Let’s Talk Bookish: Romance as a Subplot

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s topic is all about romance subplots and I feel like I’m going to have a lot to say about this one!

I think romance subplots need to strike the right balance. They can add to the story in a really great way, but when they come to dominate the characters’ thoughts it can get annoying. This is especially an issue in fantasy and sci-fi, where the stakes are pretty high, say for example there is some kind of world-ending crises, but all they can think about is their feelings. Of course, their feelings are still important, but focusing on the right elements of the story at the right times is so important. Romance can end up distracting the characters from the main plot too much, and that does frustrate me sometimes.

The worst thing about romance subplots is when they are thrown in for the sake of it. Sometimes romance subplots, especially in YA, feel like they are included just to tick a box because it’s become so expected for there to be romance. I can’t think of any I’ve read recently, but I remember noticing this in the past.

I like variety in what I’m reading. I do love stories with romance in them, but I do also enjoy reading books that don’t have romance, and are more focused on the plot, platonic relationships or family. We need more of these kinds of books! Or ones where there is romance, but it develops more slowly over a series rather than in the span of one book. Sometimes romances just seem to develop too quickly.

Another important thing for me when it comes to romance is reader expectations. I want to know what I’m getting myself into before I read a book. If a description doesn’t make it clear romance is the focus, I’m disappointed when the whole book is about romance, especially if I’ve picked it up because I’m looking for something without romance right then. And on the flip side, when a book is promoted based on its romance and then that content is lacking, that’s disappointing too. So I think expectations are important.

Romance can work as a main plot or a subplot, and I enjoy both. What I want to read depends what mood I’m in. So how the book is marketed and whether I go into it with the right expectations is going to make a difference to how much I enjoy it.

I do seem to have read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books in the last couple of years in which romance plays quite a big part, especially in YA. However, a recent read that springs to mind is Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, which I loved, and it didn’t have any romance in it! I could see there being some romance potentially develop in the sequel, which would be fine, but I really liked that the first book in the series focused on the plot and friendships. I would like to read more books that have less of a focus on romance, so if anyone has any recommendations do share them with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes You DNF a Book?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. For today’s topic, we’re talking about DNFing books. DNF stands for ‘Did Not Finish’ and is when you stop reading a book part way through.

I actually don’t DNF books. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish a book I’d started. I must have done years ago, but not for a long while. Once I’ve started a book, I’m in it to the end. Maybe this isn’t the best approach though. If I’m not loving a book, should I put it down so I can spend my time on a book I’ll like more instead? Maybe. But I just can’t seem to bring myself to DNF a book.

Sometimes a book can really pick up in the second half, and I end up feeling glad I didn’t give up on it early on before things got good, even though I didn’t enjoy it to begin with. I didn’t find the opening quarter or so of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo that engaging, but it ended up being one of my favourite series. Recently I read Shielded by KayLynn Flanders. I didn’t enjoy the first half much at all and possibly should have DNFed it. But I liked the second half a lot more, so I am glad I stuck with it, even though I didn’t love it overall.

The one time I can imagine DNFing, is if a book has just really bad writing. If the writing quality was really poor, I wouldn’t be able to get through it. Or if perhaps the book wasn’t what I was expecting or includes triggers I wasn’t aware of before I started reading.

I do sometimes give up on series without finishing them. Sometimes I only read the first book and decide I’m not invested enough to keep reading. Other times I read two or more books in the series but then if I don’t enjoy the sequels I won’t keep going with the series. Especially long series, when there is a bigger time commitment. I have to really love a book to read a long series. Whereas I’m more likely to persevere with a duology or trilogy if I’m interested enough to want to know how the story ends.

Do you DNF books you aren’t enjoying? What makes you decide to DNF? And are you ever likely to pick up a DNF and try it again in future? I’d love to know what you think so chat with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: Is 3 Stars a ‘Good’ Rating?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. For today’s topic we’re talking about ‘Is 3 Stars a ‘Good’ Rating?’.

