitement for many of these releases at all
  • Then remembering the number of popular books already released that I have yet to read and feeling crushed by that, too.
  • Taking multiple month-long breaks from blogging and bookstagram because the creative spark has disappeared. GONE. POOF.
  • Questioning the quality of the content on my blog and bookstagram and wondering whether it’s even worth continuing.

Do you see why book slump just doesn’t cut it?

Having reached December, I can safely say that I’m now in a much better place about all these things than I was six months ago. As you can see, I’ve returned to blogging, I’m posting the occasional bookstagram photo, enjoying reading again, and eagerly looking out for new exciting books to add to my TBR. I’ve even submitted in a few ARC requests. And now, you know what that means…it’s time for my very own version of the ‘how to beat the slump’ post! Here they are, my top tips on how to kick a book burnout (or slump) to the curb:

Try Something New

As it turns out, it’s very easy to get bored with books when you’re reading and writing about the same things over and over. Seems like an obvious one, I know. And it has an equally obvious solution: try books from different genres. While I love a good YA fantasy, after a while you do start to see recurring tropes, stories and characters. This is why it’s important to shake things up once in a while. Lately, I’ve tackled sci-fi, romantic contemporaries, thrillers, even some non-fiction(!), and not only have I enjoyed it, I’ve bought more. Better yet, for the first time in a while I’m genuinely excited to sit down and read both my usual genres and others.

Focus Your Excitement

With Goodreads on hand it’s very easy to get carried away adding upcoming releases to the to-read shelf, especially when the latest ‘it’ book seems to be showing up everywhere. The reality is, there’s only a short list of books that I’m genuinely super excited, race out to the shops on release week, for. To counteract my feeling of being overwhelmed it was important for me to work out what those books were. A few months ago, I did a Top Ten Tuesday post about my anticipated releases for the rest of 2019. While I could have padded out the list to reach the full 10, I instead ended up with only six and instantly felt better about (and even excited for) the next few months looking at it.

A Creative Break

There can be a lot of self-imposed pressure as a blogger/bookstagrammer. In a sea of talented creators, it’s easy to feel lost and get down on yourself. Trying to come up with content that stands out and still post regularly can be a challenge. This year I took some time off to recharge and when I was ready, I decided to spend some time writing and taking photos without posting. As someone who doesn’t usually have their posts prepared very far in advance, creating without posting was extremely liberating. Not only was I able to look at my work in isolation and feel confident about it, but I built up a decent library of posts, organised a schedule for posting them, and spent as much time editing and playing around as I liked. No pressure! I wrote more reviews, had fun, and remembered why I spend my time doing this. 

Lower Your Expectations

This was the simplest thing I did and it’s ridiculous that it took me so long. Reading goal stressing you out? Just lower it! That’s all! There’s no rule that says you cannot adjust your yearly reading goal as you go. When I first set my 2019 goal, it was based on my 2018 result, but lives and schedules change. In 2018 I was spending extra time on public transport and whizzing through shorter books. While The Selection and The Name of the Wind both count as one book, the time and energy which goes into reading them is vastly different. Sure, there may be readers out there easily able to read over 100 books a year but there’s no point stressing yourself out trying to keep up with them.

It’s OK to Netflix (And Other Things)

Another obvious one. Reading is a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun. If you don’t feel like reading, then don’t. Simple as that. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go do something else whether it be baking, exercise, spending time with a friend, or browsing YouTube. Nowadays, if on the commute to work I feel like watching the show I’m currently bingeing instead of reading, then that’s what I do! You do you.

Re-reading Faves

One of the problems I had during my burnout was a tendency to pick up books and within only a couple of seconds dismiss them as something I wouldn’t enjoy. A way of getting around this was to read something I already knew I loved and use the momentum from that book to read something new. This tactic didn’t always go as planned (I was still slow on my re-reads) but it was certainly an improvement.

