The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

Book review: ‘Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness’ by Susannah Cahalan

brainonfirecover

Brain on Fire. Susannah Cahalan. Penguin. September 2013.

Brain on Fire is the stunning debut from journalist and author Susannah Cahalan, recounting the real-life horror story of how a sudden and mysterious illness put her on a descent into a madness for which there seemed to be no cure

‘My first serious blackout marked the line between sanity and insanity. Though I would have moments of lucidity over the coming days and weeks, I would never again be the same person …’

Susannah Cahalan was a happy, clever, healthy twenty-four-year old. Then one day she woke up in hospital, with no memory of what had happened or how she had got there. Within weeks, she would be transformed into someone unrecognizable, descending into a state of acute psychosis, undergoing rages and convulsions, hallucinating that her father had murdered his wife; that she could control time with her mind. Everything she had taken for granted about her life, and who she was, was wiped out.


Brain on Fire is the one of the most interesting books I have read this year. I don’t often pick up memoirs, but this one sounded too fascinating to ignore. Susannah’s story was terrifying, but so compelling, and I couldn’t put it down. Although there are scientific explanations and statistics peppered throughout this book, it is primarily told like a story. To begin with, it feels psychological-thriller-esque, as there is so much mystery surrounding Susannah’s increasingly worrying behaviour, and what exactly *is* going wrong in her brain. You can’t help but put yourself in Susannah’s shoes and imagine how scary it would be if this were happening to you.

Susannah takes us from the point at which she first becomes ill, through her period of hospitalization, up to her diagnosis, and beyond to her eventual recovery. Whilst Susannah remembers very little about her time in the hospital, she has used interviews with family, friends, and those who treated her, to piece together the missing month of her life. She also describes videos of herself, recorded in the hospital, which give an insight into what was happening to her body when her mind was seemingly absent. These descriptions are unnerving to read, as I am sure they were unnerving for Susannah to watch. She doesn’t recognise the person in those videos, and I can’t comprehend what a strange, disconcerting experience it must have been to see herself like that.

The scariest thing about Susannah’s story is that this could happen to any of us, without warning, at any time. Our brains and the bodies they live in are unfathomably complex and wonderful, but if even the tiniest part of the system malfunctions, our lives can descend into chaos. What Susannah went through is horrifying – seizures, paranoia, insomnia, psychosis, and eventually catatonia – and I can thoroughly appreciate why Susannah describes herself as having been ‘betrayed’ by her body. All of these symptoms came about because Susannah’s body decided to turn on her, and she had no control over the situation whatsoever. It was so interesting to see Susannah trying to come to terms with *why* this happened to her, but also with why *she* survived her illness when many others don’t.

The sections of the book when Susannah is in the hospital awaiting her diagnosis were the most interesting to me. It was worrying, but fascinating to see the diagnosis process laid out, because the doctors on Susannah’s case tried so many different things before they eventually landed upon the correct diagnosis and treatment for her. It is scary when you consider that there are some people for whom the correct diagnosis is never found. There were times when it felt like Susannah’s doctors were trying to find a needle in a haystack, but they found that needle, and I found the whole thing mind-blowing. Reading this book gave me so much awe and respect for those working in the medical profession: out of the millions of possibilities as to what could have been causing Susannah’s symptoms, they had the correct one within a month, and were able to treat her. How incredible is that? Medicine, honestly = magic.

What I found so remarkable about this book is that it exists at all. Whilst Susannah is in hospital, and before she is correctly diagnosed, her illness gets progressively worse until she is unable to read, write, eat, walk, or hold a conversation. The fact that she made a full recovery, and went on to write this incredible piece of non-fiction, which is intelligently written, journalistically researched, as well as being a powerful story, feels nothing short of miraculous. Brain on Fire is a fascinating read, and Susannah Cahalan is an incredible woman. Highly worth picking this one up!

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Cute YA contemporary romance set in Tokyo! ‘Seven Days of You’ by Cecilia Vinesse

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Seven Days of You. Cecilia Vinesse. Little Brown. March 2017.

It’s Sophia’s last week in Tokyo, and she’s going to make it count…

Sophia has spent her life ping-ponging between different countries and schools, so, in theory, saying goodbye should be easy. But now she’s leaving Tokyo – the place that finally felt like home. The only way she can get through this is to make her final week perfect.

Then Jamie Foster-Collins shows up, just in time to ruin everything. Jamie and Sophia used to be friends . . . and his return stirs up feelings she thought she’d forgotten.

Suddenly, hours and minutes become meaningless. Only time spent together, exploring the hidden streets of the city they love, is real.


I have to admit that I would never normally pick up a book that was set over a span of seven days, particularly a romance. I always feel like love stories set within a short space of time are rushed, and don’t dive deep enough into the emotions. And of course, said premises usually mean insta-love. These reservations aside, I decided to pick this one up because it was set in Tokyo (and I’ve always wanted to visit Tokyo), and it had a glowing endorsement from Becky Albertalli on the back cover (whom I love and adore).

I’m pleased to say that my reservations were unfounded. The romance didn’t feel rushed at all because there was plenty of history between the two characters, and despite the short amount of time spent together in this novel, I fully believed in their feelings for each other, and felt the heartbreak of the impossible situation they found themselves in. This book deals with lots of messy emotions between friends, love interests, and families, and I was very impressed with how much was covered in such a short space of time. In particular, I really enjoyed the family dynamics in this story; the strained relationship between Sophia and her sister Alison underwent some very satisfying development, and the scenes between these two sisters ended up being one of my favourite aspects of the novel. SISTERS FTW.