When I rate a book 3 stars, I think of it as a good rating. I rarely give 5 stars. So far this year I’ve read 32 books and I’ve only given 5 star ratings for three books, and last year I read 20 books and only gave one 5 star rating. Maybe I’m too harsh? I don’t know. For a book to be 5 stars it really has to blow me away. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to leave me with a certain feeling, I have to have no hesitation in giving it 5 stars. So therefore, the majority of books I love get a 4 or 4.5 star rating. Then the books I loved but not quite as much as the 4 star books get a 3.5 stars. And the books that get 3 stars are ones I enjoyed but didn’t love. I rarely give 1 or 2 star reviews, partly because I’ve been lucky so far while I’ve been blogging that I haven’t read many books I didn’t like.

Reviewers have different ways of choosing star ratings. I seem to give ratings based on feelings, rather than any objective system. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to do it. If I’m torn about what rating to give a book, I think back to what other books I’ve read. For example, I’ll think about what other books I gave 4 stars, and decide whether I liked it more, less, or the same as those books.

I decided to look back at my reviews and see what books I gave 3 stars this year. Most recently was A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer which I liked but didn’t get the same enjoyment from as the first book in the series, A Curse So Dark and Lonely. I also gave 3 stars to The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White which I liked enough that I will read the sequel, but I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked and the writing style wasn’t to my taste. The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant, on the other hand, is beautifully written but the time jumps were a bit too jarring for me and there were a few other reasons I only gave it 3 stars.

If I’ve seen a book with a lot of 3 star ratings I will probably look more closely at the reviews before deciding if I want to read the book. Everyone has different tastes and some people might have given it a lower rating for an element that they didn’t enjoy, but which I know is something I love to read. I would be more hesitant to read a book with lots of 3 star ratings, but I would just do more research before making a decision.

Everyone can probably agree that 4 and 5 star ratings are ‘good’ ratings. But 3 stars is hovering in that strange middle ground. I can see why some people would see 3 stars as ‘bad’. For my own ratings, anything with 3 stars or more is on a scale of ‘good’. If I were to describe them in one word, I’d call 3 stars ‘good’, 4 stars ‘amazing’ and 5 stars ‘out of this world’.   

I’m really interested to see how other people respond to this prompt and whether there is a mixture of opinions. What do you think? Do you see 3 stars as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rating? 

Let’s Talk Bookish: The Popularity of YA

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. I’ve not participated in this for a few weeks as I was ill earlier this month but I’m planning on getting back into blogging more again now I’m feeling better!

This week’s topic is ‘The Popularity of YA’. There is a lot to talk about here and there are some interesting questions in the prompt so this week I’m going to structure my post around some of those questions.

Do you like reading YA? Why or why not? What do you love/hate about YA books?

At the moment I do read mostly YA. I think some of the reason for that is I know what I’m going to get with a YA book. I can go into the bookshop and browse the shelves in that section and I can pick out books I think I’ll like. The Adult section is so much bigger and whenever I look there, I just feel a bit overwhelmed and don’t really know what to choose.

I mostly read YA fantasy and science fiction. What I love about YA fantasy and science fiction is that it usually has a pretty fast pace. I’ve not read as much Adult fantasy, but the ones I have read have been a lot longer and slower paced. I don’t mind a slower pace from time to time, but I find most of the time the faster pace and style of writing in YA books is more engaging for me. There are also a lot of white, male fantasy authors out there dominating those Adult shelves. This does seem to be changing and I intend to seek out more female and diverse Adult fantasy authors.

Another reason that I read a lot of YA is because I write it too. I love writing YA fantasy and sci fi so of course I want to read it as well. I’ve done so much more reading this last year and I feel it’s really helped my writing and also makes me feel more inspired.

What do you think is the most popular genre in YA and why?

YA does seem to move in trends. At one point paranormal was super popular, especially paranormal romance, vampires, werewolves and so on. Then dystopia exploded and was everywhere. That seems to have died down now and I’m not sure which genre is most popular at the moment. There do seem to have been a lot of popular fantasy series out in the last few years.

Should YA take up most of our reading (if it indeed does)? Do you think YA transcends the age barrier?

I don’t think there’s a problem with reading a lot of YA. While I mostly read YA, I do read other kinds of books too and I do like having a break from reading YA sometimes for some variety. The most important thing really is that people should read what they enjoy.  