Read Something Short, Light and Fun

After getting bogged down by more serious books, I found that reading a bunch of fun and easy-breezy romantic contemporaries in a row was a breath of fresh air. It also gave me some great reading momentum. Sometimes being able to switch your brain off for a while is a good way to jump start it. So, go out there, find your book version of a trashy reality TV show, and have some fun!


While book burnouts (or reading slumps) aren’t exactly fun, they do pass. Eventually. At the very least, I believe I’ve learned a few things from the experience that will hopefully prevent it from happening to me again. Or, well, at least not as hard.

Have you ever experienced a book burnout or reading slump? And if so, how did you get out of it?

Let’s Talk: The Challenges of Reviewing Diverse YA Books

When I first considered discussing this topic, I wondered whether it would be possible to do so, as a white, straight, cis, able, and mentally healthy woman, without sounding like an insensitive and privileged ass. Then again, the point of book blogging is to discuss opinions on book related topics and if we’re afraid to do that, then why blog in the first place? So, I’m going to give it my best shot. Diversity in YA books and how to appropriately review diverse reads is something I’ve thought about a great deal over the past year or so. While there is still a very long way to go, I honestly believe that in recent years there have been great strides made with regards to putting different ethnicities, cultures, sexualities, mental health conditions, and disabilities at the forefront of YA stories and representing them well. Yet, this progress also presents certain difficulties with regards to reviewing.

When an author takes the time to properly showcase the stories of people in a minority or stigmatised group or, better yet, writes an ‘own voices’ novel representing elements of their own experiences, it’s a pretty amazing thing. These kinds of stories deserve to be told and should be encouraged.

But.

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What happens when a novel wonderfully incorporates diversity, but fails to appeal in terms of plot, characters, setting or writing style? These books pose a significant challenge to reviewers. Critique the book heavily and you risk damaging public opinion/book sales, meaning a publisher may pull back on releasing these kinds of stories in the future. Downplay your doubts to focus on praising the book simply for being diverse, and suddenly you’re not being honest. I’ve found myself in this position numerous times since I began blogging and bookstagramming. I want to be able to read books about, and written by, people with different experiences, characteristics, and obstacles. Without them, fiction would be extremely boring. At the same time, I don’t want to boost an author’s work purely because it’s diverse.

In the past, my approach towards reviewing diverse reads has generally been, where possible, to treat the diversity elements and the quality of that representation separately from other major areas e.g. enjoyment of plot, development of characters, etc. Where the book succeeds on all fronts, reviewing is easy. Problems arise where the diverse components are good, but the book fails to satisfy on the other big elements. Having organic, realistic, and well-handled representation is considered a major positive in deciding my overall rating of a book, but at the same time, it’s only one part of the overall picture. Consequently, even wonderfully diverse reads can still end up with an average or not so great final rating.

Looking at book reviews on star ratings alone, this approach could be considered extremely damaging to efforts to expand YA diversity. For this reason, I believe it is extremely important that, as reviewers, we consistently make an effort to discuss diversity/representation in our reviews (where relevant), and to praise elements of good representation even if the review itself is largely negative. In doing so though, we do have to trust that readers will take the time to look at our reviews beyond just the hard number score. At least this way we ensure we remain honest yet still show support for a growing and diversified YA genre.

A few examples of books which have created this challenge for me over the last few years include:

