Book Review: Spare by Prince Harry

Spare. Prince Harry. Transworld Publishers Ltd. January 2023.

In the most eagerly-awaited memoir of 2023, Prince Harry tells his version of the story about the tragic death of his mother Princess Diana, life within the Royal Family and his marriage to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, with remarkable candour and directness.

It’s so difficult to review memoirs, and especially ones which have divided public opinion so dramatically, but I personally really enjoyed Spare and I ended up giving it 5 stars. I felt the ghost-writer did an excellent job of turning Prince Harry’s story into a compelling, emotionally evocative page-turner. The chapters are short and digestible, so despite the length of the book, I flew through it, because the structure really suited my short attention span.

I am not someone who has a strong parasocial attachment to the royal family, and I disagree with the monarchy’s existence from a political perspective, so I’ve never had a hugely favourable opinion towards any of them. However, for some reason, both Princess Diana and Prince Harry have always fascinated me – I guess I am drawn to people who stand out as being, thinking and doing things differently from those around them.

I’ve been following what’s been happening to Harry and Meghan very closely – I think their treatment by the press has been appalling, the racism towards Meghan absolutely disgusting, and it’s astounding to me that the tabloid newspapers and gossip magazines haven’t gotten bored of their smear campaign by now. Claudia Boleyn on YouTube as some excellent videos analysing this if you’re interested in learning more about the way the tabloid press operates in this country.

This book has been sensationalised by the media, picked apart, misreported and negatively reviewed by people who haven’t even read it, purely because they’ve decided they hate Harry and Meghan because the Daily Mail told them to. It has caused such a scandal that, naturally, I was desperate to get my hands on a copy. Whilst I knew the papers were talking bullshit as usual, the snippets I heard from the actual book intrigued me a lot. I actually pre-ordered it, which is something I rarely do these days. I’ll admit a big part of me wanted to read this book because I am thirsty for drama and I’d like to see the monarchy crumble!

But, as I began reading, I realised I was in store for something much more poignant, and I came away feeling even more empathy for Harry (and, surprisingly to me, for others within the royal system too). Anyone can experience trauma no matter how much privilege they are born into, and in so many ways, growing up within this elite system has actively contributed to Harry’s trauma. (If this system of unequal birthright isn’t even helpful to the people it supposedly benefits the most, surely it’s time to abolish it, no?)

This memoir begins with the death of Harry’s mother, Diana, and follows his journey right up until he and Meghan start their new life in America. The first few chapters in particular are a very emotional reading experience. I can’t fathom how painful it must be to lose your mum at such a young age (or at any age), and to have the whole world’s eyes on you whilst you grieve. It’s heartbreaking to see the impact Diana’s death has had on Harry – how for so long he was in complete denial that she had died at all, and believed she had simply gone away somewhere to hide from the intrusive paparazzi. The loss of his mother is something which has clearly shaped the course of Harry’s life, and the love he has for her is a powerful presence in every part of his journey. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but it feels like a huge part of the book is about his connection with her, even the parts that aren’t actively about her.

Despite the press’s insistence that this book is one big diatribe of hatred against Harry’s family, this is patently untrue. Harry may outline some things that *some* members of his family have said and done which have had a damaging impact on him (note – he doesn’t say anything offensive about the Queen, and clearly holds great affection for her), but he also continuously talks about his deep love for them, and how he longs to reconcile with them. In some ways, it feels like Harry has written this book *for* them, to get their attention and to get them to listen to his side of the story, after so many failed attempts at communicating with them.

You get the sense of a very dysfunctional family – a family so formal and detached they don’t even hug one another behind closed doors – and one in which the roles they play are seen as more important than the people themselves. The title of the book, ‘Spare’, is taken from the idea that one prince is the ‘Heir’ to the throne (William), and the other is the ‘Spare’ (Harry), born to be the back-up in case anything happens to his brother (including, for example, donating a kidney for him if required.) I’d heard the phrase ‘Spare’ before in books featuring royalty, but I hadn’t realised this was an actual thing within the British monarchy. And to me, this concept is all kinds of messed up!

As a child Harry is repeatedly referred to by everyone around him, including his own parents, as ‘the Spare’, and as he grows up, it becomes apparent he is to be used this way within the family’s publicity machine too: Harry essentially becomes a media scapegoat for the more ‘important’ members of his family; negative or scandalous stories about Harry (for example a fabricated piece about him being in rehab for teenage drug addiction) are allowed to run, unchallenged by the palace, because they deflect negative media attention away from those directly in line to throne. It’s not at all surprising that growing up being told you are less important than your sibling would have a huge psychological impact on a child, and it’s worrying to think of William and Kate’s three children growing up with the same dynamics in play. What impact will that have on their self worth and mental health?

In my opinion, this book is nowhere near as denigrating of the royal family as the press have insinuated, and it isn’t even anti-monarchy! Harry insists that he still believes in the institution of monarchy (although I have a feeling that one day he might change his mind). If anything, this book gave me slightly more empathy for people that I actively judged and disliked beforehand. Don’t get me wrong, I still dislike what they represent, but I came away with the impression that all of them are trapped within this toxic system, pitted against one another, operating more like a PR machine than a family, and I don’t believe it is healthy for any of them as individual people. You can see, for example, that in someone like Charles, the formal distance and repression of emotion is not due to lack of affection for his son, but because this behaviour is so deeply ingrained in him, and that’s how it has always been done within the institution. He constantly calls Harry his ‘darling boy’, yet he is unable to give him a hug to comfort him when his mother dies. It’s really quite sad to read, but somehow Harry paints Charles with empathy here – he can see that he is trying, and he knows it isn’t his fault.

Of course there are members of the royal family who come off worse than others – Camilla and William in particular – but if the things Harry says they have done are true, then I believe he has every right to share those stories. If Camilla truly has fed false stories to the press about Harry and Meghan, why shouldn’t Harry set the record straight about that? Why is he the one being condemned for ‘betrayal’ of his family? The account of William physically attacking his brother alleges abusive behaviour, and I hate that the reaction from the general public has been to laugh about the fact that Harry landed in the dog bowl, and to accuse him (the victim) of making it up. I find it so unsettling how our default position is to disbelieve those who call out abusive behaviour, to call them liars and label them ‘delusional’, and it’s very interesting to me that the comments from ‘royal source[s]’ following the publication of this book have not denied the contents of it, but rather attempted to portray Harry as mentally unstable by saying he has been ‘kidnapped by a cult of psychotherapy’. It’s worryingly easy to use somebody’s history of trauma and mental health difficulties to cast doubt on what they are saying.

The biggest villain of this story is the British tabloid press, and this book is Harry attempting to set the record straight about every false thing that has ever been printed about him, and every potential story that could be leaked about him in the future. He lays everything bare – his mental health, his relationships, his feelings towards the press – but I didn’t find anything sordid about the details he reveals. The press of course have latched onto the fact that he references losing his virginity, and that he recalls a time he got frostbite on his penis, but neither of those incidents are written in a sensationalised way within the text, and the latter is actually included to illustrate the level of press intrusion into his life – he was unable to seek medical help at the time because he was scared about the story making front page news in the tabloids.

I’ve seen a lot of people take issue with the fact that Harry claims to want privacy yet chooses to reveal personal details about himself that he knows will make the press salivate, but to me there is a huge difference between taking control of your own narrative and choosing which parts of yourself to share, vs. being stalked and harassed by the paparazzi and having horribly personal and/or untrue things about you plastered all over the newspapers without your consent. It boggles my mind that other people can’t see that!