Moving on to love interests, Jamie was such an adorable fluffy bunny, and was definitely my favourite character in the novel. I just wanted to cuddle the crap out of him. I have to say that it took me longer to warm to Sophia because she was so mean to Jamie at times, and also rather unfair to Caroline (a girl who is dating David, her friend, and the guy she has a crush on at the beginning of the story).  However, Sophia grew on me throughout the novel, and I came to understand that her behaviour stemmed from some seriously mixed up emotions over leaving the place she calls home, trying to work out where in the world she belongs, and saying goodbye to the people she loves. By the end, I really appreciated the fact that Sophia was a flawed character who had a lot going on in her head, and she felt like a more realistic, relatable person because of it.

I found Sophia’s friends, David and Mika quite unlikeable to begin with. David, whom Sophia has been crushing on for a while, was very arrogant, a bit of a playboy/user of girls, and I couldn’t understand what she saw in him, despite his flirty charm. Mika irritated me because she was so sarcastic, told people to shut up all the time (and not in a playful way), and could be pretty unapologetically mean and blasé. By the end of the book, my opinion about David hadn’t changed much, but I liked Mika a little more, and appreciated the friendship between her and Sophia. I wasn’t feeling those girl power vibes between them to begin with, but I could see a hint of them by the final page.

What I loved most about this novel was undoubtedly the setting. I loved wandering around Tokyo with the characters, exploring the big tourist destinations like the Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace, but also the little, lesser known streets with their ramen shops, karaoke clubs, and konbinis (basically Japanese convenience stores full of amazing snacks I need in my mouth like now.) I adored all of the descriptions of food (because I LIVE for food), but I also really fell in love with the portrayal of the city at night and all those twinkling neon lights. There is something surreal about cities after dark, and although this book is a contemporary, the dreamy way the city streets at night were described brought so much magic to the story. I found myself completely transported from my living room in London to the heart of bustling Tokyo.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Although the characters behaved in ways which annoyed me at times (I wanted to slap each and every one of them at some point), I found them to be realistic, believable people BECAUSE they messed up now and again. This story was a fascinating exploration of what it means to belong somewhere, a love story which made me happy-squeal, and a stunning depiction of a city I am DYING to visit.

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Mini reviews: “This Is What Happy Looks Like” by Jennifer E. Smith, and “Ink” by Alice Broadway

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

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If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

It’s June – seventeen-year-old Ellie O’Neill’s least favourite time of year. Her tiny hometown is annually invaded by tourists, and this year there’s the added inconvenience of a film crew. Even the arrival of Hollywood heartthrob Graham Larkin can’t lift her mood.

But there is something making Ellie very happy. Ever since an email was accidentally sent to her a few months ago, she’s been corresponding with a mysterious stranger, the two of them sharing their hopes and fears. Their developing relationship is not without its secrets though – there’s the truth about Ellie’s past… and her pen pal’s real identity. When they finally meet in person, things are destined to get much more complicated. Can two people, worlds apart but brought together by chance, make it against all the odds?

My rating: 3.5 stars

This book was a cute, quick read and the perfect summer escapism story. It’s pretty grey and grim weather in the UK right now, so it was lovely to spend a few hours in a small, sunny town in Maine getting away from it all.

I mainly purchased this book because I read the first few pages in the shop and discovered that the love interest, Graham, had a pet pig. A pet pig is the thing I want most out of life, but my boyfriend is not at all keen on the idea, so for now I’ll just have to live vicariously through Graham. I very much enjoyed all of the Graham’s-pig related anecdotes; although they weren’t the biggest part of the story, they were my favourite part of it.

The romance between Ellie and Graham was gentle and sweet. I wasn’t overwhelmed by feelings and chemistry because it happened fairly quickly, but I enjoyed reading all of the email interactions between them, and their banter about whether the ‘whoopie pie’, the supposed ‘state treat’ of Maine, actually existed. Graham’s determination to find somewhere that sold whoopie pies in Maine was a force to be reckoned with.

Ellie and Graham were both interesting characters. Reading Graham’s chapters left me wanting to give him a big hug. Sure, he was a famous movie star – theoretically he had it pretty good… But delving into Graham’s perspective reinforced what I already suspected: being famous would really suck. The thing which had me feeling most sorry for Graham was the way his family treated him differently from how they had before he became a star. Graham just wanted people to treat him like an ordinary person, but even his parents acted awkwardly around him. Poor baby.

Ellie had an interesting family background, and it was fascinating to see how secrets from her past impacted her relationship with Graham. I also appreciated how selfless Ellie was when considering their relationship and its consequences. She thought about how the press attention would impact her family, and treated her own feelings as secondary. But of course, I was rooting for her to get together with Graham anyway!

All in all, I really enjoyed this novel. It didn’t wow me, but it was a fun read that made me smile and took me away from rainy reality for a while. I’m glad I picked it up!


Ink (Skin Books #1) by Alice Broadway

INK

In Saintstone, every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever. When Leora’s father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all…

My rating: 3.75 stars

Ink is an underrated book – I haven’t heard anybody talking about it in the bookish community, but I would love for more people to read it. I picked this book up at YALC because a) the cover is SO gorgeous and b) the author spoke on her panel about writing this book whilst she had severe depression, and I thought that was such an incredible, brave thing to do, and an amazing achievement. It inspired me so much to get back into writing.

I’m really glad I bought this book, despite knowing very little about it beforehand, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful and fairytale-like, without being flowery. The plot wasn’t packed with action, yet the book felt pacey – the story flowed very smoothly, and the short chapters had me whizzing through the book. I almost want to go back and re-read it, because I went through it really quickly, and didn’t savour as many of the details as I would have liked. The way this book is written also feels very cosy – it’s the kind of book which would be perfect to read in Autumn, curled up in a blanket with a hot chocolate.

