Let’s Talk Bookish: Diversity in Books

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s discussion is all about diversity in books, which is a super important topic.

What do you think is the meaning of diverse?

I think diverse, in relation to the book world, means many different voices from different places getting to tell their stories. But as well as authors, it’s also about having diversity in all areas of publishing, as well as attitudes to diversity, which is something that is still changing and evolving and work still needs to be done so that no one is excluded from these spaces. When I think of diverse stories, I think of books with BIPOC, LGBTQ+, neurodiverse and disabled characters.

Who do you think is qualified to write a diverse book?

I’ve seen a lot of discussions recently about #OwnVoices, especially after several cases where authors felt they had to come out because of questions around their sexuality and whether they were ‘qualified’ to write their books. Although having books by people who have lived those experiences is really important, we also shouldn’t be forcing people out of the closet, or making them disclose details about their physical or mental health, that they’re not comfortable to disclose, or which it’s perhaps not safe for them to.  

Another issue, especially when very few books about something are being published, is that one book and one experience is seen as a monolith for that experience. While people from the same background, with the same sexuality, or with the same disability, might have a lot of shared experiences, each person’s experience and viewpoint is also unique, and we shouldn’t view their books and their perspective as the sole example of that experience. This is why we need lots of diverse books!

As a straight, white writer, I’m not the right person to write a book about coming out, or about the Black experience. But I also think it’s important for books to have a diverse cast of characters. Every book should have BIPOC and LGBTQ+ characters, but stories that are about those identities, are probably best told by people who have lived that experience. So #OwnVoices books are really important.    

How do you find diverse books to read?

Seeing people share publication announcements and cover reveals on Twitter, and reading recommendation lists on blogs mainly.

What are some diverse topics/POVs that you specifically look for when you’re finding books and why?

I think it’s important to read diversely and widely, so I try and read books with BIPOC and LGBTQ+ characters. Recently, I’ve also especially been looking for books with disability (which seems to be a lot harder to find?), as I have a chronic illness myself, and would like to see that experience explored in fiction a lot more. I’d also really like to see more disability in fantasy and sci-fi – I want to see disabled people go on adventures!

How do you decide if a diverse topic/POV is done well?

I think this is difficult to do unless you share the character’s identity/disability/etc. So I try and find reviews by people who have shared the experiences explored in the book to see their perspective. But I think there are some red flags that anyone can spot.

Do you have any thoughts on diversity in books? Chat with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: Has Blogging Affected Your Reading?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s topic was suggested by Mini @ Book and Corner and is all about the impact blogging has had on our reading.

Has blogging affected your reading in a positive or negative way? If so, how?

Before I started regularly blogging, I’d find books by browsing my local Waterstones. I wasn’t aware of what was hyped or popular, wasn’t clued up on upcoming releases. I simply went into the shop and browsed and shelves and the tables and picked up whatever I fancied. In some ways, I miss that, because I liked not knowing what I might discover.

Whereas now, I’m so aware of what’s out there and upcoming releases, that when I go in a bookshop and look at the shelves, I recognise all (well, a lot of anyway) of the books, so there’s less surprises. But at the same time, I like the anticipation of waiting for a new book to be released, of being able to get excited for a book to come out. It’s also easier to find books I think I’ll enjoy when I’m more aware of what’s out there, and if I’ve read reviews before buying a book, I’m less likely to end up with books that aren’t for me.

Blogging and reading more about upcoming books, reading more reviews and posts, has meant I’ve discovered some amazing books that I wouldn’t have come across in Waterstones. They don’t stock everything on their shelves. Being part of the blogging community has also made me seek out diverse reads a lot more, and that is definitely a very good thing.

But it’s also very easy to get sucked into the hype around a book, even if you’re not sure it’s for you. Sometimes that means discovering a new favourite, and sometimes it means being disappointed. It can be tempting to always get drawn towards the books that get shouted about the most, when there are other amazing books out there that haven’t had so much attention.

Blogging makes me excited for reading, and so I do feel like I’ve been reading more since I’ve been more actively blogging.

Do you think the pressures to produce content can result in a bad relationship with books?

I love blogging and talking about books. But I do sometimes feel pressured to post consistently. Taking breaks when you need to is important. If you’re in a reading slump, that’s okay, you don’t have to force yourself to blog. Blogging should be fun. So I’m careful to try and avoid it becoming something that’s stressful. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

How do you balance blogging and reading?

Balancing hobbies can be so hard. I’m currently balancing my day job, reading, blogging and writing, all along with being chronically ill. I feel frustrated when I’m struggling with my energy levels, because I have so many things I want to do. For me, writing always has to come first, because it’s my dream to become an author and I have to prioritise it if I want to reach that dream one day. I read and blog when I can, but I do sometimes wish I had more time and energy for reading, because I really do love it. 

Do you think you would have started blogging if it weren’t for books or vice versa?

As I’ve always loved writing, I think I would have ended up with a blog of some kind. Writing fiction is my passion, but I enjoy writing of all kinds, including writing blog posts. As I love books, whether it be reading them or writing them, it made sense to have a blog dedicated to them.

Has blogging changed your reading habits? Do you read more? Do you read different kinds of books to before you started blogging? Chat with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes a Book Beautiful

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

Ahhh book covers! They say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but often the cover is the first thing we see, and does impact our first impressions of a book. There are so many different styles and attractive covers definitely draw the eye. But aside from the aesthetic of the cover, I think it’s also important that it reflects the content and mood of the book as well.