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  • Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeymi: How often do we see West-African inspired YA fantasy books? Not very often, and aside from some confusion over the magic system, I loved the setting/world building in this book. My final rating was a solid 3.5 stars – not bad, but not the glowing highs of the hype train. In the end, this was due to my issues with irrational character behaviour, stretches of boring plot, and unnecessary/forced romance.
  • Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan: GoP&F is a YA fantasy set in a Malaysian inspired world. It features Asian leads and involves a lesbian romance. On that basis alone it ticks great diversity boxes, and yet, my final rating was 2.5 stars. I liked the premise of this book and so badly wanted to rejoice in something that put strong, Asian, lesbian women at the centre of a story. However, from an enjoyment perspective, I couldn’t get past my issues with the worldbuilding, pacing, and inability to connect with the characters.
  • Queens of Geek – Jen Wilde: QoG is a sweet and fluffy YA contemporary. It features a bisexual lead, a plus-sized lead with Asperger’s and anxiety, and a bunch of side characters who are racially diverse and suffer from disabilities. This is a book that screams diversity. Yet, there’s also minimal plot and very simplistic writing, which rendered it only a 3-star read for me.
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Being unable to give these kinds of books glowing reviews is extremely difficult because I genuinely want authors and stories like these to succeed. In many cases, this pressure has even discouraged me from wanting to write a review altogether, especially where the diverse elements are inextricably linked to the major components of the story e.g. American Panda by Gloria Chao. Stories like these make me wonder whether, as someone who does not write reviews for every book they read, I should perhaps direct my attention to reviewing only those diverse reads that I genuinely really enjoy. Then again, an approach like this seems to involve its own problems and depending on what I choose to read could result in reviews of little to no diverse books on my blog.

On the flip side of this is the equally challenging situation of how to a review a book which does well on the enjoyment scale yet fails when it comes to realistic and good quality representation. Are we allowed to like and praise a book even though it handles the treatment of certain groups and experiences badly? While I may have said that good representation is not the ultimate determiner of a review rating, for most reviewers the reverse does not seem to hold true. Fail in your attempts at good representation and half the book reviewing community will roast you alive while the other half grab marshmallows. It’s situations like this in which I’m likely to avoid writing a review and to spend agonising time selecting a star rating on Goodreads. However, in saying this, my biggest worry is not that I’ll like a book that does certain groups a disservice, but that I’ll review it positively without even knowing or picking up on just how bad the representation is.

Despite my ability to sympathise with fictional characters, I do not have detailed knowledge of what life is like for every group out there. I have never experienced depression, I am not from an immigrant family, no one I know has experienced police profiling or brutality, and I have never had to deal with sexuality-based stigma. There are a multitude of things that I have no way of knowing anything about until I (a) meet someone who has first-hand knowledge of these things or (b) I read about them. Being able to pick out the realistic from the skewed is a challenge with diverse reads and makes it difficult as a reviewer to ensure we’re writing an informed review. This then begs the question, am I even qualified to write these kinds of reviews?

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Earlier this week I finished reading All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This is a book that deals with suicide, depression, PTSD, survivor’s guilt, bipolar disorder, and bullying. At several points during the novel I found myself questioning the realism of how some of these issues were represented. And as usual, when in doubt, I went to Goodreads. Scrolling through the book’s page, I found that there are some people who relate heavily to MC Finch and his experiences with mental health while others who have also experienced depression and attempted suicide take great issue with how these are depicted. This leaves me with more questions than ever – if even those with first-hand experience cannot decide if the representation is good or bad, how in the world am I to know? The only solution I can see to this is to do my own research and determine whether what I’ve read represents the experiences and reality for at least a small component of the chosen represented group, even if it may not represent the majority.

At this point, I’m not entirely sure what the correct way forward is. Perhaps it’s more of a case by case type of issue. In the end, I suppose all we can do is review the books in front of us as honestly and constructively as we can with a sense of self-awareness. We also need to continue to demand better representation of minorities in the things we read and hope that writers continue to put these stories out there and that publishers will help them reach us.

Let’s Talk: What are your thoughts on the difficulties associated with reviewing diverse books? Do you have any similar experiences and if so, how do you deal with them?

Let’s Talk: Bookish Pet-Peeves

For something a little fun, or stressful depending on how you look at it, today I’m looking at things related to books that drive me nuts. Things that make me want to scream in frustration or just sit down and cry. All the normal stuff and…the somewhat er, crazy stuff. This post will be focusing on external things rather internal things like characters, plot, etc. Warning, this post will be full of rage, caps, sound effects and, just because I can, Gilmore Girls Gifs.