One thing that does irritate me about attitudes to YA is that people can be condescending to adults who read YA. I’m in my 20s and I enjoy reading YA and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think some of that comes from misunderstanding what YA is and people seeing it as inferior, which is not the case. True, not all YA books are great, but neither are all Adult books.

I think YA can be enjoyed by people of all ages (well, teens and up!). People can relate to the way YA characters are trying to discover who they are and find their place in the world.

How do you feel about YA? Do you enjoy reading it? I’d love to know your thoughts, so discuss with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: How Have Your Reading Habits Changed Over Time?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s theme is ‘How have your reading habits changed over time?’.

I have loved reading for a very long time and my reading habits have certainly changed. Before I went to university, I read quite a mix of books. A lot of YA but also some more literary books. Then when I went to uni to study English Literature with Creative Writing I didn’t have much spare time for reading outside the course material. So I read a lot of classics and literary fiction for those three years. I read some great books and I enjoyed my degree, but I did miss being able to choose what I read.

Then when I finished uni (3 years ago now!) I didn’t want to see another classic! I’ve read almost solely YA since then. I’ve also read mostly fantasy and sci-fi. I think having read so many literary and challenging reads during my degree, I just wanted to be sucked into a great story again. I just wanted to be swept up in a fantasy adventure.

Having spent 3 years reading as part of studying, it did take me a little while to get back into reading for fun. At first, I didn’t enjoy reading as much as I used to, because while I was studying it was something I had to do and I had to read particular books. Having the freedom to choose what to read again was great, but it did take me a little while to get back into it.

Over the last year or so I’ve got back into really loving reading for pleasure again and consequentially I’ve started reading more too. Having my love of reading rekindled again has been wonderful.

I’ve also done a lot of reading this year thanks to lockdown. Even though I’m still working full time (from home) I’ve had a lot more free time since I’ve not been able to go anywhere! I expect the amount of reading I do will go down again a bit whenever we finally get back to ‘normal’. So I’m making the most of the time I have to read and write.

I’m actually reading a classic at the moment though – Emma by Jane Austen. As I’ve read a lot of fantasy lately it is nice to read something different. There are a lot of classics I want to read, but I probably won’t read them that often. At the moment I’m reading about one a year. Maybe that will change though. It will be interesting to see how my reading habits have changed in a few years time!

Have your reading habits changed over the years? Has the kind of books you enjoy shifted? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: Blog Scheduling

July has been a busy month for me so far! I’ve not been blogging as much as I’m taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo during July so I’ve been focusing on writing my novel. But today I’m back to talk bookish!

Today’s theme is ‘Blog Scheduling’. Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion.

When I first started blogging way back in 2012 (I can’t believe it’s been so long!) I didn’t have any schedule and I just posted randomly. I didn’t post all that often back then, but over the years I started posting more often. Last year I decided to make a schedule so it was easier to keep track of what I had planned and I’ve found it’s helped me keep up with blogging more regularly. I don’t post the same things on particular days. I tend to post a book review when I’ve finished a book and then written the review. I have a dated list of posts but I am flexible with moving things around.

There are a few memes I take part in but I don’t usually do them every week. I only usually take part if I feel I’ve got enough to say for the subject. For example, I take part in Top 10 Tuesday but I might skip a week if there’s no way I can think of 10 books for the topic. I also just don’t have time to write blog posts every week for all the memes I take part in. So I choose the ones I have the most to say about. I usually slot them all into my schedule to remind me what the prompts are and write something for them if I have time.

One of the questions posed in the prompt is ‘Do you think having a schedule is an important part of being a good blogger?’ and I think the answer to that is probably no. Having a schedule won’t work for everyone, I’m sure some people enjoy posting more spontaneously. I think having a schedule has helped me become a better blogger because it helps remind me to write blog posts and encourages me to do it more regularly. But that might not be the case for everyone.

Do you plan your blog posts? Or are you more spontaneous with your posting? I’d love to hear your thoughts so let me know what you think in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes a Book YA?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s discussion topic is ‘What makes a book YA?’ which I think is quite an interesting topic at the moment. YA is very popular and has evolved a lot over the last 20 years. The age range for YA is generally described as 12-18. In the UK you tend to see a bit more of a divide in bookshops, where there is a ‘teen’ section which would be books aimed at 12-14 year-olds and a ‘YA’ section which is more 14+, with YA dealing with more mature subject matter than teen fiction.