My favourite aspect of this novel was the worldbuilding. Although the plot itself was quite standard dystopian, and it didn’t throw all that many surprises my way, the society of Saintstone felt very unique, and the concept was woven so perfectly into every aspect of life within that society. I particularly enjoyed the use of the myths and fairytales which were scattered throughout the novel; these stories were the foundations of the society and its beliefs, and it was so interesting to see how those in power used stories, which they insisted were literally true, to strengthen their agenda.

I loved all of the scenes in the tattoo shop (or the ‘inker’s’ as it is referred to in this story) where Leora begins her first work placement. It was fascinating to read about all of the different marks people asked for, and the meanings behind them. I don’t have any tattoos myself, but I like learning the stories behind other people’s, and I loved that this book explored the idea of how much we can read into another person from the marks on their skin. Tattoos are a big part of many people’s identities, yet they cannot possibly reveal every little detail of a personality, and I liked the way that Leora, who has always believed she can read people, starts to question whether she truly knows the people in her life after all.

The reason this book just missed out on a 4 star rating was because I didn’t feel like the characters were super-distinctive. The society of Saintstone itself feels like the main character in this story, and the other characters feel like they are there to tell Saintsone’s story, if that makes sense. There was also a romantic subplot in this book which I felt was unnecessary. It’s such a small part of the story, however, that it didn’t bother me all that much.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a dystopian with a fresh concept, strong worldbuilding, and beautiful writing. Pick it up and let me know what you think!

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The most important book you will read this year: ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas

the hate u give

The Hate U Give. Angie Thomas. Walker Books. April 2017.

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. 


I finished The Hate U Give this afternoon, and whilst I have a bunch of other reviews waiting to be posted, I felt I wanted to post this one straight away, in light of what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. Books like this one are more important than ever at a time when hateful voices are trying to shout the loudest. Let’s not let them. Let’s listen to voices like Angie Thomas’s instead. And let’s shout louder.

The Hate U Give is an amazing book, and I’m struggling to covey just how powerful it actually was in my own words. This book deserves every word of praise it has received and then some. I firmly believe it should be required reading for all of humankind.

This is a novel about racism and hatred, but it’s also so much more than that. Overwhelmingly this is a novel about love and hope. For every act of racism in this novel there is an act of bravery, and for every feeling of hopelessness that things will never change, there is an encouragement to speak up anyway. Starr is an inspirational main character, and her love for her best friend Khalil, and her determination to show the world who he truly was (rather than let him be remembered as the criminal the police and media are portraying him to be), were so incredibly powerful and moving. There is a quote in this story, which is repeated on the final page of the novel, that sums up the overall message of this book perfectly: “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.” Starr completely embodies that message, speaking out even though she feels afraid, and even when everything seems to be against her; I had so much admiration and respect for her.

All of the characters in this novel are well drawn and memorable, because Angie Thomas is, quite simply, a fantastic writer. Starr’s voice is distinctive – you really feel like she is speaking directly to you – and all of the other characters are written with such depth, compassion, and humour that they feel like real people. I loved how close-knit Starr’s family were, and I loved the banter between them, which constantly had me chuckling. I think they may be one of my favourite fictional families of all time. I loved how real they were; they weren’t perfect, and they had been through some messy situations together, but the pure love they showed for each other in every scene melted my heart. I particularly loved Starr’s parents, and there is an amazing scene where Starr is watching them being cute together, and comments that her parents are her ‘OTP’, which is one of my favourites in the book. How adorable is that?

The character I liked least in this novel was Starr’s friend from school, Hailey. Hailey was so ignorant and insensitive, and if she wasn’t a character in this book, she’s exactly the kind of person I think would benefit from reading it, and educating herself. Hailey doesn’t consider herself a racist, but some of her actions, whether intended or not, are racist. I really hated Hailey’s unwillingness to consider her behaviour from Starr’s perspective, and listen to what she had to say. At the same time, I really LOVED that Starr called her out for her racism anyway, regardless of whether she could be confident it would sink in.

One of the things I found most interesting about this novel was the way Starr acted differently at her predominantly white school than she did with her family, or other people of colour. Starr changed the way she spoke, and hid huge parts of herself from the people she went to school with, including from her boyfriend, Chris, who was white. It was so heartbreaking that Starr felt she couldn’t be completely herself, because she was afraid she would be dismissed as the ‘girl from the hood’, and it was eye-opening to read from her perspective. It was wonderful to see Starr slowly starting to share parts of herself, and her life, with Chris, and her other friends, as her story developed, gradually learning to accept and love the place she comes from, despite its problems.

Garden Heights, the neighbourhood where Starr lives, was so well described, and had so much personality that it almost felt like a character in its own right. Despite the crime, poverty, and gangs fighting territory wars, there were so many wonderful things about Starr’s neighbourhood too, which Starr gradually comes to recognise as the story progresses; the sense of community, of family, and of neighbours who will always have each other’s backs and help each other out. Starr’s own father, Big Mav, is a perfect example of this; as an ex gang member, he is determined to help younger members of the community, and stop them from falling into the life of crime he was once a part of. Mav was such a caring, selfless, brave person, a real role model, and despite not being perfect, he was easily one of my favourite characters in the story.

Of course, this book had some devastating scenes, and I can’t write this review without mentioning them, although it’s very difficult to think about them, because they were so upsetting to read. The scene where Khalil is shot was abrupt, brutal, and felt like a punch in the stomach. Possibly the most difficult thing about this scene, however, was the reality of it. What happened to Khalil has happened to so many black people (predominantly young men) in America (and for all I know, other countries too, but American police brutality against black people is what I have heard most about in recent years). The fact that these murders of unarmed people, who are doing nothing wrong, happen in real life makes me sick, and the fact that the perpetrators nearly always get away with it, and are not charged with murder, turns my stomach.