Different Book Sizes or Cover Designs in a Series

Now, I know I’m not alone on this one. I’m one of those people that likes to shelve books from the same author and series next to each other. I also happen to like my bookshelves to be visually pleasing and usually that means separating things out based on size too, if I can. But HOW am I supposed to do THAT when publishers decide mid series to randomly change the size or design of the next book from what’s come before? Gosh, I can’t even describe the nightmare that is my copies of The Ember Quartet – one big, one small and then one with a completely new cover design. Please, for all the bookcase neat freaks out there, do us this service and just keep the damn thing consistent. I’m legit afraid by the time I start reading The Dark Artifices that copies of Lord of Shadows in matching height to my Lady Midnight will have disappeared off the face of the Earth. The struggle is real.

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Borrowers Who Don’t Return Books For Ages

Why you gotta do this to a girl? I have lovingly given you the fruit of my bookcase, my baby (let’s face it, they’re all my babies) and this is how you repay me? Also, let me just say, it’s guaranteed that the minute you borrow that book and start reading it, I’ll remember how awesome it is and want to do a reread. But oh wait, I CAN’T. The whole point of this lending thing is that we can talk about it after you read it. So, hurry up!

Cracked Spines

I think a little bit of my soul shrivels up and dies each time I feel a beautiful spine crack down the middle as I’m reading. Or even worse, when it cracks multiple times. *cries*. I don’t know what it is, some spines are built to last being run over by a truck while others fail at the slightest pull back of the cover (I barely touched it, I swear!). It just looks so awful and worse still, that’s the part which faces out of the bookcase for everyone to see. Argggggg.

Cant Look Season 3 GIF by Gilmore Girls

Folded Corners, Not Bookmarks

Need I say more? There’s a special place for people who fold down book pages to mark their spot. If you’re one of these people, STOP. Every time you fold a page, a cuddly animal dies. I swear. You’re also breaking my heart. Bookmarks are gloriously pretty. Buy one. Pleaseeeeeeee.

Stickers That Leave Residue

I feel the rage building. God I hate it when I buy a book and the store has stuck a big price or promotional sticker across the cover which is virtually impossible to get off cleanly. I’m still working on finding the perfect way to get rid of the icky residue that never seems to budge no matter how hard you scratch or rub. My poor copy of Fangirl has suffered many attempts to no end.

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Printed Stickers

What’s worse than stickers that don’t remove cleanly? Stickers that don’t remove at all! There’s nothing like that moment when you go to remove a sticker only to realise, NO, it’s been printed on the cover. Like, why for the love of all that’s good and holy do publishers do this? Did I really need a permanent sticker to tell me that To Kill a Kingdom would be great if I love Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J Maas. Hell No. Did I need a printed sticker to tell me that Slayer is set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it’s already in text on the cover? OF COURSE NOT. *shrieks unintelligibly*

Delayed Release Dates

Okay, the logical part of my brain knows there’s usually a good reason for this but the crazy fan part of my brain doesn’t listen to that part when this happens. Picture this, you’ve been desperately waiting ages for an author to release the next book in one of your absolute favourite series. There’s only a few more months to go, you’ve almost made it, the end is in sight…until, the announcement. It’s been postponed and not just a couple of weeks. Cue massive tantrum and depressive spiral. The things we booklovers suffer through…

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Interruptions During Great/Long Awaited Book Scenes

Okay, look, I love you and all, but can you not see that I am reading and do not want to have a conversation right now? *person starts talking* Well…clearly not. There are few bookish pains worse than getting to a moment in your novel you’ve been really looking forward to or where things are happening big time only for someone to come along and interrupt you. Way to break the flow, buddy. Back away slowly before I attack you.