So what makes a book YA? Well, some of the things that seem to be common across most YA is that they explore the lives of young characters finding their place in the world or discovering something about themselves. While plot is important, characters are vital to YA. There is usually romance (though I would happily see more YA focusing on friendship than romance) and the pacing is often faster than Adult titles.  

Then there is crossover. Crossover can go two ways. It can be a YA novel that has appeal for adults so is published as YA but also marketed to adults. Or an Adult book that has appeal to a YA audience so is published as Adult but also marketed to YA readers. I don’t think there’s any problem with this when utilised appropriately. It’s a great way for books to reach more hands of people who will enjoy them. But I think it can become confusing for people in relation to the what’s YA and what’s Adult debate.

There are definitely issues with how women authors are categorised, particularly in the fantasy genre. I see time and time again novels by women that are labelled as Adult fantasy still ending up in the YA section of the book shop or with a YA label on Goodreads. For example, I always see some V. E. Schwab books in the YA section of the bookshop even though they are Adult. From a reader perspective this makes it difficult to know what you’re reading. I’d like to know when I read a book whether it’s YA or Adult (or crossover) so I can have appropriate expectations of what to expect when I read it.

One issue with this is that books aimed at adults, potentially with adult content not suitable for younger readers, ends up in the YA section and being unknowingly picked up by readers at the younger end of that age category.

A series that often gets discussed with regards to this issue is the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. The series has been categorised as YA but has a warning about content not being suitable for younger readers on the back cover. If you haven’t read it, there are some seriously steamy sex scenes that are much more graphic than anything else I’ve read in YA. But at the same time, I think this series does appeal to a YA audience. So I can see why it was put in the YA category, since Maas’s first series, Throne of Glass, was YA as well. But with this amount of sexual content, especially later in the series, it probably should have been shelved as Adult. Fortunately, I picked this series up as an adult, but if I’d read it as a younger teen…hmm…well…it probably wouldn’t have been appropriate and I would have been surprised to find that content in a book I’d picked up in the YA section.

There seems to be an issue with fantasy being edged towards the YA category rather than Adult because it’s been written by a woman, when it would fit better in the Adult category. Adult science-fiction and fantasy is full of amazing works by women, but it still seems to be a genre dominated by men.

Attitudes towards female sci-fi and fantasy authors needs to change. It’s completely ridiculous that fantasy by women so often gets pushed towards YA purely because of the author’s gender.

What do you think makes a book YA? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes A Good Villain

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s topic is ‘What Makes A Good Villain’!

Villains are an important part of any story. Our heroes have to face obstacles to achieving their goal and there is almost always a villain standing in their way. But what makes a good villain? I like to see villains that are just as fleshed out and developed as our protagonists. Cardboard cut-out villains just fall flat. I want an antagonist who has motivations, wants, desires, a back story (be it tragic or not so tragic).

Good villains can fall into different categories. There are the evil for the sake of evil villains, who I find very rarely work effectively. A baddie with an evil cackle is just cliché and boring. I like to see complexity in villains. Yes they might well be evil, but why? Is there something in their history that made them that way? Even the pure evil kind of villains can have layers and complexity to them. For evil villains, I want them to genuinely scare me. I want to be scared for my favourite characters. An example that springs to mind is Amarantha from A Court of Thorns and Roses. She’s evil, twisted and sinister and I found Maas’s depiction of her character utterly chilling.

Alternatively, the villain could believe their actions are justified, genuinely believe that what they’re doing is right or for the greater good in some way, but their choices to achieve their goal are morally wrong or result in the deaths of innocents for example. Or the antagonist could be conflicted, fighting between the dark and the light inside them, and maybe they have a redemption arc. Maybe the antagonist isn’t evil at all, they’ve just fallen in with the wrong crowd in an attempt to fit in or have been blackmailed. Can they be redeemed? Or do they succumb to the darkness growing inside them? An interesting angle is having morally grey antagonists (and even grey protagonists too). When the lines between good and evil are more blurred, that can make for a really captivating story.   