The people who attempt to justify these murders by painting the victims as criminals, drug dealers, etc. (which is what happens with Khalil’s murder in this story) are also sickening to me. There’s a scene where Starr is being questioned about what happened, and, in her narrative, she tells us: “I didn’t know a dead person could be charged in his own murder, you know?” This really struck a cord with me; Starr is treated as if she and Khalil are the ones on trial, rather than the cop who shot Khalil, and this was, sadly, the perfect way to demonstrate how institutional racism works. Now that I have read this book, I want to do more research into institutional racism, and police brutality, because it has made me want to take action. It has lit a fire in me, as I am sure it has done in many other people.

I thought I knew what racism was before I read this story, but I actually came away with a sense of my own ignorance, and I think that’s why books like this one are so important. We need to learn by listening to the voices of those who have experienced racism firsthand, and we can always learn more. Voices like Starr’s, like Angie Thomas’s, are so important, and the time is NOW, considering we have white supremacist marches going on in America, and a white supremacist in the White House. We ALL need to speak out against this.

The Hate U Give really opened my eyes to so many things I had never thought about before, and I’m so grateful that this book exists. Despite the horror of what happens to Khalil in this story, and the insensitive, racist views of some characters, this book is not without hope, and it was thoroughly compelling to read. It is full of loveable characters, humour, and, most importantly, encouragement, inspiration, and love. This book had a huge impact on me, and I think it is impossible to read this book and come away wanting to stay silent. 5 stars for this incredible book. Please, please pick it up if you haven’t already.

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Most-exciting-book-I’ve-read-this-year alert! ‘Nemesis’ by Brendan Reichs

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Nemesis (Project Nemesis #1). Brendan Reichs. Macmillan Children’s Books. July 2017.

It’s been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, the same man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later she wakes up in a clearing just outside her hometown – alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him too, though he does his best to hide the signs.

As the world around them begins to spiral towards panic and destruction, the two troubled teens discover that people have been lying to them their whole lives…


I picked this book up at YALC, knowing very little about it, and I’m SO glad I stumbled upon it; this book was SO DAMN EXCITING! The concept intrigued me because it’s unlike anything I’ve read before, but that concept was only the starting point for a story which gradually became bigger and bigger, twistier and twistier. This book contained everything I want in a sci-fi thriller: conspiracy, action, shady behaviour, murder, unlikely alliances, and total chaos. The back cover compares Nemesis to The Maze Runner and The 100, but I’d add in a dash of Stranger Things and a sprinkle of Lord of the Flies too. Despite having echoes of these other stories (all of which I, incidentally, love) the plot was original and fascinating, I had no idea who to trust (if anybody), and it wasn’t predictable in any way.

The novel opens with the premise of these two characters who have had terrifying things happening to them since childhood that they don’t know how to explain to anyone else. This is intriguing enough in itself, however the premise is made all the more interesting by the fact that the strange things happening to these two teenagers are set against the backdrop of an impending global catastrophe; the whole world is on tenterhooks waiting to hear from the President of the USA as to whether the Anvil currently on a collision course with Earth will hit or miss.

Sidenote: this book is set in September of this year, and the President of the United States of America is referred to as ‘she’. I got a huge kick out of this.

It was so interesting to see how different people in the town behaved in response to the threat of the Anvil, especially because Min and Noah, our main characters, were far more concerned with the seemingly ‘smaller’ things which were affecting them personally (like, yknow, surviving being murdered in cold blood every two years, nothing major…)

Both Noah and Min were fascinating to me. Min was probably my favourite of the two characters, but Noah was the more complex. Min was determined, rebellious and somebody with a very black and white sense of justice. If she saw something wrong, she would call it out straight away, and defend whoever needed defending in that situation, screw the consequences. As you can imagine, I adored her.

Noah, on the other hand, was more concerned with fitting in, and often stayed silent and accepting when bad things happened. I think this was partly to do with the friendships in each of these characters’ lives. Min had a fiercely loyal friend in Tack, a boy from her trailer park she’d known since childhood, whereas Noah was on the outer edges of the popular crowd, ‘friends’ whom he clearly didn’t trust, and whose mutual affection he was never sure of. With such different relationships in their lives, Min was the more open and outspoken character (as she always had someone to back her up and support her no matter what) and Noah was the quieter, more submissive character (scared to go against his friends, fearing their rejection, even if he disagreed with the way they were acting). Although I admired Min’s bravery, I related more to the way Noah behaved. He was constantly trying to hide his anxieties, and make life less difficult for himself. I think that’s what made his eventual character development within the story so satisfying.

Sidenote: Tack was undoubtedly my favourite character over both of them. His sarcastic, quippy commentary about literally everything had me smiling throughout. He was brilliant; I wanted him to be MY best friend.

The best thing about this novel for me was the plotting. There was so much mystery in the story, and it developed at the perfect pace. I was amazed by the scale of this book, and I loved how something which started off as small-town weirdness gradually spiralled into something global which affected more people than I could ever have imagined. Although there was never any question that something strange was going on in Min and Noah’s town, it was never obvious WHY. The ‘why’ was the thing that kept me turning the pages so rapidly as Min and Noah attempted to piece the puzzle together, and figure out what the hell was happening to them

Around the ¾ mark, this book changed direction in the most exciting way, and I was left reeling. Something huge happens, which affects so many of the characters, and it was so interesting to see how different groups of people reacted to this event. It brought out the best in some characters, but the very, very worst in others. In the final quarter of the book, so many shocking things happened, and I felt like every page was a surprise – some of which were more brutal than others. The ending gave me enough information to satisfy my craving for answers, but left enough unanswered questions to leave me desperate to read the sequel. I NEED THE NEXT BOOK, LIKE, YESTERDAY.

