Booktok Lied To Me: The Secret History Review

Did I enjoy The Secret History? No. But were the vibes immaculate? Yes.


Name: The Secret History

Author: Donna Tartt

Published: 1997

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.


Maybe to say I didn’t enjoy it is a little dramatic; I’ve read worse. But it’s the sort of book you appreciate more after you’ve read it than during.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is tantalizingly character based. While this is fascinating to analyze when you’ve finished the book, but for me, it didn’t make for a gripping read. When something did happen in the plot, combined with the previous character studies and powerful writing style, it was amazing. I sailed through the last 60 pages, and felt genuinely scared when Bunny died.

But the rest of the book? It was the five getting drunk and passing out, or getting drunk and going for a walk, or getting drunk and arguing. Julian wasn’t this mastermind he was set out to be and the weather had as much page time as Francis.

The biggest disappointment? I have to admit, The Secret History is the epitome of ‘Booktok made me read it’. I’d seen so many raving reviews praising the atmosphere that I went into reading with high expectations. I’d expected a pretentious read – sure, there’d be lot of classical references but enough substance to pull through.

And yes, in some ways, The Secret History was worth the hype. A few passages will stay with me for a very long time, and I’m left with a very strong impression of youth and classical civilization and murder and cold weather. But whilst reading? Boring as anything.


What about you? Have you had a similar experiences where Booktok let you down? Or any other overhyped books that just weren’t as good as you expected? Let me know in the comments!

If you wanna find more of this type of content, check out my Worth the Hype series here! From The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo to Red White and Royal Blue, I’m reading popular books so you don’t have to. To answer the question once and for all… are any of these books really worth the hype?

ARC Review: Not Good For Maidens

Not for the faint of hearts or weak of knees, this is an incredibly visceral, brutal book. In short: bi panic means aunt is nearly eaten by sexy goblins, while her ace niece uses ace superpowers to avoid goblin seduction… but her family cracks under weight of witchy lies.


Name: Not Good For Maidens

Author: Tori Bovalino

Publish date: 13th September 2022

Louisa doesn’t believe in magic, until her teenage aunt Neela is kidnapped to the goblin market.

The market is a place of magic, where twisting streets, succulent fruits, glimmering jewels, and death are on offer to the unwary human. An enticing place that her mother and aunt barely escaped seventeen years ago, paying a terrible price.

With only three days before the market disappears, Lou must navigate the treacherous market, controlled by bloodthirsty goblins who crave vengeance against her family. She must learn the songs and tricks of the goblins to save Neela, or the market might just end up claiming her too.


Thank you to the publishers for providing me with an ARC copy through Netgalley in return for an honest review.

Are you a fan of fairytale retellings? Amidst the popularity of A Court of Thorns and Roses and The Lunar Chronicles, we’re certainly seeing a rise in YA authors putting their own spin on old tales. However, Not Good For Maidens veers away from romantic retellings, standing apart as a bloody retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”.

Set amongst the cobbled streets of York, this book follows two generations of girls who are seduced and subsequently destroyed by the Goblin Market. With brilliant queer representation, this book explores identity and its relation to sexuality, family and place… as well as its relation to witchy covens and underground goblin markets.

The best part? It’s crammed with strong female characters. There’s a very heavy family focus and I enjoyed Lou’s exploration of her identity. Casually queer, I loved Lou and Neela’s supportive relationship. Instead of predictable, Lou has an inevitable character development, although I feel the author could have pushed her eventual empowerment a bit more.

My other favourite thing was the magic. Not Good For Maidens has excellently researched and thought out lore, which I always love – with modern covens and modern witches. How cool is the idea that all the witches, all the police, all of York even, is banded together against the Goblin Market? If you’ve ever been to York, you’ll have felt the old magic in its old streets, and the supernatural underbelly of old English cities is perfectly encapsulated in this book. While Lou’s nationality appeals to American readers, Not Good For Maidens is rooted in England. If you’re a Northerner and enjoy YA fantasy, this is a must read.