Movie Poster Cover Take Overs

Have you ever noticed that right around the time an adaptation comes out, suddenly the only covers you can find for a book in store are the poster versions? What if I don’t want your movie cover cover? HUH?! What if the adaptation is garbage and I’m stuck remembering that every time I pick it up? WHAT THEN? Noooooo, thank you. But then again, I think I’m also just one of those weird purists who really wants the book cover for the book. You have no idea how long it took me to see a copy of The Help without the film cover after the adaptation was released, and that’s actually a movie I really love! Life’s hard being a cover snob, I tell ya.

Annoyed Rory Gilmore GIF by Gilmore Girls

Ugly Book Covers

So, you had the chance to do something beautifully eye catching that (a) people would irresistibly pick up at the bookstore, (b) want to take photos of and (c) would not be embarrassed to be seen reading on public transport. Instead…this is what we’ve ended up with. I hate it when great books are stuck with ridiculously ugly covers. Half the time it looks like pure laziness and the other half, I have to sit there and wonder how the hell multiple people at a publisher ever thought that that looked good. Now I’m stuck carting around this atrocity to the eye.

*Takes calming breathes* Okay, I think that’s enough bookish raging for the moment. Any more and I’ll do a Veruca Salt down the bad egg chute. It won’t be pretty.

Let’s Talk! What bookish related things drive you absolutely crazy?

Let’s Talk: About Sex, Baby…in YA Fiction (Part 1)

This is a discussion post that I’ve been wanting to write for some time now but my issue has always been the question of how best to approach it. I’ll be up front, on this one I’m in the camp of include sex in YA. Although, the bigger question is how should it be included? In the end, I’ve decided to break it down into three questions: 1) should sex be included/discussed at all, 2) to what degree should sex be included, and 3) how should sex be represented in YA books? As it turns out, I have a lot to say on this topic so I’ll be publishing this post in two parts.

The Audience of YA

Before we get stuck in, I’d just like to touch on the audience and readership of young adult books. From a publishing standpoint, the YA category is aimed at ages 12-18. When you look at the changes and experiences that happen over the course of these six years, it seems like an enormous and diverse group. Then there’s the fact that these days YA is also extremely popular with adults, myself included. So how do we possibly cater to all these people in one category? That’s the question, isn’t it?

Should Sex be Included/Discussed in YA?

Sex as Taboo

Despite what some people try to claim, sex is not some evil, virtue ruining, disgusting thing. It’s a very normal human experience which can be romantic as well as something fun and empowering. A large chunk of the population is going to have sex at some point in their lives. It’s a simple fact. By failing to include it even slightly in YA fiction I feel as though this gives the impression that sex is something to be hidden or embarrassed about.

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The last thing we want is teens feeling like they shouldn’t or can’t voice sex related questions/issues, or, worse, that they’re the only one going through these experiences. The great thing about books is that they allow us to feel less alone by seeing our own characteristics, flaws, and experiences in characters. Without representation that benefit is lost, which is why it’s so important that teens read about fictional young adults tackling familiar issues (of which sex is a big one).

Sexual Education

Spend a couple of minutes on the internet and you’ll find pretty quickly that there’s a huge problem with regards to sex education. There are a lot of countries, even ones as developed as the US, that do not properly teach their teens about sex and reproduction.

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This makes me ridiculously mad because it’s so, SO important that teens learn early on the importance of having sex at the right time for them, ensuring both parties are consenting, and taking steps to protect against unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Just saying “abstinence” won’t cut it, kids. No, it isn’t fiction’s job to be the only educator on these things but by failing to include topics like this in YA fiction, you’re not only depriving teens of a great source of information during a time when they’re desperately searching for it, but also failing to take advantage of the opportunity to illustrate/discuss positive and negative sexual behaviour.