All in all, I highly recommend this book! It was so, so addictive and I raced through it, desperate to find out what was going to happen next. I haven’t heard much hype about this book, but it thoroughly deserves some, so please go out and buy it, lovely people! I hope you’re reading experience will be as enjoyable and edge-of-seat as mine was.

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The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2017

Hello everybody! I hope you’re doing well. Today I thought I’d do the Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag, because I’ve had so much fun doing this tag in previous years.

If you’ve done this tag recently, let me know down below, as I’d love to see all of your answers, and find some more books to add to my TBR. (I’m not supposed to be buying books right now, but w/e).

Before I get started, I just wanted to let you guys know that The Mud and Stars Book Blog officially turns TWO YEAR’S OLD this week! Thank you so much to everyone in the book-blogging community for your support and general awesomeness over the past two years. I love you guys so much, and I couldn’t have made it this far without you.

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Without further ado, here are my answers to the tag…


Best Book You’ve Read Yet in 2017

oliphant

My favourite book of 2017 so far has been Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This book was so well written, so hilarious, and so deeply moving. Eleanor was such a memorable character, and reading from her perspective was a delight. This book completely blew me away and I can’t believe it’s a debut! You can read my review here.


Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far in 2017

lordofshadows

Hands down this has to be Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare. The ending may have ripped my still-beating heart out of my chest, causing a great big bloody mess, and I may be ever-so-slightly pissed off that I have to wait until 2019 to find out what happens next, but this book wowed me on so many levels. It’s one of the best books Cassandra Clare has ever written. My full review can be found here.


New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To

the hate u give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book, and the subject matter (racism and police brutality) is so important and relevant. It’s one of those books which everybody should read, and now I finally have a copy, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, asap.


Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

the treatmenmt

I was going to say The Treatment by C.L. Taylor for this question,  which comes out in October, but I managed to land an ARC of this book at YALC, so THE WAIT IS OVER (for me). I am SO excited to read this book. I love C.L. Taylor’s adult thrillers, so imagine my delight in finding out she has written a YA novel about a creepy reform school brainwashing its students. SO DOWN.


Biggest Disappointment

aftermecomes

After Me Comes The Flood by Sarah Perry. The writing in this book was beautiful, but the plot was such a let-down. When I bought this book, I thought it sounded AMAZING and creepy and intriguing. The premise is that a man’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere… he goes in search of help, and stumbles across a house. When he knocks at the door, he finds that the strange people who live there all know his name, and have been waiting for him… WHAT A CONCEPT, RIGHT?

Unfortunately, instead of something sinister and cool, the whole thing ends up being a coincidence caused by their actual expected guest having a similar name. The rest of the book is very slice of life, not much happens, and the ending had very little impact on me (in fact, I can’t even remember how it ended.) Basically, yawn.


Biggest Surprise

thehatinggame

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. I don’t know why, but I’m always surprised by how much I enjoy romance books. I only ever reach for them when I’m so tired my brain is mush, and I just want something fluffy to escape reality with. I never expect to be bowled away by books like this one, but I ended up giving The Hating Game four stars. I loved the characters, the publishing house setting, the enemies-to-lovers romance, and the unbearable sexual tension. UGH, SO GOOD.


Favourite New Author

vendettacover

Catherine Doyle. I binge-read her Blood for Blood trilogy (YA mafia romance, FYI) and I completely fell in love with it. I loved her writing style, her characters, ALL THE DRAMA AND ACTION AND DARKNESS, and, most importantly, the swoony, swoony romance. Highly recommend this trilogy if you’re looking for some excitement. You can read my mini review of the first book here.


Newest Fictional Crush

That would have to be Luca from the Blood for Blood trilogy. He’s the (stunningly attractive) underboss of a mafia clan, but deep down, he hates his family’s way of life, and just wants to be good. No YOU’RE lustfully fanning yourself at the thought of him!

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Newest Favourite Character

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Eleanor Oliphant; a lonely person, a bit of an oddball, and utterly, utterly herself. Her voice was so distinctive, and she felt so real. I loved her to pieces.


Book That Made You Cry

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I haven’t read many sad books this year, but the ending of Lord of Shadows, as you know, destroyed me, and History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, dear God, had me weeping from chapter one. I haven’t written a review for this one because I’m not really sure what to say about it other than it caused me to expel a lot of liquid from my eyeballs.


Book That Made You Happy

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That would have to be The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. Molly was an adorable main character with really cool creative hobbies, her romance with Reid was super-cute, and basically this book was FULL OF RAINBOWS. You can read my review here.


Favourite Book to Film Adaptation

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I recently watched the movie adaptation of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver on Netflix and I thought it was fantastic. The actress who played Sam portrayed her so well – she was exactly as I had imagined her – and the ending of the movie had me sobbing just as hard as the book’s final page.


Favourite Post You Have Done This Year

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I think the post I am most proud of is my ‘Self-care tips for book bloggers’ post. I wrote it initially because it was something I needed to hear myself, but I was also so happy that other people managed to find something helpful in what I wrote. ❤

Here’s the post if you’d like to take a look. It contains lots and lots of Pusheen gifs and it was made with love.


Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year

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I am still very in love with the cover of Caraval by Stephanie Garber. It’s STUNNING. My review of this book can be found here.