“She didn’t want to feel the pull of the market. None of them did. May left the Witchery as the sun sank lower snd lower and dyed the sky red. She slipped into the twilight, into the hour that was not good for maidens, as the stars blinked and cluttered the night sky.”

– NOT GOOD FOR MAIDENS

However, my biggest issue was that despite being marketed as such, this isn’t horror. This isn’t horror because that implies tension – ‘Not Good For Maidens’ relies instead on gore. Rather than the lingering fear embedded in horror, this was a few seconds of blunt impact. Not for the faint of hearts or the weak of knees, this is an incredibly visceral, brutal book, but I would class it more as thriller or a gory fantasy book than horror. The writing falls on the ‘tell not show’ side, which does take away some of the suspense. Horror should be about the unknown.

I also wish the goblins had a more dominant characteristic. Like how Holly Black’s faeries are beautiful and cruel, or Cassandra Clare’s fae can’t lie. The goblins were compellingly written (Eitra and May are really vibrant and moving at points, as forbidden love always is) but I wanted something more. However the whole premise is pretty original and I haven’t seen goblin markets before in Young Adult books. Have you? Let me know in the comments!

This is quite a simple book, but that’s not necessarily a fault. Not Good For Maidens isn’t the sort of book with elaborate plot twists – or any plot twists really. As there are two storylines alternating between the past and present, you can assume or have already been told exactly what will happen. But overall, it’s not a bad thing. The simplicity matches the overall feel of the book; the blunt writing and the archaic, brutal goblin magic. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Gideon the Ninth Review… Take Two!

Brutal. This book is gloriously, gorgeously brutal – it takes no prisoners, and your breath away.


Name: Gideon the Ninth (Locked Tomb Series: Book 1)

Author: Tamsyn Muir

Published: 2019

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.


I make a big deal on this site about evolving your writing style. About two years ago, I read and reviewed Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir; then with the third book in the Locked Tomb series released at the end of the month, I thought I’d reread it. My mind is like a sieve with fantasy book plots.

Surprisingly, my opinion of the book had changed so much! I found that two years ago, I misread characters, totally missed majors plot points and now emerge with the feeling of reading basically a different book. So, because my writing style has changed a lot from two years ago, because I feel it no longer represents my actual opinion and because it made me physically cringe to read, I’ve rewritten my original review of Gideon the Ninth – with far fewer bone jokes and dancing skeleton gifs.

The first (and only, if carnage is all it takes for you to go hell noooo) thing you need to know about Gideon the Ninth is that it’s gory. Gory in plot, undeniably, but this is heightened by gore in the writing style. Doors crunch, lightbulbs scream, floors crack; everything is broken or breaking, from the characters to the adjectives. It’s unnerving. It feeds subtly into the incredible, incredible world building – until you too feel the claustrophobic paranoia of necromancers on a distant planet as they’re picked off one by one by a vengeful energy form. Pretty sick, right?

It’s difficult for me to explain the Locked Tomb series eloquently, without deteriorating into just pushing the book into your hands and screaming Read it! Read it! (It’s one of those books.) But if you like intricate characters and people being stabbed in the back until their guts fall out? This book is for you. If you like flawless world building and arcane necromancy? This book is for you. And if you like authors that are slightly insane and plot twists that make you lose your mind (but in a good way) and lesbians vying for God’s affection by sword fighting on tables ? Then this book is certainly for you.

It’s the type of book with plot twists that get you so excited you want to share it with your friends, but just explaining why the twist is important would take hours and a colour coded character map and some yarn. And I love it.

Her adept said: “I’ll keep it off you. Nav, show them what the Ninth House does.”

Gideon lifted her sword. The construct worked itself free of its last confines of masonry and rotten wood and heaved before them, flexing itself like a butterfly.

We do bones, motherf*cker,” she said.”