One more thing I wanted to add before I wrap up is that I appreciated Harry’s willingness to address some of the *true* things that have been printed about him and take ownership of mistakes he has very publicly made (for example the extremely problematic time he dressed up in Nazi memorabilia for a fancy dress party.) I appreciated the work Harry has done to educate himself following this incident – it is clear that he has taken the time to listen to people who were actively affected by his actions, and to educate himself thoroughly.

There is so much more I could say about Spare, and it’s hard to accurately and succinctly review a book with this kind of context behind it and critical reception surrounding it, as I keep getting distracted wanting to discuss those things, rather than the content of the actual book. However, I guess I’d summarise by saying that this book gave me a lot to think about, I felt a lot of empathy for Harry whilst reading it, and the parts about his mother’s death really hit me emotionally and made me cry. I appreciate the bravery it must have taken Harry to write such in-depth insights into his own trauma. People are entitled to hold different opinions about books, but please make sure you actually read Spare before forming one, and don’t just listen to inflammatory things that have been written about it in the newspapers. In my opinion, it’s a very different book to the one it has been made out to be.


Attempting a comeback to book-blogging! (plus some mini reviews)

Hi everyone!

Sooo, it’s been a long time since I last posted on this blog, and even longer since I posted anything book-related. By this point, I doubt anyone in the book community remembers me, but if you do, hiiii! I really missed you guys.

I attempted to start blogging again in 2020, but it didn’t really work out. The last few years have been a weird time (for everyone), and reading has been difficult for me to concentrate on. I have been reading, but nowhere near as much as I used to, and although there have been books I’ve enjoyed, I haven’t been blown away by anything. I haven’t felt completely absorbed by anything I’ve read, and that’s really sad, because I used to get so squealy and excited about books.

This year I decided my new year’s resolution would be to read more, and so far that’s going really well. Whilst I haven’t loved every single book I’ve read, I’ve felt more involved and present whilst reading. I’ve decided I’d like to start blogging again, because I want to share my thoughts on stuff I’ve read, but I imagine I’ll be posting about other things from time to time too, because during the time where books stopped being my whole life, I became obsessed with a whole bunch of other things, and I’d like to use this space to talk about anything and everything I’m interested in!

It’s strange to me that I used to be able to read 100 books a year whilst working full time, yet I’m currently unemployed (apart from a tiny bit of freelance work), and am rarely able to read more than one book a week. I know it doesn’t matter to anybody but me, but I miss having the mental capacity to do that, and I hope it starts to come back now I am feeling more into my reading.

I wanted to write mini reviews of everything I’ve read so far this year in one post, but for some I had wayyyy too many thoughts, whereas others I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Therefore I’m going to split the mini reviews up into my next few posts, so you don’t have to read a whole dissertation today, and skip anything I’m feeling uninspired by, because nobody wants to read a bunch of reviews containing zero thoughts!

The Haunting Season (short story collection by multiple authors)3 stars

I picked up this collection over the Christmas/New Year period, as I was struggling with a short attention span and couldn’t sit down and focus on a full length novel. A few of the stories stood out to me, but the rest were unfortunately a bit forgettable.

A stand out story for me was Confinement by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, about a woman who is confined to her room for rest and recovery after giving birth, and becomes convinced that a witch (who local legend tells has murdered hundreds of children) is trying to steal her baby. This story gave me Yellow Wallpaper vibes, was heart-poundingly tense, and was the only story in the collection to give me genuine chills.

My other favourite was The Eel Singers by Natasha Pulley. I loved the evocative writing style and the characters, especially a girl named Six who is autistic-coded. (If you happened to read the post below this one, you’ll know I was diagnosed with autism in 2021, and I’m on the waiting list for an ADHD assessment. Since discovering my own neurodivergence, I can’t help noticing neurodivergent characters everywhere! Some of this is just my own interpretation, although I did some research and it seems Six was deliberately written this way, and it’s done well, so yay!) The story follows the characters from Natasha’s novel ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ (which I had not previously read) as they embark on a getaway trip to a strange village, where the locals who greet them behave oddly and keep singing an eerie song which none of them can get out of their heads. Not much happens in this story, and the ending was a little anti-climatic, so it’s hard to explain why I loved it so much, but I felt instantly at home with the characters (probably because I recognised myself in them), so after reading this I bought the other novels they appear in.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley3 stars

Unfortunately this book didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but I still enjoyed aspects of it. The story is set in Victorian London and follows a government clerk named Nathaniel who finds a mysterious watch left in his apartment, which ends up saving his life. This unlikely turn of events leads Nathaniel on a journey to track down the person who made the watch and find out how and why they saved his life.

Within the short story format, I had loved the rich detail of this author’s writing style, but within a novel which was already slow-paced, it made the story drag a bit. The writing was also a little clunky in places – although this was a debut – with some sentences being difficult to visualise. I found myself getting bored at times in the first half of the book, although the pace definitely picks up in the second.

I enjoyed Nathaniel and Mori (the Watchmaker) as characters, however I think I’d have gotten more out of the mystery and tension surrounding Mori’s uncannily clever clockwork had I not read the short story first (as I already knew all of his secrets). One thing I didn’t like was the way racism towards Mori was never challenged within the text. Mori is Japanese, and I understand historical context plays a part in how he is perceived by other characters, but there is no real discussion or exploration of racism, it’s just *there* and accepted by everyone. I felt the racist comments could at least have been challenged in Nathaniel’s private reflections, but despite his affection for and connection with Mori, he seems to just accept the racist remarks without question.

Six, the autistic character I mentioned, hardly appears in this book, but I think she features more heavily in the sequel, so I’m contemplating reading that at some point. Despite other characters not being as explicitly autistic-coded, I felt like a lot of them had neurodivergent traits, so I still found myself feeling at home with them. My favourite character, however, was Mori’s clockwork octopus, Katsu. He was adorable and mischievous and kept stealing everyone’s socks, and basically I would die for him. I will be very disappointed if he doesn’t make an appearance in the sequel.

Diana: Her True Story by Andrew Morton3 stars

I decided to read this book before diving into Prince Harry’s memoir, because I wanted to learn more about Diana. I am not a monarchist, in fact quite the opposite, but the institution of the monarchy weirdly fascinates, and Diana is someone I’ve always felt drawn to, not only because of her work, but because of the candid way she spoke about her mental health in interviews.

This book intrigued me because the way it was put together was quite remarkable: Diana gave interviews for the book in secret, whilst still living in Kensington Palace. Whilst it isn’t quite a memoir, working with Andrew on this book was Diana’s way of sharing the truth behind the public image of her life and marriage, taking control of her own narrative in a situation where she had none.

This edition contains transcripts of the interviews Diana gave, which are inserted before the main text of the book. I was gripped by this part – her own story in her own words – and felt desperately sorry for her given the neglect and, in my opinion, emotional abuse, she experienced within her marriage and within the royal system, as well as the incessant stalking she experienced from the paparazzi, who ultimately hounded her to her death.

Diana is obviously someone who comes from enormous wealth and privilege, yet her suffering behind closed doors is undeniable, and her manner of speaking and her life-long devotion towards others who are suffering, mean you can’t help but come away charmed by her and wishing you had known her. This book left me feeling so angry towards Charles and Camilla, the institution of the monarchy itself, and of course, the British tabloid press (who, given how they have treated Meghan and Harry, have clearly learned nothing from Diana’s death.)