What Books Do You Need to Read by the End of the Year?

So, I bought several books at YALC…

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Ahem. I need to read all 22 books I hauled, because I am on a book-buying ban until I have done so. I don’t think I need to explain why. ^^


What’s been your favourite book of 2017? I’d love to hear from you. Much love to you all and I hope you have a fantastic week! xxx

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Book review: ‘Nothing Tastes As Good’ by Claire Hennessy

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Nothing Tastes As Good. Claire Hennessy. Hot Key Books. June 2016.

Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?

As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.


Trigger warning: anorexia, bulimia

I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about this book. Initially, as I closed the final page, I went straight onto Goodreads and rated it 4 stars, because the ending made me cry, and I always rate books highly if they draw that much emotion from me. However, after having a think, I decided to lower my rating to 3 stars, because there were aspects of this book which made me uncomfortable, and I cannot dismiss them.

The novel follows Annabel, an anorexic girl who has died of heart failure, and narrates the story from beyond the grave. In the afterlife, Annabel becomes a kind of spirit guide/guardian angel, and is assigned to help a girl called Julia down on earth. Julia is overweight, and Annabel immediately assumes that, in order to ‘help’ Julia, she must encourage Julia to lose weight.

The premise of this story was so interesting to me, and I found the way Annabel becomes the voice in Julia’s head, telling her she is fat and disgusting and will only be happy if she is thin, extremely clever. The things Annabel whispers in Julia’s ear are exactly the kind of lies her own brain led her to the end believing. Although making Annabel the ‘voice’ of anorexia was a clever concept, I also found her words incredibly uncomfortable to read. I understand that this book isn’t intending to fat shame anyone (in fact, it’s aiming to do the opposite), however Annabel’s words were so toxic and spiteful that I found myself taking offence to them. If you suffer from body self-esteem issues, I think reading what Annabel has to say to Julia, an overweight girl, could potentially be quite damaging (as indeed they were to Julia in the story!)

The other thing I found quite difficult about this read was the way Annabel’s anorexia was glamorised (albeit only by Annabel herself). I had some problems with food when I was a teenage, and I know that if I had read this book at the time, it would have enabled me massively. I understand why the author chose to write about anorexia in this way to a certain extent, because the voice is Annabel’s, and I know from the many, many thinspo blogs I read as a teenager that the way Annabel talks about the ‘perfection’ she is aiming for is authentic. However, I don’t think the realities of anorexia and the damage it does were explored in quite enough detail to counter this, and if you are recovering from an eating disorder right now, I would advise you stay well away from this book, because I believe it could be very triggering indeed.

Something I did really love about this book was Julia. Julia was a fantastic character, with so much going for her: she was intelligent, driven, and her passion for journalism (as editor of her school newspaper) was wonderful to see. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where the main character has an actual hobby, and I found it really interesting to see what a huge part it played in Julia’s story (particularly as the pressure to do as good a job as her predecessor was such a huge trigger for her eating disorder).

I also really enjoyed the romantic storyline in this book; Julia is in love with a boy who works on the newspaper with her. The love story was sweet, and it was refreshing to see a romantic storyline with an overweight protagonist where the weight of said protagonist was not an issue for the boy/something he had to come to terms with before he dated her. I was also really glad this book did not fall into the trap of having romance be what eventually ‘saves’ the mentally ill protagonist.

I didn’t love Annabel quite as much as I loved Julia, because she was a tricky character to get a clear picture of. Although the story is narrated from her point of view, we don’t learn an awful lot about her, beyond the fact that she starved herself to the point of heart failure. I thought this was a shame, because Annabel had the potential to be a really interesting character, but she lacked depth and development. Annabel’s character arc was very much about her realising how much she missed out on by making losing weight the focal point and purpose of her life. Whilst in theory that’s a positive message (because there is so much more to life than dieting), I’m not sure this context was the best way to convey that message. The implication here is that Annabel has wasted her life; she could have been bright and brilliant like Julia, had a hobby she loved, met a person she loved, and been happy, but instead she chose to spend her life starving herself. But the thing is… mental illness isn’t something you choose. Annabel may have missed out on those things, but at the fault of her illness, not of herself. Because of these implications, I ended up being a little bit confused about what this book was really trying to say.

Overall, this was a very interesting book, and I did enjoy reading it, but parts of it made me feel uncomfortable, and I’m not sure they were handled as well as they could have been. I really loved the ending, and found it very moving, but I think had the path toward that ending been lengthier, taking more time to explore all of the issues and ideas the book contained, it would have been a more solid read for me.

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My new favourite book of 2017: ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Gail Honeyman. HarperCollins. May 2017.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. That, combined with her unusual appearance (scarred cheek, tendency to wear the same clothes year in, year out), means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kind of friends who rescue each other from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.


I finished this book over a week ago, and I’ve been struggling to review it ever since. I loved it so much that I almost want to keep it all to myself, but I won’t, because I’m not selfish, and I want you guys to fall in love with it as much as I did.

I don’t read much adult fiction, because I find that YA fiction generally does a better job of handling the issues I am interested in. One such issue is a mental health, and I’ve found in the past that the only adult books which focus on mental health I can find are of the pretentious, literary variety. I feel blessed to have found this book, because not only does it portray mental health struggles, childhood trauma, and loneliness very well, but it’s also very down to earth and relatable. It’s a wonderfully written book, and it moved me so much. I have a feeling this book will become an all-time favourite.