While simplistic covers can be really effective, I do love a cover that has a really striking illustration. I’m really glad a lot of covers have moved away from photographs of people to illustration-based covers. A lot of the photo-based covers just look so similar, and beautiful artwork is so much more eye-catching to me. I remember when YA covers were dominated by girls in dresses. Almost every book had a fancy dress, which was really pretty, but made almost every book look the same, and often they were wearing a dress on the cover for absolutely no reason at all. I much prefer when covers convey what’s inside the book, and to see characters represented more accurately, and with more action-poses (if relevant of course) than just models lounging around in dresses.

One of my favourite illustrated covers is Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, which was illustrated by Tran Nguyen. The composition of this artwork is simply stunning. The main character’s pose and the flow of the fabric around them just makes it really dynamic. But it also really captures the book as Maia is a tailor. It incorporates her magic scissors, and the fabric Maia is holding is decorated with the sun, moon and stars, which are the materials she must sew three magic dresses from. The more I look at it, the more amazing details I notice which reference back to the book!

I really like it when a book series has a really satisfying set of covers, where you get to see a different character on each one, or which really conveys the evolution of the story and characters over the course of the series. For example, the new Daughter of Smoke and Bone covers with art by Peter Strain that came out last year work really well together as a set. I also really like them because they’re unique and stand out, as well as being beautiful.

Aside from covers, there are other details that can make a book beautiful, such as the finish of the dust jacket / paperback cover. I also love when I take a dust jacket off a hardback book and find there’s a design stamped into the naked hardcover! Books also sometimes get sprayed edges, which look amazing, especially when the edge colour matches the cover really well. 

And I thought I’d end this post with a selection of some other covers I absolutely love:

What cover styles do you like? What are your favourite covers? Chat with me in the comments!

Let’s Talk Bookish: Clichés and Tropes

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s discussion is all about clichés and tropes, and it’s a topic that I suggested, so I’m looking forward to diving in.

A trope is an element that occurs regularly across literature and media, and could be related to plot, character, or setting etc. All books have tropes, but it’s how the author utilises them that makes each book unique. A cliché often occurs when a trope has been overused, or has been used too similarly too often. Clichés can be irritating because we see them so often, they have become something that makes us roll our eyes because it’s become so predictable.

Tropes are the backbone of literature. Identifying tropes can be a great way for readers to find new books they might enjoy, and they are great for marketers too. If a reader knows they enjoyed a trope, they can look for other books that have that trope. Examples of popular tropes include enemies-to-lovers romance, friends-to-lovers romance, the chosen one and the outsider protagonist.

I don’t often enjoy clichés, unless they are done in a tongue-in-cheek way. If I know what tropes I like and dislike, I know which new books to avoid and which to hone in on. Though I think I’m still learning what kind of tropes I enjoy, and some of it can be down to how the author has used the trope. I love it when an author takes a well-known trope and puts a really unique spin on it. But at the same time, the familiarity of tropes can also be very satisfying.

It’s also great to see tropes being told in different ways by diverse authors, whether they are AOC, LGBTQ+ or disabled. Tropes and cliches that we’ve seen told over and over again by straight, white, able-bodied writers can be told a totally different way by other authors who have a different perspective on those stories.  

Another thing I’d like to discuss is another angle to clichés, which lies in clichés/stereotypes around particularly groups of people in society. Some clichés can be harmful for marginalised groups. When clichés about race, sexuality, disability or mental health are used in literature or media, they often present an unrealistic view and can perpetuate harmful stereotypes. It’s important for authors to be mindful about these so they aren’t contributing to misrepresentation and misperceptions, which is just one reason why sensitivity readers are important.

To round off this discussion, tropes aren’t a bad thing. They are a vital part of a book’s makeup. They can be done well, and they can be done badly sometimes, but one thing I’ve learnt is not to dismiss a trope having read one book with it that I didn’t enjoy. Because there are so many ways to write tropes, that even if I didn’t like one book, I might love another author’s take on it.

What tropes do you love? Are there any you avoid? Chat 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: 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: How Do You Feel About ‘Strong Female Characters’?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s topic is ‘How do you feel about strong female characters?’ and I think there’s a lot to say about this subject! But what do we mean when we say ‘strong female characters’? The phrase has come to mean female characters who are basically badass at fighting, smart etc. These characters are great, but that’s not what the phrase ‘strong female characters’ should be about. The ‘strong female character’ has become as much as a cliché as the damsel in distress.    

To have a strong character, you don’t have to have female characters who are epic at fighting or who are tough. They don’t have to be physically strong to be a well-developed character. A strong woman doesn’t have to be a woman with all the attributes typically given to male characters. What we actually want when we talk about strong female characters is female characters who are developed as much as male characters. We want complex heroines as much as we want complex heroes.

So I’m not keen on the phrase ‘strong female character’ because it doesn’t really convey what I actually want from my characters as the word ‘strong’ is so loaded and misleading. I want to see realistic, well developed characters. I don’t want to see female characters who are ‘strong’ but lack depth. I want to see a variety of personalities in the female characters I read in books and see in TV/film.

A strong female character should have depth and development, strengths and flaws, and have a role in the story which is important for the plot.

One measure for the portrayal of female characters is the ‘Bechdel test’ which is not a perfect measure but I will mention it for the purposes of this discussion. In order for a book or film to pass the Bechdel test there have to be at least two female characters, who talk to each other, and who talk about something other than a man. When you look at books and films it’s shocking how many fail on something so simple.

I want all characters to have depth and development. Unfortunately, in books and film it’s most often male characters who have depth and development and female characters are just two-dimensional. This has been changing in the book world. I’m reading so many great books with good female characters, particularly in YA. But there is still a way to go with how female characters are represented in books. Then there is the problem with films. Why are there so few female-led films? We need more movies with developed female characters!

Do you have any thoughts on strong female characters? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!