I enjoyed the book itself, which gives more of a narrative structure to Diana’s words, adding context with quotations from friends and family members, and diving into her experiences in more detail. However, the book did feel repetitive in places, having just read a lot of the same information through Diana’s transcripts, and towards the end I felt it kept going round in circles, drawing the same conclusions about what a good person she was, and repeating these sentiments over and over again. I gave the book an overall rating of 3 stars, but this was based on the way the book was structured, rather than the content of Diana’s story, which I found fascinating. I wish that she had lived to write her own memoir.

And that’s all the books I have room to talk about in this post! Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

I’ll be back soon with more reviews, and I’ll try not to leave it so long this time! Lots of love, Jess xxx


Autism Acceptance Week! (Thoughts on ‘acceptance’ from a late-diagnosed autistic woman)

This week is World Autism Acceptance Week, and acceptance is something we are still fighting for, so I wanted to share some of my own thoughts and experiences as a late-diagnosed autistic woman. Whilst I am touching on mainly negative experiences, I want to clarify before I begin that A) I do not view being autistic negatively B) I am proud to be autistic and C) Autism is never the problem. Ableism is.

[Trigger warnings for: brief mentions of mental health problems, self harm, suicide, binge drinking, sexual assault, and bullying]

I got my autism diagnosis at the age of 30, after a lifetime of not understanding why I struggled so much with things that other people found easy. I never believed that I was good enough, I just thought I was a rubbish, useless person who wasn’t trying hard enough to be ‘normal.’ I could never live up to society’s expectations of me, and felt like I was failing at life. I hated myself SO MUCH.

I experienced severe bullying at school, and struggled with anxiety, depression, a suicide attempt, OCD, and an eating disorder. Most of my mental health problems were not diagnosed until adulthood, so I spent many years feeling like a fraud and not getting the support I needed from mental health services. I was constantly overwhelmed and exhausted at school, and had letters sent home about my attendance because fatigue led to too many sick days. I would fabricate reasons for being off school – usually saying I had a cold/flu bug – because I could never have articulated what was *really* wrong and been taken seriously.

At university, I struggled with burnout less, because my course had fewer teaching hours, so I got to spend a lot of time alone reading in my room. I was studying a subject that was a ‘special interest’ of mine (literature!), so it made me happy, and contributed positively to my mental wellbeing. However, a huge part of university culture is going out and socialising, and I wanted to fit in and make friends, so I would regularly drink excessively to the point of complete memory blackout in order to make myself feel more comfortable going to nightclubs, and being around large groups of people. On several occasions in my first year of studying, my nights out ended in situations I would now classify as non-consensual, after years of doubting and blaming myself.

All through my adult life, I have struggled to hold down a full time job, and have left every single ‘grown up’ job I have ever had without another to go into because of burn out, extreme anxiety, and depression. In one of my jobs I even experienced mental health discrimination, workplace bullying, and gaslighting, which in turn brought back all of the trauma from the bullying I experienced at school.

All my life, I’ve been asking myself: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I cope with anything? Why am I so vulnerable to bullying and exploitation? How can I change myself so that I will finally be acceptable? How can I become ‘normal’?

It is only since my autism diagnosis that I’ve realised that I am not a problem that needs to be ‘fixed’. I do not need to change who I am, because there is nothing wrong with me. I have experienced so much distress (and still do) because I have to live in a society that is not designed for autistic people and their needs, and which does not offer me the support I need to thrive. Every sphere of life, be it school, university, or the workplace is built by neurotypical people, for neurotypical people. Even standard initial help for mental health problems (CBT) does not take autistic differences into account. And the worst part is not even that we cannot change those environments to better meet our needs, but that people often do not understand and accept us when we inevitably struggle with them. They expect us to hide our distress and force ourselves into inaccessible spaces, and they make us feel bad about ourselves if we’re unable to do so. This is ableism.

We are not the ones who need to change. It is our ableist society which needs to change, to accommodate and accept autistic people. To stop expecting us to bend over backwards to live up to the norms of neurotypical people, destroying our mental health in the process. To listen to us when we are in distress. To believe us.

Often behaviours that are seen by neurotypical people as ‘problems’ that need ‘correcting’ are actually signs that the autistic person’s needs are not being met, that they are in distress. But sadly society’s answer is nearly always to try to ‘fix’ a behaviour that makes neurotypical people uncomfortable, rather than questioning whether this might be happening because the autistic person themselves is uncomfortable and finding a way to make them feel at ease.

Listening to autistic people is extremely important if you want to try and understand the autistic experience. And remember that not all autistic communication is verbal: non verbal autistic people have alternative ways of communicating and deserve be to listened to just as much as verbal autistic people.

Until diagnosis and becoming a part of the Autistic community on Twitter, I had never realised how much ableism autistic people face from the world, from organisations that want to ‘cure’ us, or give us ‘interventions’ as children, from problematic researchers who want to study our DNA and make pre-birth screening for autism possible in the future… even from everyday people we meet, who don’t understand – think we are being dramatic, too sensitive, making it up, lazy, not trying hard enough to function ‘normally’.

I can’t explain how invalidating it is not to be believed about your experiences. Autism is an ‘invisible disability’ meaning that nobody ‘looks autistic’, but a big part of the autistic experience is ‘masking’ (suppressing our autistic traits to make other people feel more comfortable), and because some of us are very good at masking, we might not ‘seem autistic’ either. We might not behave how you imagine an autistic person would stereotypically behave.

On multiple occasions I’ve had people say things like this to me: “You don’t seem autistic.” “If I were you I just wouldn’t tell anyone, because I never would have guessed.” “You’re only a little bit autistic, right?” “I always thought you were normal.” “Your autism is not severe.”

First of all, there is no such thing as ‘a little bit autistic’. People are either autistic, or they are not autistic. To be diagnosed with autism, you have to have every single trait on the list of diagnostic criteria. Every autistic person is different, and every autistic person will experience each of their autistic traits to varying degrees. That’s why it’s called the autism spectrum. This also means that every autistic person will struggle with different things to different degrees. Just because an autistic person is verbal, and isn’t having big meltdowns in public, doesn’t mean that their struggles are not real – they are just not visible to you.

Amongst many other traits, autistic people have sensory difficulties (meaning we may become overwhelmed by lots of sensory input – loud noises, big crowds, bright lights, strong smells) and social difficulties (meaning that social situations can be anxiety-inducing and exhausting for us). If you combine those two things, it is often a recipe for a complete emotional meltdown, and I am susceptible to these if I have had a long day filled with these things. When I get back to the safety of home, one more thing will tip me over the edge, and I will be rocking and sobbing uncontrollably for an hour, engaging in self damaging behaviours such as compulsively pulling my hair out/pulling my skin off. If everybody could see what happens behind closed doors, I can guarantee they would not question that I am autistic. Because people only seem to recognise autistic people when our distress is extremely visible (although sometimes, not even then.)

Despite the things I struggle with, I am learning to recognise that my struggles are not my fault, and that if our society truly understood and accommodated autism then I would not experience so much distress. I wouldn’t have as many of these kinds of meltdowns. If it wasn’t considered weird/abnormal for me to:

– be quiet sometimes – say no sometimes – for me not to make eye contact when I’m talking to someone – to give myself as much space and recovery time as I need between social interactions – to avoid loud, crowded spaces – to stim when I need to (stimulatory behaviours like rocking, tapping, flapping hands, etc. which help with processing emotions and sensory input) – or to let myself engage in the things that bring me joy/soothe me that other people might find odd (e.g. taking my plushies out in public)

… then maybe, just maybe, I would thrive.

Remember, also, that autism is viewed negatively because it is seen as ‘abnormal’ when compared to what the majority of people experience, rather than being viewed through the more neutral lens of simply being ‘a different way of experiencing the world’. If society accepted and celebrated people’s differences, autism would not be seen pejoratively by so many people (please, let’s stop viewing disability pejoratively anyway, if we do not have a lived experience of it ourselves.)