I also enjoy books where we have more than one antagonist. There might be a main villain, the evil person who the hero has to defeat at the end of the book/series, and then other antagonists whom the protagonist comes into contact with more frequently and provides a more direct and personal conflict. For an easy example, I’d categorise Voldemort as the main villain in Harry Potter, but Draco is an antagonist who Harry comes into direct conflict with more often as they have an ongoing rivalry.

But how does the story end for the villain? Many books end with the downfall or death of the villain. In order for the heroes to succeed, they have to vanquish the antagonist. However, sometimes an antagonist gets a redemption arc. I do like a good redemption arc but it has to be done well in order to be a satisfying conclusion to that character’s story.

What do you think about villains? Who are your favourite villains from book or screen? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: The Hype Train

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books. This week’s topic is ‘The Hype Train’!

Every year there are some books that end up getting so hyped, it’s really hard not to get sucked in. I try not to be swayed too much by what’s getting hyped, and focus on what I think I’ll enjoy reading. But with social media and blogging, it’s hard to avoid noticing what’s getting a lot of attention.

I don’t buy books because there’s a lot of hype around them (most of the time…). If there’s a book that sounds like its right up my street and it’s been hyped a lot, I am quite likely to pick it up. The problem with these books is that sometimes the books live up to the hype and sometimes they don’t. If everyone is gushing about a book, sometimes I end up liking it less than I might have done if they hadn’t been because I had such high expectations. It might have been really good book, but I was expecting the most amazing book ever written because it had been hyped so much. It’s really hard for books to live up to their hype. 

The other issue is that everyone has different tastes. Not everyone is going to love the same book. So while loads of people might love it, not everyone will. But I do feel there’s a bit of pressure to like a book that’s been hyped, because everyone else seems to love it, you feel like you must be missing something if you don’t.

A hyped book I read recently was A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer. The fact it was hyped actually put me off this book for a long time because I really wasn’t sure if it would be for me. But I’m really glad I did read it because I ended up loving it. Another one getting a lot of attention is Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin which I also really liked.

When picking up a hyped book, I try really hard not to think of it as a hyped book. I try to push aside all of that and just go into it like any non-hyped book. Because it’s really easy to be disappointed by books that have been given so much praise.

Do you get sucked along with the hype train? What hyped books did you like or dislike? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Book Discussion: The Rise of the Exclusive Edition

Has anyone noticed that exclusive editions, particularly in YA, have suddenly become a massive thing? I’m not even sure when exactly this happened. It seems to have grown slowly. Book subscription boxes have exclusive editions, usually signed, but also with alternative covers, sprayed edges or different end pages. Bookshops like Waterstones also sell exclusive editions. They are very enticing. The book industry seems to have caught on to the fact that people not only like books, they like pretty books, and I guess they also like the idea of having something that’s exclusive or limited edition.

I have only two of these editions. The first is the Illumicrate edition of Once and Future. I haven’t read it yet, when I bought it I didn’t know for sure if I would like it, but it was high up on my TBR list and it was so beautiful I couldn’t help but fork my money out for it. I also bought the Fairyloot October box which included The Beautiful by Reneé Ahdieh with sprayed edges and artwork on the dust jacket. I doubt they will be the last I am tempted into buying.  

One thing I’m not usually persuaded to buy is Collector’s Editions. I never buy more than one copy of a book. I know others do but it’s just not something I usually do. I often go into bookshops and pick up collector’s editions of my favourite books that have bonus content, but there never seems to be enough new content to persuade me I need another copy. There’s something special about the copy of the book I first read, that makes that edition the special one to me. Plus there are so many different editions of books that it could get expensive getting all those fancy hardbacks! I’m sure I’ll cave though and buy a collector’s edition at some point! I am tempted to get the Throne of Glass collector’s edition as I only have it as an ebook.  

To return to exclusive editions of new books, I see photos of them flying around Twitter and Instagram and am sucked in. They have definitely caught onto something with this. I’m not complaining. I like the idea of having something special. But it makes me so tempted to buy more books when I already have so many unread on my shelves! Also if there are so many exclusive and special editions out there, are they that limited or special anymore?  

What do you think about special/exclusive/limited/collector’s editions? Do you love collecting copies of your favourite books, or are you not all that bothered by special editions?