To Quote Lily Allen, ‘Everyone’s At It’

Let’s be realistic. If you honestly believe that all teens are waiting until age 18 to engage in sexual behaviour or discussion, gather round because I have a bridge to sell you. Sure, studies show that the average age young people lose their virginity in most countries is 17+ but unless I’m remembering school wrong, you can bet that the ones who aren’t having sex are likely already (a) doing some form of hot and heavy activity OR (b) talking about it with their friends, even at really young ages. The truth of the matter is, a lot of teens are far more mature than adults like to give them credit for and by cutting sex and sexual discussion out of the fiction they read, you’re failing to include a very large part of the teen experience and conversation. It’s difficult for readers to relate to the books they’re reading if they’re so sanitised they resemble an early 2000s Disney sitcom more than real life.

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I should preface the next part of this discussion by mentioning that in this post I am not advocating for throwing sex in for the sake of just having sex in YA novels. I am saying that, where it suits the narrative, setting and characters, sex should not be shied away from and be included organically. If the story the author is telling has nothing to do with sexual themes, then don’t add them in for the sake of it. 

To What Degree?

Putting sexual discussion aside for the moment to focus purely on actual sexual scenes, from what I can tell there seems to be three ways to approach this:

  • Fade to black
  • Sex with an internal character focus
  • Heavily descriptive sex

Fade to Black

It’s safe to say we’ve all come across this approach. I have no problem with the good, old fade to black provided the author does two things (a) treats the build up to the fade out properly and (b) addresses the impact of what we missed.

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I recently found a great example of this in Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me. There’s one scene a fair way through which continues long enough to establish consent, protection, and intimacy before fading out and then picking up again to deal with the emotional fallout and narrative purpose of that interaction. Fade outs can be a great way of instigating sexual discussions and dealing with associated issues without being too graphic for younger readers who aren’t at the maturity level for fully descriptive content.

Sex with Internal Character Focus

This is an approach I’m also very on board with. When sex scenes are written like this, as a reader, I very clearly understand what the author is trying to achieve because there’s nowhere to hide. It may be a crucial plot point, a character defining moment, or even an evolution of two characters’ relationship e.g. Rose and Dimitri in Richelle Mead’s Shadow Kiss. While we do get some details on the physical side, they tend to be limited as the focus is on what the character/s are feeling and thinking. For example, in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun we get to experience Jude’s first time from her perspective. It’s not a comfortable experience in the slightest and she regrets the encounter almost as soon as it begins but feels as though she can’t bring herself to stop it. It’s a very well written scene – emotionally mature but more focused on Jude’s mental state than the physicality of what’s happening. More importantly, it successfully discusses important sexual themes such as consent whilst giving us character development.

Heavily Descriptive Sex

Now this is where it gets complicated. To demonstrate, both Looking for Alaska by John Green and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas feature sexually explicit scenes at some point during their narratives. Each is marketed as YA, but are they in any way similar? That’d be a no.

Generally, when it comes to this approach, I’d say it’s not something I consider appropriate in YA books and should be left to adult or new adult fiction. In fact, I’m a little shocked when I come across scenes like this in something marketed as YA as they just seem extremely out of place. However, I think my main problem here stems from the fact that so many of these scenes are written unrealistically as being all fantasy (something I’ll discuss in part two).

While I’m sure a lot of the people who read YA nowadays are more than able to handle explicit scenes, and may even enjoy it, there does have to be limits in place for this category of fiction, otherwise why separate it from adult fiction at all? This is to ensure that those who aren’t comfortable with such explicit content, or their parents, don’t have to constantly worry about whether such a scene may potentially come up at any given moment.

With regards to sexual discussion, I feel I’m on the same page.  Do I need a conversation between two characters involving a play by play of one character’s sexual exploits?

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Ah, nope.

However, characters discussing things such as their worries about their first time or whether they’re ready to take things further with their partner, that’s 100% a-okay.

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Just a reminder, everything in this post is my personal opinion and I am very much aware that a lot of other people feel very differently with regards to this topic. And that is completely fine!

Let me know your thoughts, do you believe sex should be depicted and/or discussed in YA novels? And if so, how detailed do you think it should be?

For more discussion on how sex should be represented in YA novels and the representation issues commonly found in today’s novels, be sure to check out part 2.