If society stopped telling us that there was something wrong with us, maybe our self esteem would be better, and we wouldn’t have so many co-morbid mental health problems. If society stopped asking us to ‘get better’ from something that is not an illness, and that we literally cannot change because it is in our neurological makeup, maybe we would feel more at ease, be kinder to ourselves. Maybe we could stop trying to force ourselves to fit into round holes, when it’s actually completely okay for us to be the magnificent square pegs that we are. Maybe we would thrive and be happy. If we were allowed to simply be ourselves, what a world of difference that would make.

I accept my autistic self fully, and I wouldn’t change myself for the world. But I am waiting on the world to change, to wake up and accept me for who I am too.

book review

Book Review: ‘What the Woods Keep’ by Katya De Becerra

What the Woods Keep. Katya De Becerra. Imprint Macmillan. September 2018.

On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home—on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.

Hayden tried to put the past behind her, and it worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and roommate Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade before, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.

As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, her friend Del in tow, it begins: Neighbors whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible—something that threatens reality itself.

I picked up What The Woods Keep because of its super intriguing premise. On her 18th birthday, our main character Hayden inherits the old Manor House, where she grew up, from her mother, who disappeared – presumed dead – when Hayden was 8 years old. Her mother has stipulated some conditions in her will, and to say they are a bit weird would be an understatement! Hayden must track down a mysterious key, find some ‘treasure’, perform a very creepy supernatural ritual in the woods, and ‘finish what her mother started.’ She must do all of this whilst ‘trusting nobody’, ‘especially the ravens.’

We follow Hayden as she goes back to her childhood hometown of Promise, Colorado, to check out the old house, taking her best friend Del along for the ride, and begins to unravel the mysterious clues her mother has left behind for her. From the very beginning, I loved the strange and creepy vibes this book gave me. It was never outright scary, but it was certainly eerie, and the descriptions of the house and the woods and the weird things which start to happen in the town from the moment they arrive, were beautifully atmospheric. I also loved the Edgar Allan Poe vibes it gave me, with all the spooky ravens skulking about!

Hayden was a mysterious character and I liked that we got glimpses of her strange past in the form of notes from her therapist. I wasn’t sure who I could trust in this book, but surprisingly, despite what we learn about Hayden, and the uneasiness she seems to inspire in other people, she was the one character I never doubted. Reading about some of the incidents from her past definitely left me unsettled though! 

Hayden has a fascination with science, inherited from her physicist father, and one of the things I loved about this book was that the beginning of each chapter related some kind of unusual and intriguing scientific phenomenon to what was happening in the story. Hayden has always been a logical person, observing things in a scientific manner and finding the rational solution. As the story progresses it becomes harder and harder for her to explain away what is happening with science and I loved the way the book explored the struggle in Hayden’s mind between the scientific and the supernatural.

The other aspect of this book I loved was the inclusion of conspiracy theories. Hayden’s father, who I mentioned is a physicist, is actually a disgraced scientist who lost his tenure as a professor and respect as an academic when he became obsessed with myth and folklore and his research took a supernatural turn. Hayden, like everyone else, has always viewed her father as a conspiracy theorist, and she has a strained relationship with him, so it was really interesting to see how that was explored and where it ended up going.

Despite really enjoying the story, I did think that the pacing could have been better. The beginning was a slow build and it took a long time for Hayden and Del to actually get to the house, but I did enjoy their friendship (and Del was a fun character with lots of personality!), so I didn’t mind too much. What bothered me more was the ending, which felt very abrupt! There was a resolution and answers, and it was all exciting and dramatic, but it ended very suddenly without any reflection or reaction from the characters. I would have liked an epilogue or something to see how the characters were affected by everything that went down! I felt a bit robbed.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and the author left room for a sequel, which I’d definitely read. It’s hard to define what genre this book falls into – it’s a mix of paranormal, gothic horror, fantasy and science fiction, so for me it had a little bit of everything I love in a book and was right up my street. If you’ve read this book too, I’d love to know what you thought of it!


All the books I remember reading in 2020!

Hello, bookish friends! Long time, no speak!

It’s been over a year now since I last wrote on this blog, and I’ve thought at times about giving up on blogging completely. I was feeling so uninspired, not just about writing posts, but about reading books too.

I feel like I’ve been in a year long reading slump. I *have* read some good books in the past 12 months, but I’ve read way more forgettable ones, and I’m reading at a much slower pace now compared with how voraciously I used to devour books.

I’ve been trying my best to read when I can, and not worry/put pressure on myself about the pace. I’ve read almost 30 books so far this year, and I’m pretty proud of that considering what a shitshow 2020 has been for each and every one of us. How can we be expected to concentrate?! (I’ve spent a considerably larger amount of time doomscrolling on Twitter, or playing Animal Crossing New Horizons in my pyjamas, than I have reading books, but I can’t be alone in that, surely?!)

I was going to do a post with my quick thoughts on all of the books I’ve read so far in 2020, however when I looked back at my list, I realised I’ve forgotten a lot about most of them! One of them I had no memory of reading at all! (Sorry, All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth!)

So, with that being said, I’m just going to talk to you today about some of the books I ACTUALLY remember reading this year! Without further ado…

The Night Country by Melissa Albert

This is the sequel to The Hazel Wood, and I loved how dark and twisty it was. I liked the way the fairytale aspects were interwoven into the urban setting, but my favourite parts took place in the fairytale world of the ‘hinterland’. Such a creepy, messed up world, and so exciting to read about. I can’t say much as this book is a sequel, but if you’re interested in finding out more about the series you can read my original review of the first book here.

The Little Book of Self Care by Joanna Gray

This sounds kinda harsh, but ugh, I hated this book! It had no substance to it, and the self care advice was stuff like ‘buy yourself a new lipstick’. Oh sure, that’ll cure my crippling depression, thanks!

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray

I read this because I was considering giving up alcohol at the beginning of the year, but then there was a whole global pandemic and I decided I needed to keep wine in my life. This is the memoir of a woman who was an alcoholic, detailing the story of how she became sober. It was really gripping, and although I don’t have a dependency on alcohol, I could definitely recognise the unhealthy parts of my relationship with it in Catherine’s story. Her journey to sobriety was really inspiring to read about.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown – Talia Hibbert

This was a cute romance, with brilliant chronic pain/fatigue rep! The love interest was okay, but the main character Chloe was amazing. She was sarcastic, dry, aloof and just generally swoonworthy! Definitely my book crush of 2020.

The Factory – Hiroko Oyamada

This was a super weird little book where we follow three people who have completely meaningless jobs at this gigantic factory where strange things are happening to the surrounding flora & fauna, for example rodents along the riverbank growing to impossible, freakishly large sizes. It didn’t have much of a plot, and was kind of boring in places, but it did have this weird/mysterious vibe which kept me reading, and I liked the surreal ending. In some ways, I think the boring parts were a deliberate attempt to reflect the mundane jobs of the characters. There was something I kind of dug about this one, and I would potentially re-read it in future to see what I get out of it a second time around.

The Test by Sylvain Nouvel

This was a cool, creepy, sci-fi novella about a futuristic British Citizenship test. Lots of Black Mirror vibes, and raises some very valid questions and criticisms about our country’s attitude towards immigration. I only wish it had been longer and had gone into more depth.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

A cute romantic fluffy story about a woman and her grandmother swapping lives/houses etc. (The Holiday style) for a few months in order to gain a fresh perspective on life and love. The grandmother was a brilliant character; I loved her chapters, and her adorable romance with the crotchety next door neighbour. However, I wasn’t that fussed about the granddaughter as a character, and her romantic storyline was very insta-lovey. I liked this book, but I loved Beth’s other book, The Flatshare, more.

Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams

This is a fantastic book following our main character Queenie and her experiences with sex and dating as she attempts to get over a painful relationship breakup. This book has some light and funny moments but also explores heavier topics such as the objectification/fetishization of black women, destructive/harmful sexual relationships, and mental health difficulties. It’s a book that made me both laugh and cry, and had a very strong and unique sense of voice – Queenie is a character who will stick with me.

Loveless by Alice Oseman

This is the story of Georgia who has just started university and is figuring out her sexuality/coming to terms with the fact that she’s asexual and aromantic. I loved Georgia as a character, and loved the validating message that not wanting a romantic relationship does not make you weird or lesser in some way. It’s great to see some ace rep, and I believe this is own voices too.  I loved the way Georgia’s friendships were portrayed and the importance given to them. Friendships so often take a backseat to romantic relationships in YA, yet they are just as important, if not more so. This book gave me so much nostalgia about my own time at uni, too – the setting was so well written.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

This was a really weird book, and I’m still not sure whether I loved it or hated it. I think I loved it! It’s set at a secretive, isolated, prestigious college for the academically gifted, who must relinquish all contact with the outside world during the 3 years they study there. Many of the students opt to study a mysterious substance known as ‘plasm’, and there is something pretty strange and sinister going on behind the locked doors of the laboratory. It’s such an intriguing premise, the writing is gorgeous and dreamlike, but it is incredibly slow, and VERY ambiguous. If you like your questions answered at the end of a book, don’t read this one. It’s one of those books I’m dying to re-read, however. I love me some weird gothic fiction!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

This is quite possibly my favourite book of the year so far, closely tied with the next one I’m going to mention. This story follows a woman named Nora who commits suicide and finds herself in a magical library between life and death where every book contains a different possible life she could have led if she’d made different choices. This book was so well told, so life affirming, and had me in tears by the end. It really touched my heart and gave me a new way of looking at both the good and the bad things that have happened in my life. The depression and anxiety representation is own voices, and Matt Haig’s writing about mental health always strikes a chord with me.  It feels like reading my own thoughts, feelings and worries, but rewoven into a wonderful story that I will undoubtedly read again and again.

The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne

This book, surprise surprise, made me cry. It tells the story of an emotionally abusive relationship, through the lens of that relationship having ended, and the main character Amelie going back to all of the places her boyfriend Reece made her cry, reflecting on their relationship, and coming to terms with the fact that it was, in fact, abuse. This was absolutely gut-wrenching. I felt everything Amelie was feeling, and I was so desperate for her to realise her own self-worth and begin to heal. I rooted for her so strongly, and went on such a huge emotional journey with her. I read this in one sitting, finishing it up at around 3am with tears all over my face and book! I love Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club Trilogy, but I believe this is the best book she has ever written, and hugely important. I want every teenage girl to read this, and if they are going through something similar, to recognise that through Amelie’s story and seek the support they need.

So, that’s it for this little 2020 wrap up! What has been your favourite book so far this year? I’d love to catch up with you, and I’m sorry it’s been so long! I decided to start posting again because I miss book-blogging so much, and I really hope I’ll be sticking around this time.

Lots of bookish love to you all, love Jess xxx

book tag

The Mid Year Book Freakout Tag 2019

Hello, bookish friends!

I’m so sorry for disappearing again! Life just got on top of me, but I am going to do my best to keep popping in when I can. I feel so bad for abandoning my poor little blog, and all of you lovely people!

Today I thought I would do the Mid Year Book Freakout Tag! As it’s almost the end of July, if I don’t do this tag soon, it’s going to be nowhere near the middle of the year! And I love this tag – I don’t want to miss a year of doing it.

Today is the hottest day of the year so far (it’s 37 degrees C here in London) and I am melting as I sit here and type this! Hope you’re all coping with this heat better than I am (or are living somewhere cooler!)

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

Best Book You’ve Read Yet in 2019


The best book I’ve read this year so far is The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell! I read the companion novel – Slade House – in 2017, and it was one of my favourite books of the year. Slade House is a literary horror, although I’d describe The Bone Clocks more as literary fiction with interwoven fantasy. It’s set in our world, but has fantastical elements running through it.

This book is about a war between two groups of immortal beings, and how a normal human woman named Holly Sykes unknowingly becomes an important pawn in said war. The book is huge, and split up into sections told from different perspectives, set in different time periods through from 1984, right up until 2043. Although only the first and last sections are told from Holly’s perspective, she appears in every single part, crossing paths with each of the characters in important ways.

This book is quite mind-blowing, with an epic scope. The characters are all incredibly well developed (especially Holly herself), and although it requires a lot of concentration because it is quite complex (every little detail has a part to play later in the story), I really ended up loving it, and couldn’t give it any less than 5 stars.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far in 2019


Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare is the last book in her Dark Artifices series, and this was another epic read, filled with so many emotions! I cried, I laughed, I felt unbelievably tense and stressed, and I was ultimately left with a very full heart. I loved how this series was wrapped up, and I’m so excited for the next series of Shadowhunter books from Cassie.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To


I’m really excited to read Recursion by Blake Crouch, which is a sci-fi thriller surrounding the idea of False Memory Syndrome. I’m really intrigued to see what Blake Crouch does with this idea; he always has such exciting, high-concept stories, and I have adored everything I’ve read by him so far.

Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year


I can’t wait for the release of All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle. I don’t know a lot about this particular book (I believe it has something to do with a family curse), but I love the way Moira Fowley-Doyle writes; her book always have a magical realism element, and she has such an atmospheric, dreamy writing style I just eat up every time. I will auto-buy anything she writes!

Biggest Disappointment


Forever by Judy Bloom. I got this book from the library, and I’m so glad I didn’t spend actual money on it. Judy Bloom is supposed to be the OG YA author, i.e. she wrote YA books long before YA was a recognised category. Forever is the story of a first relationship, but the characters were a bit bland and felt underdeveloped, so I found I just didn’t really care what happened to them. I also got really annoyed when the guy pressured the girl about having sex, because this wasn’t challenged at all in the text. It was just a case of ‘that’s what teenage boys are like’ rather than ‘that’s not ok!’  I know this book was written in the seventies, but still, it rubbed me up the wrong way. This isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but it was pretty forgettable for me, unfortunately.

Biggest Surprise


My biggest surprise was 99 Days by Katie Cotugno . This book doesn’t have the best reviews, so I had low expectations, but I actually ended up really enjoying this one. This book is about a girl whose author mother reveals her daughter’s most shameful secret by using it as a plot for her latest novel. I think a lot of people had issues with the fact that this book deals with cheating, but I honestly thought it was well handled, and that the emotions felt realistic. I think it’s also important that a book like this exists, because although cheating is wrong, so is the way we demonise teenage girls who happen to make a mistake, and I think this book makes that point in a way which really had me sympathising with the main character, despite the mistakes she had made. She’s a human being with feelings, first and foremost.

Favourite New Author


Dathan Auerbach! I read this author’s first book, Penpal, earlier in the year, and I have his second, Bad Man, on my Kindle to read soon. This horror/thriller novel follows a boy who is being stalked by an anonymous pen pal. It’s atmospheric, tense, and thoroughly, thoroughly creepy. I’m so excited to read more from this author.