GIDEON THE NINTH, TAMSYN MUIR

So, what were the big changes from when I first read Gideon the Ninth? One of the biggest differences was how I totally misread relationships. There are a lot of characters, with an unhelpful majority with very similar names, but consulting the character list every other page helped me greatly. This unlocked a whole new experience where I understood characters and their relationships instead of seeing everyone as an odd Palamedes/Pelleamena/Protesilaus mashup.

The worst relationship I think I misread was Gideon and Harrow’s – instead of being convinced they should be together, now I swear they’re just friends! There’s the ambiguous scene in the training room pool, but I think that was a transition from enemies to something less hostile. Sure, they’re both queer but that doesn’t mean they have to date, tut tut me-from-two-years-ago. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

The other big change was my reaction to the swearing. Tamsyn Muir uses profanities sparingly, but does love a good sprinkle here and there. While this had kind of irritated me the first time through, I must admit, it felt pretty cool this time around. Not to be overused, but swear words in descriptions can create a very strong sense of person and place.

The last difference I found: that I’m older and arguably better at reading and that I actually understood the plot! I can’t lie, Gideon the Ninth does take effort to follow but it’s worth it. What you put in, you get out, right? So if you let yourself, you can become fully immersed in the splintering, dangerous world of Gideon the Ninth.

Then pick it back up two years later and find it’s even better!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

TTT 30/8/22: Why Were These Books Banned? Should They Stay Banned?

Why are books banned? There’s certainly some crazy reasons out there. Whenever I see banned books lists, it often bugs me that it doesn’t say why they were banned in the first place. So, I thought I’d do some research for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday and compile a list for you!

Reading banned books is important for so many reasons. It shows that even reading can be an act of rebellion; even if you don’t always agree with them, reading about a variety of opinions gives you a balanced view of the world. It’s also interesting to question the difference between a ‘classic book’ and a ‘good book’.

I don’t agree with banning books. Unless in extreme places, surely what’s ‘appropriate’ to read should be decided by the individual, not a distant board of education, right? Plus, another pro of banned books: it feels pretty cool to say you’re reading something that was once illegal.

As always, this great tag was originally created by The Broke and the Bookish but is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s such a fascinating topic, what do you think – should books should be banned? Do you enjoy reading banned books? Let me know in the comments!

1) Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

What’s it about? I’d never heard of this book until I started my summer challenge of watching all of Winona Ryder’s movies! In rawness and emotional power, Girl Interrupted surpasses Edward Scissorhands and even Heathers; I really enjoyed this portrayal of teen girls in a 1960s mental health hospital. It was deeply moving. Plus, it has an all star female cast with Angelina Jolie alongside Ryder, Whoopi Goldberg and Brittany Murphy. What’s not to like?

Why was this book banned? Both memoir and film cover quite triggering subjects, but that’s not necessarily a problem as long as you supply trigger warnings. In the early 2000s, New York officials physically ripped out pages of Girl, Interrupted and removed it from school reading lists. It’s since been returned, because it’s incredibly important that we understand how the treatment mental health has changed, and read about real people’s experiences. The book is a snapshot into 1960s life and I’d highly recommend it.

2) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

What’s it about? THUG is one of the strongest young adult books I’ve read. It combines an empathetic cast with a powerful story and makes you really think – everyone should read it. It’s at the top of my recommendations list of young adult books that tackle racism, which you can find here.

Why was this book banned? In 2017, The Hate U Give was challenged for having explicit language. I don’t understand schools’ obsession with avoiding books with profanities – have they never heard teenagers speak? In this case, it seems like a pretty weak reason to deny students this incredible book. What do you think?

3) The Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum

What’s it about? When someone says banned books, you don’t really think of Dorothy and the Yellow Brick Road. This book needs no synopsis, but is one of the most iconic kids books out there. Did you know that Baum intended for there to be child eating flowers in The Wizard of Oz, but his publisher said it wasn’t really appropriate. I wonder why…

Why was this book banned? I bet you didn’t know this. In 1928, the Chicago Public Library banned The Wizard of Oz because it was supposedly ungodly. Why? Because it ‘depicted women in strong leadership roles’.

4) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

What’s it about? You’ve probably read, studied or, at the very least, seen Sinise’s film adaptation of this classic American novel. A few years ago, I analyzed it in an English class and found the bittersweet narrative cinematic and moving. This book is like a time machine back to The Great Depression.

Why was this book banned? It’s an interesting one. After being accused of racism, Of Mice and Men was removed from many school reading lists. When I studied it, our teacher read an unabridged copy aloud and I remember them excusing racial slurs as ‘a product of the time’. Needless to say, it was an uncomfortable book to analyze, for both me and black classmates.

There’s the argument that books like Steinbeck’s are valuable classics… but maybe it’s time we study new classics. There’s a plethora of worthy books out there that empower and educate, rather than being another stuck record plagued with racism. I’m not saying we can’t learn from Of Mice and Men. But there the ‘product of its time’ argument is wearing a bit thin. There will be similar books set in the 1920s that we could study in school that don’t make students uncomfortable… books I’ve never even heard of because I was busy studying Steinbeck.

5) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

What’s it about? This deliciously trippy kid’s book was the basis of my childhood. It’s weird and wacky and has inspired countless portal fantasies, including the Johnny Depp films and a play I did in drama about Wonderland being drug induced haze for coping with grief. Bet you didn’t know that!

Why was this book banned? In 1931, certain regions of China banned this book because it portrayed animals as equally intelligent as humans. Supposedly, if children learned to view animals as equal to humans, it would be ‘disastrous’. Wonder what the RSPCA would say about that…

Books That Changed My Life: ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ Review

As much as I cringe to say it, this book changed my life. ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ came to me at a time when I really needed it. At once inspiration, education and aspirational, I have a lingering sense of empowerment and challenge from turning the final page.


Name: Girl, Woman, Other

Author: Bernadine Evaristo

Published: May 2019

Teeming with life and crackling with energy – a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood

Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.

Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.


Here are three truths: ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is a book about 12 women. It is one of those intangible books that are very hard to describe. It is the best book I’ve ever read.

Do you cringe when people say that a book changed their life? It’s normally followed by gushing, maybe some tears, and always looks suspiciously like they’re being bribed by the author to say such a dramatic statement. But I can confidently say, firstly, I am not being bribed (although I would pay Bernadine Evaristo to bribe me) and secondly, that this book did change my life. No cringe needed. It educated me on feminism, black womanhood, marriage, immigration, sexuality, the education system… life itself really. ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is an essential for any feminist’s reading list – or non-feminist; because you’ll undoubtedly be one when you turn the final page.

“Ageing is nothing to be ashamed of
Especially when the entire human race is in it together
Although sometimes it seems that she alone among her friends wants to celebrate getting older
Because it’s such a privilege to not die prematurely” 

– GIRL WOMAN OTHER

The book follows 12 women, whose stories are loosely interwoven in a web that spans over three generations and across Britain. At first, I was worried that all the stories would become similar in content, or at least in structure. But each one focuses on different joys or trials of being a black British woman and is so different to the last. There are opinions and life choices for everyone. Educational, inspirational and aspirational, the stories covered different perspectives fused often by feminism and always by this constant discovery of womanhood.

 Personally, my favourite story was Amma’s because she’s the centerpiece of this book, I found her voice bitingly hilarious and I’m fascinated by the queer, rebellious underworld she was a part of. I loved how my opinion of her develops as other people’s views of her muddy the waters – plus, she seems really really cool. My other favorite stories were Bummi because Bernadine Evaristo created such an empathetic character and I just wanted her to succeed! I also loved Yazz, because as a teen, she felt intensely relatable; I was amazed with the fluidity that the author skimmed between different ages and opinions.

“white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race” 

– GIRL WOMAN OTHER

  The characters are so strong they feel alive. Furthermore, with only 40 or so pages dedicated to each character, it’s truly incredible how much life spills out. My least favourite story was Winsome, because while I loved that Evaristo lets you come to your own conclusions (if not with an ironic undercurrent tugging you the way she desires), Winsome was… just a bit weird.