Let’s Talk: Picking Books to Review

As book bloggers, one of the biggest components of what we do is writing reviews. However, also being book lovers, we tend to read a substantial number of books every year. Writing lengthy reviews for each and every one just isn’t possible (especially when you’re as slow as I am) – we’d go grey before we even made a dent. So how is it that we pick which books we want to spend several hours discussing with our computer screen?

It’s Absolutely Fantastic (Five Star that Baby)

There’s nothing like finishing a ridiculously amazing book to send you running for your keyboard. When a book has completely rocked your world, the first thing you want to do is tell the world about it (well, after jumping up and down, and searching the internet for fan art, of course). You want everybody else to see just how much of a gem this book is so that they can enjoy it, too.

You’d think these reviews would be easy to write but sometimes they end up being even harder than those for books you don’t like. I find that this is usually because, while I know I enjoyed the hell out of a book, the struggle is breaking down the exact reasons why. Why did I fall so completely in love with the MC, what was it about the plot that shocked me so much, why is this couple my new OTP? Still, these are definitely the most heavily featured types of reviews on my blog because they’re just so much fun to write.

You Hated It (1 Star that Sucker)

In much the same way as an overly positive reaction can push you to write a review, so too can a particularly strong negative reaction. Anger, disgust, frustration, disappointment – these are motivators behind many reviews, especially where the book is something you were led by others to believe was great. I find that I rarely run out of things to say with these types of reviews but the problem is ensuring you don’t cross the line from constructive to cruel. Critiques are a natural part of any art form but we need to be mindful that we’re criticising the work, not the person.

It’s an ARC

Yes, yes, I know this is an obvious one and pretty self-explanatory. The majority of the time when you have an ARC, you’ve been given it by the publisher for the express purpose of writing a review. Therefore, these books are almost guaranteed review picks. If it’s a book people are looking forward to, you’d be silly not to use the opportunity to get extra traffic to your blog. People want to know about this book and you get to read it before everyone else! Use it!

It’s Hyped/Popular

I can’t be the only one who sometimes chooses books to review on this basis (can I?). This reason only really applies, for me, to books that have just come out. If I’m reviewing a popular book that’s a little older, it’s probably for reasons 1 or 2 above. However, if the book is a new release and people have been waiting around for it, much like with an ARC, I’ll review it because I know it’s what people are interested in. Not everyone reads hyped books right on release, some people wait a few months. At least this way people know whether to bump it further up their TBR or perhaps let it linger on the bottom for longer.

Good but Flying Under the Radar

I have to say, I don’t read a lot of not so well known books and that’s a weakness of mine. There’s just so many popular ones that I constantly feel like I’m catching up! However, when I do read something that’s not as well-known and actually a pretty solid read, I’ll usually write a review.

There are so many big name books out there which have ended up being mediocre that I feel it’s important to get the word out when you find something good (or even great) flying under the radar. Give a less known author/book the credit they’re due, you may just help someone find a new favourite read.

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I’m sure there are book bloggers and reviewers out there with very different motivations behind their review picks. I mean, for all I know, there are some crazy superheroes out there that manage to write legible and amazing reviews for most of the things they read (HOW?? I spend like five hours on just one damn review). Still, this is at least an accurate summary of mine and I feel like they’re pretty reasonable. Recently I’ve been trying to increase my reviewing frequency so perhaps new motivations will arise as time goes on.

Why do you review the specific books you review? And what motivates you to read some else’s review?

 

Let’s Talk: What Makes a Great Book Cover

Come on, admit it. At some point in your life, there was a book you bought because you fell head over heels in love with its gorgeous cover. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. I know I certainly have. Sometimes it pays off, and other times…not so much. At least it looks fabulous on your shelves, right? But what is it about some covers that makes them so attractive whilst others send you running to the e-reader?