Newest Fictional Crush


Leon from The Flatshare was a sweetie, and would probably make a lovely husband! Plus, the Irish accent… *swoons*

Newest Favourite Character


Okay, so this isn’t actually a character, it’s a real person, but I would love to be friends with Jenny Lawson, author of Furiously Happy. The book is a mental health memoir/collection of funny anecdotes from her life, and as I read it I just totally fell in love with her quirky, hilarious personality, as well as relating to her on so many levels.

Book That Made You Cry

3 choices.indd

Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia was a close second for my favourite book of the year. It follows a girl named Eliza who is the anonymous author of a successful webcomic with millions of readers, who does not want to reveal her ‘secret identity’ to the people she knows in ‘real life’. The portrayal of anxiety and depression in this book was so masterfully done, and this book made me feel so understood. This book had a huge emotional impact on me, and I think it’s the only book I’ve read this year that’s really made me sob (but in a good, cathartic way!)

Book That Made You Happy


The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders!  I absolutely adored this children’s book. It explores some difficult topics (mainly grief) but in the most lovely way (through a story about a land where toys come to life, and their owners can go to be with them after they pass away). This story really warmed my heart, and as somebody whose obsession with plushies is just as big as my obsession with books, it meant the world to me. If you like plushies too, you might want to check out my plushie-themed Instagram page @pigglypuffandfriends. I have so much fun with it, and there is a brilliant plushie community on Instagram.

Favourite Book to Film Adaptation


I haven’t seen any film adaptations this year, but for something that’s based on a book, I really enjoyed The Umbrella Academy series on Netflix (based on the graphic novel by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá). I don’t usually like superhero stuff, but this was quirky and fun, and the characters were everything. I even adored the ones who were supposed to be the bad guys! If you’ve watched it, let me know who your favourite characters were. Personally, I adore Hazel.

Favourite Post You Have Done This Year

I haven’t done many posts this year, but my favourite is probably my first post of the year, simply because it took a lot of courage to write it and get back into blogging.

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year


How stunning is this cover?! I haven’t read The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker yet, but I enjoy staring at it.

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

All of them! I recently made a list of my physical To-Be-Read pile, and I have almost 150 unread books. I am also going to YALC (the Young Adult Literature Convention) at London Film and Comic Con this weekend. so I forsee that pile growing considerably over the next few days!

Have you read any of the books I mentioned? What’s your favourite book of the year so far? I’d love to hear from you! 

Lots of literary love,

Jess xxx

book review

More recent reads: Misfit, Furiously Happy, & The Flatshare!

Hello, bookish friends!

Today I am reviewing three books I’ve read recently, all of which I enjoyed, but two in particular of which I absolutely adored, and are favourites of the year so far! ❤

Without further ado, here are my thoughts!

Misfit by Charli Howard


Trigger warning: anxiety, anorexia, bulimia

I heard the author of this book speak at YALC last year and I thought it sounded amazing. It’s a mental-health memoir about Charli’s experiences with anxiety, anorexia, and bulimia, and how her mental illnesses were exacerbated by her time spent working in the modelling industry. I found this book so interesting, and it also made me so angry at some of the things that Charli went through. Actively being told by her agency to lose weight or lose her job when she was only a UK size 6? Utterly despicable. I already disliked the idea of an industry that puts out these images of unattainably thin women and makes us all feel bad that we don’t look like them, but hearing about how badly the people behind those images are treated made me hate it even more. The way Charli was constantly criticised about her appearance by her agency made me feel sick. It was like reading about an abusive relationship – one which she was contracted to be in.

I loved the raw honesty with which Charli told her story, although I wish the book had had more of a focus on her recovery. It is marketed towards teens, and whilst there are some empowering messages in there about how we shouldn’t let anyone dictate what is beautiful, and that all bodies of all sizes should be celebrated, I feel that teen readers who are struggling with body image and eating disorders could benefit from learning a bit more about how Charli recovered from her eating disorder, and what help she received. This section of the book felt so brief, considering what a huge and important part of the story this is. The other thing that bothered me was that there is a comment towards the end about how we can ‘choose whether [we] want to be happy or not’, and that didn’t sit well with me. Yes, in order to recover from a mental illness you have to want to, but you have to work unbelievably hard to do so; it’s not as simple as a mere choice.

Despite these issues, I thought this was an important and well-written memoir, but I would recommend this to someone who wants to learn more about eating disorders, rather than to somebody who is recovering from one. I think it could be triggering, and not necessarily helpful to that process, as the focus is more on the experience of the illness rather than the recovery from it. Charli herself points this out at the beginning of the book, and I thought that was really helpful.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson


This is another mental-health memoir, although it’s not structured like a memoir. It’s more like a collection of random thoughts and anecdotes, some of them related to mental illness, some of them just funny stories from the author’s life. I didn’t know much about the author going into this book, but she has a very successful blog called ‘The Bloggess’. I picked this up because of the mental health representation, rather than any particular attachment to the author, but having read this, I now want to read everything she has ever written and be her best friend.

The front cover of this book describes it as ‘a funny book about horrible things’. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this book is genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious. Like, I snorted with laughter at least once per page. Jenny’s humour can be quite whacky, and perhaps it won’t be for everyone, but she honestly had me in stitches, even when she was talking about difficult topics such as her depression and anxiety.

I loved that this book wasn’t only about mental health. Jenny Lawson is so much more than her mental illnesses, and I loved that some of the stories in here were just about weird things that have happened to her, funny arguments she’s had with her husband, and the hilarious hijinks of her taxidermy racoon (pictured on the cover). I know it seems an obvious statement – that mental illness isn’t somebody’s whole identity – but sometimes I forget this about myself, and it’s quite affirming to read something like this and think… oh yeah, my life is multi-faceted and full of hilarity too; my mental illness isn’t ME.

Whilst this book made me laugh consistently, it also really moved me in places. My favourite passage in this book was about something called ‘The Spoon Theory’, and it really resonated with me and my own experiences with depression:


I loved this book to pieces, and I might be in love with Jenny Lawson now. I definitely want to check out her blog and other book asap.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary


I listened to this as an audiobook, and absolutely adored it! It’s a heart-warming rom-com about Tiffy and Leon, who share a flat (and a bed) but have never met each other. One of them works nights, and the other during the day, so they never cross paths in person, but they start getting to know each other by leaving each other messages on post-it notes around their flat. I absolutely adored the main characters and the developing relationship between them. I loved how outgoing and fun and herself Tiffy was. I loved her thoughtfulness and her curiosity. Leon was introverted, awkward and sarcastic, but he had such a pure and lovely heart. He was so caring, so decent. The romance was perfectly paced, and the chemistry was spot on. It gave me the warm fuzzies, the butterflies – everything you want from a romance. The notes they wrote to each other made me laugh, and I loved the awkwardness of their first face to face encounter! It made me smile so much.

All the characters, even the minor ones, were well-developed and fleshed out. I found myself really caring about all of the subplots, and I loved that there was more to this book than the romance. Some of them were quite hard-hitting (Leon’s brother Richie is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and Tiffy is being harassed by her emotionally abusive ex boyfriend), whilst others were light and heart-warming (Tiffy, a book editor, is working with an eccentric author on a book about crochet, and Leon, a palliative care nurse, is trying to track down the long lost love of one of his patients). I was so invested in every storyline, and that’s a testament to how much I cared about Tiffy and Leon. I felt gutted when things went badly for them, and genuine joy when things worked out. I don’t have any personal experience with emotionally abusive relationships, but I thought Tiffy’s storyline was so well handled, and it was amazing to see her start to recover from this, not as a result of her new relationship, but because of her own inner strength, and the support of her friends. I think it raised some important awareness about this type of abuse.