 One warning: this book only has full stops at the end of chapters. As in, sentences go unchecked, and indents mark the end of them, not full stops. While some people don’t like the lack of punctuation (my mum thinks it shows ‘a lack of language’), I think it creates a powerful, strong voice. The lack of full stops create a sarcastic wit, heavy with irony, and the speech becomes vivid voices. Despite poets often overusing it, Evaristo uses short lines sparingly so it’s genuinely impactful. Self consciously hilarious, insightful, educational – utterly brilliant, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ came to me at a time when I really needed it. I have a lingering sense of empowerment and challenge from turning the final page – it genuinely changed my life.

As Jane Austen once said, ‘If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more’. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Emma, but that feels particularly pertinent here. I found it hard to put into words how deeply this book affected me, but I hope I’ve enthused enough of my joy into you to make you read ‘Girl, Woman, Other’.

Who knows? It might just change your life.


While the diversity in my book recommendations is nowhere near perfect, I’m always trying to read books about challenging subjects. ‘Girl Woman Other’ is not a young adult book, but I mostly read YA and feel more confident recommending it. Young adult books I’d recommend that tackle racism include:

Book Tag: Last, Now, Next

Easiest book tag you’ll ever see? Look no further!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a tag – holidays, reading obnoxiously long Cassandra Clare books and catching up on Stranger Things Vol. 4 have caught up with me. But I’m back, courtesy of the incredible Madeline over at The Bookish Mutant. Find her tag here – she has some great recs! And here’s my take on it 🙂

Rules:

  • Link back to the ORIGINAL CREATOR- Shivakshi @Tales I Tell
  • Show gratitude to the person who tagged you.
  • Mention these points in your post.
  • Answer the following questions and use the original graphics and featured image.
  • Use the tag “Book Tag |LAST, NOW, NEXT|” in your post.
  • Tag as many bloggers as you want.
  • Have fun!

The Tag:

Last:

What was the last book you read?
What a RIDE – the last book I read gave me heart palpitations. Holly Jackson’s ‘As Good As Dead’ was the final showdown to the ‘A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder’ series and it was nothing like I’d expected. I’m talking a full on, controversial showdown. Find out why it will be a pretty polarising murder mystery here.

Will you recommend this book to others?
Do you like dark murder mysteries? And I’m talking dark – this book flipped generic murder mystery formulas on their head and I’m obsessed, personally. But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Again, check my review out to find out why!

Now:

What is your current read?
Have you ever read a few pages of a book, but can tell just from it will be incredible? My current read is ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo. And that was me. Have you read any Bernadine Evaristo books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Why did you pick this book?
To be honest, I didn’t know much about it. When I was buying books for holiday, I saw the cover, read the back (read all the reviews in the first three pages) and decided to give it a go. And unlike when I normally pick up a random book, it amazing. Queer, feminist, fiery – at the moment I’m loving it. It’s shaping up to be one of my books of the year.

How much time do you think you will take to finish your current read?
‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is a bit on the longer side, 500 pages ish. Normally, that would take me over a week, but as I’m not at school it will take less – I actually have free time! So, keep an eye out for a review coming soon…

Next:

What genre would you like to read next?
When you have more time, what sort of books do you like to read? Do your preferences change? For me, I love reading classics – I always get sick of them when I can only read in short bits, but if I have a lot of time, I love to get stuck into a classic.

What would you like to pick: a long read or a short read?
Recently, I’ve been struggling to find short reads (>200 ish). The older I get, the fewer books there seem to be that are short and aimed at me. Mature YA books always seem to be 400+ – it’s annoying! Do you have any shorter book recommendations? I might need them for when I go back to school…

Mention some books you’re eyeing!
One of the classics I’ve been looking at are ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson; if I read it when it wasn’t summer, it would feel like work. But I’ve heard good things about the original psychological thriller and think I’ll give it a go.

Speaking of classics, I keep meaning to reread ‘1984’ by George Orwell. I’ve only ever listened to the audiobook, but recently bought the fancy Waterstones hardback so have to give my favourite classic a reread!