Below I’ll look at some of the main characteristics or styles that my favourite book covers tend to utilise. This isn’t a checklist, as in, put all these things on one cover and you’re bound to have a winner (what a Frankenstein’s monster that’d be). It’s more a couple of things that work well when used selectively and in the right combinations.

An Eye-catching Background Colour

There’s nothing like a bright or bold colour on a cover to draw the eye amongst a shelf full of titles. Some of my favourite covers have utilised the approach of one feature background colour to really give a book something special and I find that it works especially well when designers incorporate texture at the same time e.g. sponge blend effects. However, with these kinds of cover designs, it’s important to let the background be the star of the cover by embracing neutral accents and simple imagery.

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Interesting Title Font or Design

For text-based covers, this is crucial, but even with image/text combo covers it’s something to really consider (unless perhaps you’ve got a fabulously attention-grabbing image). It’s important that the title design or font is engaging and fits the tone of the book whilst still being legible. The best case scenario is a font that definitively belongs to that book and which readers will be able to pick out even with different text, but as long as the title is interesting to look at and doesn’t feel like something people have seen a million times before, you’re in the clear.

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Contrast

While flashy, single background colours can work very well, utilising colour contrast, often through feature accents, can also result in a great cover. Balancing bold colours against black, white, navy and neutrals is usually the way to a winner but incorporating contrasting colours from the colour wheel is also an interesting way to change things up. Although, this approach does require having an engaging photograph or graphic in order to properly showcase the colour differences.

Covers 3

Simplicity Without Being Boring

Sometimes simple designs with clean lines can be really attractive and soothing in their purity. One thing some covers get wrong is they try to do too much when a more stripped back approach would have worked far better. Basic shapes and images are a great way to highlight a feature element of a cover and create a certain vibe. However, it’s essential this approach isn’t taken too far, resulting in something that’s just plain boring. With so few things to look at, designers need to think about where their audience’s eyes will go and how to make that location engaging enough to keep them there.

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Striking & Book Specific Photography

Photography can be fantastic on book covers when it’s used appropriately. I find it works best when the photo has a clearly identifiable connection with the book, as in it looks as though it could be of a particular moment, item, or location from it. Editing is important but the subject is key. The best photography covers look as though they could have been shot purposefully for that book (even though it’s unlikely), not just picked from a bunch of stock pictures.  I want to be sucked into the novel just by looking at that one moment displayed in the cover photography.

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Models in Positions that Don’t look Campy or Awkward

I cannot be the only one who’s wanted to hide a book cover because it’s featured models in odd or cheesy positions which display a vague (or no) connection to the actual contents of the book. If you’re going to use this approach: (a) the models need to look like the character/s, (b) the styling and posing must fit with the aesthetic of the novel (not just the genre), and bonus points if (c) it looks like it could be scene taken right out of the novel. I don’t want to see some random photoshoot that could be in any fashion/teen magazine or a model in a supposedly powerful or come-hither position imposed on a computer-generated background (unless it’s a damn good background) And well, if you’re not going to adhere to any of this, it better be one hell of a fantastic looking portrait image.

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Memorable Use of Graphic Design or Illustrations

Moving away from the realms of realistic covers, there are also some amazing covers achieved through the use of art and computer graphics.  I often find that these are very strong because the designer is frequently creating an image directly inspired by the source material. Line, shape, colour – they all come into play, and I find it particularly engaging when artists play with symbolism. Where the design manages to capture the tone and feel of the book whilst still being creative and visually dynamic, it’s usually a big success.

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So that’s all completely clear, right? Of course not! I wish I could say there was a definitive reason why some covers work better than others but with particular books there’s just something indescribably magical about their cover. Pinpointing why may be difficult, but we all know pretty quickly whether a book’s got it and to what degree. I guess the best explanation I can give is if a cover helps the reader understand a fraction of what they’re in for and it’s not something they’d be absolutely ashamed of having to carry openly on public transport, you’re halfway there.

What are some of your favourite book covers and what is it about them that makes them so special?