I don’t have a bad word to say about this book. It was a wonderful pick-me up, and one of my favourite things I’ve read this year.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 🙂 

Lots of literary love, Jess! xxx

book review

Recent reads: Giant Days & Dear Evan Hansen!

Happy Sunday, bookish friends!

Today I am reviewing a couple of the books I’ve read recently! Both books are in fact novelisations of pre-existing stories that have been told in another format (the first being the novelisation of a musical, and the second the novelisation of a musical!) I was going to call these ‘mini reviews’, but I realised that what I call ‘mini’ is not actually all that mini… I tend to get carried away with my thoughts haha. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy these ‘mid-length reviews’ of two books I have recently enjoyed!

Giant Days by Non Pratt


Giant Days is the novelisation of the comic book series of the same name by John Allison. I haven’t read the graphic novels so I am not really sure how the two formats compare, but I have seen quite a few Goodreads reviews from fans of the comics who have been disappointed by this novelisation. Having no comparison, I actually really enjoyed the novel, although I had some issues with it.

The story essentially follows three friends  – Susan, Esther and Daisy  – in their first term of university. Each girl has their own storyline: Susan is trying to avoid a boy from home whom she has some *history* with, Esther is trying to befriend a goth girl from her course whom she idolises but who isn’t actually very nice, and Daisy has joined a yoga society which may or may not be a cult! Although there are storylines, this book didn’t really feel like it had a plot. It’s a slice of life kind of story, which is okay as I enjoyed reading about the lives of these girls, but I can see why this type of story probably works better as a graphic novel.

I found this book very funny, and I really enjoyed all three of the characters. That being said, these characters in some ways felt like caricatures. They were all very quirky, and their dialogue was whip smart, but they didn’t feel all that much like real people. I felt like they had been written to be entertaining first and foremost, and that stopped me from connecting deeply with any of them. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as their antics were very amusing, but it meant that overall I was purely entertained by the novel, rather than wowed by it.

Nevertheless, I did think the novel covered some important topics relating to university life, namely the ups and downs of choosing and making new friends, finding somewhere you belong, and trying to forge a new path for yourself at university. Although it explores these topics through far-fetched, comedic storylines, I still found there was wisdom to be drawn from them.

I’d love to give the comics a try at some point, so if you have read them, please do let me know what you thought of them!

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich


(Trigger warnings: anxiety, depression, suicide)

Dear Evan Hansen is the novelisation of a musical of the same name. I’ve never watched the musical Dear Evan Hansen, but I have listened to the soundtrack a lot, and I absolutely adore the songs and their message.

The story follows a boy named Evan Hansen who has severe anxiety. His therapist asks him to write a letter to himself every day, beginning with the words ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. When a boy called Connor gets hold of one of Evan’s letters, and later commits suicide, Evan’s letter is found with Connor, and Connor’s parents wrongly assume that Connor wrote the letter to Evan, and that they were best friends. Anxious, confused and lonely, and not wanting to upset Connor’s parents, Evan finds himself going along with the lie. He finds himself drawn into the fold of this grieving family,  feeling like he belongs somewhere for the first time in his life. And, as he begins to feel a connection to this boy he never knew, Evan decides to start ‘The Connor Project’, a movement designed to remember his ‘friend’, and reassure others who feel alone that they are not.

I have a huge emotional connection to the soundtrack, but I didn’t find the novelisation had quite the same impact on me. There are some emotionally empowering and emotionally devastating songs in the musical that honestly give me chills, and the message that everyone deserves to be remembered and recognised, and that nobody deserves to be alone and forgotten is a big theme. This message was definitely in the book, but I didn’t feel it came across as strongly as it does in the musical. It didn’t stir me up in quite the same way. Nevertheless, there were some things that got me, especially the representation of Evan’s anxiety, loneliness, and struggles to fit in – I thought they were very relatable, well-written, and at times heartbreaking. I also found a particular scene between Evan and his mum extremely moving, and it made me cry, just as its musical equivalent did.

It’s a hard story to ‘enjoy’, because you spend a large part of the reading experience feeling uncomfortable and conflicted. Obviously what Evan does is very wrong, and the more time he spends with Connor’s family, and the deeper he gets into the lie, the more nauseous you feel about what he is doing. Yet at the same time, you also find yourself feeling desperately sorry for Evan. It’s heartbreaking when he starts to feel this connection to Connor as somebody he perhaps really could have been friends with, but now never will. He’s so lonely, and the only friend he has is essentially imaginary (as he never really knew Connor), and that just made me want to comfort him, despite how problematic his actions were becoming.

I felt that the ending of the story was a bit rushed, and I wish that the fall out was explored in more depth, but I thought the very ending hit the right emotional notes, and I think overall it was a good, if imperfect, book, which has earned a place in my heart. The story is one that makes me realise I am not alone, and helps me towards starting to accept myself, especially when told in its musical format. I definitely recommend listening to the soundtrack before you read this book, as I think you will get even more from it if you do. I would love to see the musical on stage someday!

Have you read either of these books, or consumed either of these stories in their other formats? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!

Lots of literary love, Jess! xxx

book review

Books I’ve read recently: mini reviews!

Happy Friday, lovely bookish people!

Today I thought I’d share with you my thoughts on some of the books I’ve read since my last post! I’ve actually read 5 (almost 6) books since I last updated, but I’m only reviewing 3 today otherwise this post would be ridiculously long (even for me, who can’t help but turn everything I write into a dissertation!) More mini reviews coming soon. 🙂

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro


This book is the first instalment in a YA mystery series following the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (Charlotte and Jamie), who meet at boarding school, and become friends when they are both seemingly implicated in the murder of one of their classmates. They start working together to find out who is trying to set them up, and who the real murderer is.

I really enjoyed this book, but I loved the first half a lot more than the second. What I loved most about this book were the characters, and watching their friendship develop. Charlotte and Jamie are undoubtedly similar to Conan Doyle’s characters, but because this is so obviously intentional you can appreciate how well the spirit of those beloved old characters is captured in these new ones. I thought Watson was a loveable narrator, and Holmes a fascinating character. I loved seeing Sherlock’s traits in a female character; I think it’s rare to see female characters struggle to express emotions, and be unapologetically haughty, and I really enjoyed both of those things about her! I found the dialogue of both characters sharp, often funny, and I loved the banter between our two leads.

What I didn’t love so much about this story was the mystery itself. I didn’t find myself fully invested, and although I didn’t necessarily work out what was going to happen in the end, I didn’t feel all that shocked by the outcome either. The other thing is that I had to suspend my disbelief a LOT when it came to the things Holmes and Watson pulled off, but I guess that’s kind of the point; the tension and stakes were certainly high!

I definitely want to carry on with the series, because I am invested in the relationship between the characters, so I am hoping that I will feel more compelled by the mysteries in the next two books.

Never Trust a Rabbit by Jeremy Dyson


I found this collection very entertaining, but I had a few issues with it too. Overall the stories were dark and surreal, but unlike a lot of stories in the ‘weird fiction’ genre, these all had fairly satisfying resolutions that often had a poignant point to make. I really appreciated this, because sometimes the endings of these kinds of stories can be *too* ambiguous.

The stories I loved most in here were ‘City Deep’ and ‘The Maze’. Both of these were extremely unsettling. City Deep is about a forgotten branch of the London Underground where something ‘other’ is lurking, and I am still thinking about how spooked I was by this story. I had to take the tube the day after reading it, and my heart was beating so fast, purely from thinking about the creepiness of this story’s ending. ‘The Maze’ is about a man who remembers a maze in a park that he visited as a child, but he can’t seem to find anybody else who remembers it too. This story was weird in the best way, and the ending was quite shiversome!