Also, my most anticipated purchase of the summer? When I was on holiday in America, I bought ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt from a Barnes and Noble (all my dreams came true in that shop, it was MASSIVE). I prefer the American cover more than the English one and have heard interesting things about this classic (if not pretentious) book. Have you read ‘The Secret History’? I’d love to get some opinions on it, let me know what you thought in the comments!

I Nominate:

You! If you’re looking for an easy tag to pad out your blog content, why not try this one? Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll add your blog to the list so you get free PR too. And your fellow nominees are the lovely blogs nominated below…


A Controversial Thriller: ‘As Good As Dead’ Review

This will be quite a polarizing book… that was a RIDE.

Name: As Good As Dead

Author: Holly Jackson

Published: August 2021

Pip is about to head to college, but she is still haunted by the way her last investigation ended. She’s used to online death threats in the wake of her viral true-crime podcast, but she can’t help noticing an anonymous person who keeps asking her: Who will look for you when you’re the one who disappears?

Soon the threats escalate and Pip realizes that someone is following her in real life. When she starts to find connections between her stalker and a local serial killer caught six years ago, she wonders if maybe the wrong man is behind bars.

Police refuse to act, so Pip has only one choice: find the suspect herself—or be the next victim. As the deadly game plays out, Pip discovers that everything in her small town is coming full circle . . .and if she doesn’t find the answers, this time she will be the one who disappears. . . 


I have absolute faith in Holly Jackson. I trust her to give me the best plot twists, mysteries and characters – the first two books in this series, ‘A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder’ and ‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’, are some of the best YA thrillers out there. And despite veering violently from the tone of the first two books, Pip’s final showdown similarly didn’t disappoint.

One of my favourite things about the AGGGTM trilogy is how realistic they are. As someone who grew up in a small English town, I can see the events of the series unfurling exactly as they do on page. And in this book, Pip is no different. She’s written so realistically. YA books enjoy glossing over undeniable mental effects inflicted by a character’s trauma. (You watched your best friend murder your whole family? Take a nap, and you’ll forget all about it!). But Holly Jackson doesn’t slip into that easy groove. In this final book of the trilogy, Pip has come a long way from her ‘good girl’ persona and has developed essentially PTSD. It’s a character development that puts you in a pretty unique position. I have never before seen how solving murder cases impacted a character in YA – again showing how these books are rooted in the real world.

“Who will look for you when you’re the one who disappears?”

– HOLLY JACKSON, ‘AS GOOD AS DEAD’

My other favourite thing? Holly Jackson’s writing is like a shot of pure adrenaline. Explosive. Scarier than some outright horror books I’ve read, ‘As Good As Dead’ is the sort of book you have to put down and turn around carefully, overcome with the feeling that someone’s stood directly behind you…

This book is terrifying! Like the covers, the books get progressively darker as the series goes on. Pip becomes more obsessive over each case, and her world grows a little smaller each time. This claustrophobic atmosphere is cleverly shown in how ‘As Good Is Dead’ focuses on the events of the first book.

It’s almost cathartic, to complete the series in such a way that the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. To complete one revolution of the plot and finish at the start. And most surprising of all, it doesn’t feel tacked on, or like the author hadn’t planned this plot development from the beginning (Truly Devious’ author Maureen Johnson, take notes!). Holly Jackson answers questions I didn’t know I had and fills the cracks in her already incredibly strong wall of a plot, shoring up a structure that I’m sure will last decades. You’re looking at a modern classic in Young Adult literature.

But, why have I labelled ‘As Good As Dead’ as a controversial thriller? The rest of the review contains minor spoilers – I will only refer to a ‘plot twist’ but if you want to go into the book totally clueless, skip to the bottom and the like button 🙂

‘As Good As Dead’ will be a pretty polarising book. Around the halfway mark, a ground-breaking, stomach-churning plot twist flips the YA murder mystery formula on its head. Frankly, I’m obsessed! But I can see why other readers disagree.