I have thankfully never experienced trauma like Eleanor’s, but I have experienced clinical depression, and I have felt lonely. The chapters where Eleanor is going through a bout of depression were fantastically written. I have never seen depression portrayed so accurately; I feel so often that depression in books is only talked about in terms of suicidal thoughts and self-harm, and that the other symptoms of the illness, particularly the physical ones, never really appear on the page. This depiction was so relatable that it made me cry – not because it made me feel depressed, but because it made me feel understood. I also loved the focus on mindfulness as Eleanor starts her journey of recovery; Eleanor slowed right down and started noticing things around her, paying attention to the tiny, wonderful details of her world, and that is something which has been a big part of my own recovery; it was brilliant to see it championed in this book.

When I initially picked up this book, I was actually expecting it to be about autism or aspergers syndrome. The blurb talks about Eleanor’s inability to deviate from routine, and the way she struggles to understand social situations. However, as I got further into the book, I realised that Eleanor’s routines are her coping mechanism for dealing with her loneliness, and her lack of social understanding is a product of her upbringing, coupled with the fact that she is so often alone. Eleanor lives on her own, has no friends, talks to her mum just once a week, and she spends all of her time outside of work on her own. The most heartbreaking thing about the way Eleanor’s loneliness was handled in this book was that, despite insisting she is ‘fine’ with being on her own, her reactions whenever anyone showed her the tiniest morsel of kindness spoke volumes. It was both sad and heartwarming to see how touched Eleanor could be by something as simple as having a cup of tea made for her.

I wanted to give Eleanor the BIGGEST hug, not just because I felt sorry for her, but because she was such an endearing character. She had such an odd, formal way of speaking (quirky in a completely undeliberate way), and such a lack of social awareness (she could often be quite rude without realising or meaning to); she was characterised in such a humorous way that you couldn’t help but laugh at, and love, her all the more for it. Another thing I adored about Eleanor was that she had absolutely no problem whatsoever with being an oddball. She knew that other people found her strange, and she didn’t mind at all. Eleanor was just Eleanor… completely herself.

What I loved most of all about this story was the focus on friendship. This isn’t really a romance (though I believe one could blossom beyond the final page of this book), but instead is an incredibly compelling, moving story of friendship. I loved Raymond so, so much. He was an ordinary guy, with the odd gross habit, but a thoroughly, thoroughly decent one. Sammy (the old man whom Raymond and Eleanor rescue at the beginning of the novel) was also a real sweetie. The kindness Raymond and Sammy show to Eleanor in this novel is so simple, yet so touching, and I loved the way their friendship helps Eleanor to start taking small steps outside of her comfort zone, by providing an antidote to the loneliness she has been living with for so long, and a support system to be there for when she begins confronting some of the darker parts of her past she has kept buried since childhood.

I don’t want to say too much more about this book, because I would rather you discovered it for yourself, but I strongly urge you to pick this one up; it is so, so touching, so sweet, so funny, so sad, but so ultimately uplifting. I finished this book feeling so emotional, but in a good way. It is certainly the best book I have read this year, but I would go as far as to say it is also one of the best books I have ever read.

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Mini reviews: ‘This Savage Song’ and ‘Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore’

Hi everyone! So… I disappeared again. 😦 BUT… although I haven’t been blogging much, I HAVE been reading. Here are some mini reviews of two books I finished recently. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read either of these; I can see a lot of people disagreeing with me on the first one, but I’d love to hear from you all the same. 🙂


This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

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Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters.

All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection.

All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music.

When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

My rating: 3 stars

I think this is going to be an unpopular opinion, as I have seen so many 5 star reviews of this book, but I found it quite… boring. I had high expectations, because I adored Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, but I felt disappointed by this one. The thing I loved most about ADSOM was the world-building, but I found the world-building in This Savage Song to be the weakest aspect of the book. I found everything vague and confusing, and although there was a lot of info-dumping, it didn’t help me to develop a clear picture of the world.

Another thing which prevented me from getting into this book was the pacing. It was so slow, and when I hit the 200-page mark and virtually nothing had happened, I knew I had no hope of becoming a die-hard fan. I felt so let down, because everyone seems to really LOVE this book, but I felt like I must be reading a different version to everybody else; it never really gripped me, and I never felt desperate to pick it up.

Something I did like about this book was the characterisation. August and Kate both felt like real people, and I was interested by their (extremely different) backgrounds, and what kind of people those backgrounds has turned them into. Kate irritated me at times, because she could be unnecessarily mean, but I could see how being raised by a man like Harker, and then shipped off to countless boarding schools throughout her teens, had led to her developing such a hard shell. Although she wasn’t always likeable, I felt sorry for her, and I appreciated her for the complex character that she was. By the end of the book I had developed a soft spot for her, because I saw that shell beginning to crack.

August was a sweetie, and was probably my favourite character. I loved his passion for music, and the way it kept him grounded was so interesting to me. I also liked that he was just as complicated as Kate, despite not being ‘human’. Although he was technically a ‘monster’, he experienced struggles with morality, and fought hard for his sense of humanity, which made him the opposite of a monster in my eyes.

Overall, I found this book very slow, and although I loved the characters, I felt they were a little let down by the story itself. The book did pick up pace in the second half, and the last 50 pages were very exciting, so for that reason I ended up bumping up my rating from 2 to 3 stars. I probably won’t be reading the sequel, but I will definitely be picking up the sequel to ADSOM soon, and I’m not giving up on V.E. Schwab. I love her writing style; it’s just this particular book that wasn’t for me.


Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

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Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs―the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey Molina, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has inherited his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long-buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. 