I don’t think there were any stories that I wasn’t entertained by, but some of them bothered me because of the way their male narrators talked about women and women’s bodies. What I will say, however, is that the sleaziest and most unlikeable characters were not rewarded for their behaviour, so I did appreciate that, even though reading their thoughts did make me feel uncomfortable. ‘The Engine of Desire’ is a particular story I had this issue with, and I would give a trigger warning for rape with this story. However, if that is something you are okay with reading about, the story is very interesting, and the ending fantastically creepy.

The other issue I had is that there is some homophobia throughout the text, which wasn’t relevant to the stories, so had no reason for being there. This book was published almost 20 years ago, so it’s not necessarily surprising (and I am sure it would have been edited out if being published in more recent times), but it’s there, so just be aware of that going into this.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this collection. If you like all things creepy and strange, this is definitely worth picking up!

Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison


I picked this book up at YALC last year, after really enjoying Freshers by the same writing duo. I didn’t love this one quite as much as their other book, but I still found it entertaining, funny, and relatable, as well as being a quick, fun read.

The story is told in alternating perspective chapters, and follows two characters called Hannah and Sam who meet during the summer before they start university. Both characters want to lose their virginity before they go off to college, so there are a lot of references to sex in this book, and it was quite refreshing for a YA book to be so sex-positive (and in a realistic way too – yay!) The romance between Hannah and Sam was a little bit frustrating, because it took them a long time to sort themselves out and get together. I don’t mind slow burn romances, but theirs was more a case of a whole ton of miscommunication, misunderstandings, and unnecessary jealousy! I really just wanted to smack their heads together.

Despite my frustrations with the romance, I did actually like Hannah and Sam as characters, and there were a lot of hilarious side characters in this story too. One of my favourite things about this book was the comedy – Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison write humour so well. There were some characters that I hated though, one of them being Hannah’s best friend Stella. Their friendship was so toxic, and I found it hard to understand why they were even friends?!

A lot of the story focuses on the summer being a kind of limbo period for Hannah and Sam. They’ve finished school, and they’re waiting to get their exam results to find out whether they’ve got into their chosen universities. I thought the anxieties about exam results were well portrayed, and I think a lot of teenagers (and adults who have been through this experience) will relate to this! I also really enjoyed reading about the (separate) holidays our main characters go on during that summer; that period just before university is such a strange time because you feel so much more grown up than you are, and experiences like the freedom of first holidays with friends instead of parents can turn out very differently from how you expect them to be. I thought this was really well reflected in Hannah’s experience in Kavos with her friends, where her behaviour and feelings, as well as theirs, end up surprising her.

All in all, I enjoyed this novel a lot, despite a few minor frustrations, and I can’t wait to read whatever these authors come out with next.

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear what you thought of them!

Lots of literary love, Jess xxx

book tag

The Spring has Sprung Book Tag

Hello, lovely bookish people! 

Today I thought I would have a go at the ‘Spring has Sprung’ Book Tag, which was created by The Naughty Librarian.

It doesn’t look much like spring outside my window right now, so here are some pictures of some lovely spring flowers to get us all in a sunny mood (featuring my stuffed pig, ‘Piggly Puff’: he has his own Instagram account and has more followers than this blog!!!)

Hope these cute pictures brought you some warm fuzzies on this cold, un-springlike day!

Without further ado, here are my answers to the tag. If you would like to participate too, consider yourself tagged! 🙂

1) Flowers: All the flowers we remember are blooming again. Pick a book that’s a fresh take on a retelling.

Okay, so this is a weak start, but I’m struggling to come up with an answer for this question. I very rarely read re-tellings any more, simply BECAUSE they don’t feel fresh to me.


It’s not strictly a retelling, and I haven’t actually read it yet, but I’ve got A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro on my shelf, and I’m so excited to get to that! It’s the start of a murder mystery series which follows the descendants of Sherlock and Watson at boarding school! Sounds like a unique spin on the original stories, and exactly my kind of book.

2) Mini Eggs: Obviously the superior springtime candy of choice. Pick a book that you consider to be a sweet treat.


Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch was a really cute and fluffy treat (despite having some sad parts to it). The romance was adorable, the setting (Tuscany, Italy) was beautiful, and the storyline of the main character getting to know her estranged father melted my heart too. It really was the novel equivalent of eating a super sweet and yummy ice cream on a sunny day, and it filled me with joy.

3) Allergies: Seasonal allergies often make your eyes water. Pick a book that made you cry.


All of the books in The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. I will never get over the fate of a certain character in this series. I have honestly never cried so much whilst reading a book as I did during this one scene. The books follow a boy named Todd in a dystopian world where all the women have disappeared, and all the men can hear each other’s thoughts. Then, one day, Todd stumbles across a girl…

4) Spring Cleaning: Out with the old and in with the new. Pick a book to unhaul.


I’m thinking of unhauling The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King by Holly Black. I picked up the sequel for 50p in the charity shop before I’d read the first one, and now I’ve read it I’m not sure I can be bothered to continue with the series. I gave it 3 stars and found it quite forgettable, plus I only like a couple of the characters, and Prince Cardan definitely isn’t one of them! I sort of like Jude, but not enough to fall in love with this series.

5) Spring Break: It’s the perfect time for an adventure. Pick a book involving a road trip.


I loved The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. Set in the 1700s, the story follows Monty, Felicity and Percy as their Grand Tour across Europe goes wildly awry. This book is full of crazy escapades, hilarity, and diverse, loveable characters. It’s so fast paced for historical fiction, and I loved every unexpected twist and turn of this adventure.

6) Mating Season: It’s that time of year in the animal kingdom to make some babies. Pick a book with some smutty delights.


It’s been a while since I read it, but I really loved Smut by Karina Halle. It’s a hate-to-love romance about a guy and a girl who are paired up for a project in their college creative writing class. They decide to write an erotic novel together to make some money, and the tension between them starts to turn into something a little less fighty, and a lot more makey-outy.

7) Rainbows: Spring is made of rainbows! Pick a book featuring LGBTQ+ character(s).


I feel like I mention this book all the time, but my favourite LGBTQ+ book is Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson. It’s so pure and sweet and fluffy and lovely. It’s set in an arts and crafts store, the dialogue is really witty and fun, the characters are a joy to read, and the romance is adorable. It has some really lovely and positive coming-out scenes too, which I think is important to see in books. This novel really is one of my favourites of all time, I can’t recommend it enough.

8) Spring Awakening: An amazing musical even though it’s filled with completely dysfunctional characters. Pick a book that’s also filled with completely dysfunctional characters.


I actually just wrote about this book in my last post, but it fits perfectly for this question – Monsters by Emerald Fennell. This is basically about two 12 year olds who are obsessed with murder. At least one of them is a sociopath. The other comes from a very dysfunctional and sad family background. This is such a well-written, character-driven book, and one of the best I’ve read this year.

9) In like a lion, out like a lamb: Pick a book series that didn’t get better as it progressed.


I’m sure this is an unpopular opinion, but I feel like the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor progressively deteriorated. I really loved the first book, but I felt like the second and third books dragged, and they were so utterly bleak and harrowing, I felt very little joy whilst reading them. The only thing I ended up liking about them were any scenes featuring Zuzana and Mik, because they are just the best, most hilarious and adorable side characters of all time.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Lots of literary love, Jess xxx