My rating: 3.5 stars

I had a lot of fun reading this book, and it kept me gripped until the very last page. That being said, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. From the title I was imagining a cosier kind of mystery, but this book was surprisingly dark. Which was fine, because, y’know, I do love me some darkness. I think I just wanted this book to be quirkier than it ended up being. Don’t get me wrong, we meet some quirky characters along the way, and I loved the bookstore setting, but I think both of these could have been utilised more in the story. Considering the bookstore is mentioned in the title, I was expecting it to be more of a character in its own right, but it felt more like a distant backdrop. I would have loved more descriptions of the bookstore, so I could have had a clearer picture of it in my mind.

All this said, I did enjoy this book, and the mystery was fantastically handled. There were two strands to the story – the mystery of Joey’s suicide in the bookstore, and the mystery of the ‘Hammerman’ from Lydia’s childhood. I thought the way Joey left messages for Lydia in books for her to discover after his death was fascinating, clever, and original. Joey was an endearing, interesting character and I wish we had had the chance to meet him in the story before his suicide. He was a lost kind of character who spent all day every day wandering around the bookstore, and I identified with him a lot in that respect, because I am somebody who turns to books to help me make sense of the world and myself.

The Hammerman mystery was very gripping too, and the flashback scene to when the murders took place was terrifying. I slept with all the windows closed in 30 degree heat because I was so freaked out by the thought that someone might get into my house and bludgeon me to death with a hammer. The connection between the two mysteries was gradually revealed through some clever storytelling, and I didn’t guess anything until a twist towards the end led me to work everything out correctly.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book, and although I wanted the bookstore to be a bigger part of the story, I was thoroughly gripped by the two-strand mystery. I finished this book in two sittings, so I definitely recommend it if you want a quick, absorbing read to help you while away an afternoon.

 

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The Unpopular Opinions Book Tag

The Unpopular Opinions Book Tag is one of my favourite tags to watch on BookTube, and one of my favourite tags to read on WordPress. I’ve never done it myself, but I’ve always wanted to, so I thought I would give it a go today. I’ve done way too much gushing over 5 star books recently, so I think it’s time for a bit of balance around here, y’know?

Apologies in advance if I trash your favourite book or character. These are just my opinions, and if you loved these books that’s totally okay, they just weren’t for moi! 🙂

Without further ado…


A popular book or series you didn’t like.

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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. I actually DNFd this book 100 pages in because I hated the writing style SO much. Everything was described using nonsensical, douchey metaphors that were so jarring to the narrative, and the romance was just nauseating. You know when there’s a gross couple on the bus eating each other’s faces on the seat in front of yours? It felt like the literary equivalent of that.


A book or series everyone hates but you love.

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My answer to this question has to be Twilight. I know, okay, I KNOW that Twilight is shit. But… I will always have a soft spot for it. Twilight was the book that made me fall in love with reading again after spending the majority of my teenage years barely picking up a book. If I hadn’t gotten back into reading, I probably wouldn’t have studied English Literature at university, so, if you think about it, Stephanie Meyer is the reason I have a degree.


An OTP you don’t like.

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I’m not going to name names as I don’t want to spoil anything for the very small percentage of people on this planet who have not yet read Harry Potter, but I’m not keen on any of the pairings in this series. Perhaps it’s because I was way more invested in all of the Voldy-dramz, or perhaps it’s because all of my OTPs were non-canon 😉 but I just didn’t really care about any of the romantic subplots in the later books (unless we’re talking “always”.)


A popular genre you never reach for.

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I’m going to have to say historical fiction for this one. I own several historical fiction books, but they are gathering dust on my shelves and have been for a good while. I had The Book Thief for approx. a decade before reading it (though I ended up loving it), and I have a feeling it’ll be another ten years before I reach for All the Light we Cannot See; I’ve had it for two years already, and I’m just never excited enough to choose it next.


A beloved character you do not like.

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Sorry Chaolaena shippers, but I’m really not a fan of Chaol Westfall from the Throne of Glass series. From the very beginning, I felt like he had his priorities all wrong (what with the whole fierce-loyalty-to-a-barbaric-conquering-dictator thing), and he only continued to disappoint me. The man is a hypocrite because everything he struggles to accept in Celaena, he turns a blind eye to in the King. I hated the way he thought he could pick and choose which parts of Celaena to love. Not cool, man. It’s not love unless you accept a person in their entirety.


A popular author you can’t seem to get into.

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Neil Gaiman. I’ve read several of his books now, and, although I think he writes well, and his concepts are always intriguing, I’ve never been able to find an emotional connection with his writing. His books are reasonably entertaining when I read them, but they never leave a lasting impact on me. I finish them, then forget everything I’ve read.


A popular trope you’re tired of seeing.

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I am so sick of characters in YA novels who don’t understand how to breathe. How can you hold your breath so many times per chapter without realising you’re doing so? Unfathomable!


A popular series you have no interest in reading.

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So many! I have no interest in reading the rest of the Red Queen series (because the first book was just riddled with dystopian and love-triangle clichés.) I also doubt I’ll ever finish the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series. Let me clarify: I LOVED the first half of the first book, because it was all mysterious, atmospheric, and creepy… But as soon as we had met the peculiar children, all of that tension fizzled out, and I got bored, because there was nothing to anticipate any more. I enjoyed the build up so much more than the reveal, and I’m not all that interested in the story without all that awesome suspense from the beginning.


A movie or TV series you like better than the book.

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The Vampire Diaries TV show is infinitely better than the book series. I think it’s partly because the books feel very dated, but mainly because the characters have so much more depth in the TV series. Plus, book-Elena is precocious, irritating, and shallow, but TV Elena is an actually-likeable person. Also, and most importantly, the TV adaptation has Ian Somerhalder. Anything involving Ian Somerhalder wins.


Do you share any of my unpopular opinions? What are some of yours? I’d love to hear from you!

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