Young Adult is defined as the literary category for 12-18 year olds. I think this is where most of the trouble lies – the plot twist is controversial because it’s pretty dark for a Young Adult novel. Theoretically, a 12 year old could be the target market for ‘As Good As Dead’, buy it… and be traumatised. Personally, I don’t think this makes the plot twist a bad one, just that people should be made aware that this isn’t an Enid Blyton novel. Especially if you’re under 13, I’d recommend you check out the Trigger Warnings for ‘As Good As Dead’ before you read it – you can find a link to them here.

However, age ratings aside, ‘As Good As Dead’ will also be controversial because it’s unconventional. But I found the plot twist so unorthodox that it was fascinating; shouldn’t we be pushing for books that break boundaries? ‘As Good As Dead’ made me question everything, made me properly think. That’s a good book in my eyes.

If this was a standalone novel, I doubt I’d be so conflicted by Pip’s actions. Probably, I’d straight up disagree with them. But you’re in such a unique position with ‘As Good As Dead’ – the first two books are incredibly different vibes, but they made you love Pip and Ravi and her friends. I was constantly pulled between begging Pip not to go through with it, and an uncomfortable understanding of her motives…

This whole series has been unconventional from the start – a huge part of why I love it so much. But ‘As Good As Dead’ had me utterly hooked. THE tensest book I’ve ever read. Generic YA formula was blindfolded, stabbed and then incinerated – I had genuinely no clue what was going to happen at all times and it was exhilarating.

We don’t get enough morally grey female characters in YA literature so I found the plot twist a fascinating turn. I think it’s important that the author doesn’t condone Pip’s actions too far (I’m so conflicted about framing Max. Like is he a horrible person? Yes. But does he really deserve life imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit?).

However, this isn’t a handbook or an advice novel. ‘As Good As Dead’ is fiction: there to entertain you and confuse you and terrify you. And that it did.

Celebrating 500 Followers With My 10 Favourite Posts 🥳

I can’t believe it! I never believed that I would reach anywhere near 500 followers on this site – I’m so proud of how far it’s come. Thank you so much for all your support in getting this site to where it is today, with a special mention to anyone who has ever nominated me for tags or awards – it means the world. Even if it takes me a year to actually complete the tag, I promise I still really appreciate it!

A huge shout out The Bookish Mutant, Leah’s Books, Lost In Neverland, Read ‘Em And Weep, One Book More, Past Midnight and Down The Rabbit Hole amongst so many others for your support. If you’re reading this and would like to support me, why not like, follow or link me into a book tag? I’ll return the favour!

And so, I thought it might be fun to celebrate by looking at my 10 favourite posts from since I’ve started blogging. It was a bit of a blast from the past! I felt almost nostalgic, remembering all the time and effort I put into these posts I promptly forgot about.

I’d like to say that my style has improved as I continue to write. For me, it’s really interesting to see how I used to format my early reviews and posts – what about you? Can you see an evolution in your writing style? Let me know in the comments!

Make Some Noise For ‘I Kissed Shara Wheeler’!

Change of plan. This book was going to be part of my ‘Is It Worth the Hype’ series, where I read and review popular books so you don’t have to. Find it here. But…where is the hype for IKSW? I haven’t seen nearly enough noise for Casey McQuiston’s latest novel – this is not a book that deserves to fade into the background. Here’s why.


Name: I Kissed Shara Wheeler

Author: Casey McQuiston

Published: May 2022

Chloe Green has spent the past four years dodging gossipy, classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect daughter.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbour with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe – probably not, but maybe – more to Shara, too.


I Kissed Shara Wheeler should have more hype because:

1) The author is a genius

I’ve been a Casey McQuiston fan for years. If you’re not a fan of their work, their first novel was Red, White and Royal Blue which was immortalized on Booktok in 2020. Don’t get me wrong, it’s such a fun romance but my personal favourite is their second adult romance, One Last Stop. It’s the type of book that made my year – find out why in my review here.

However, both novels are an absolute joy; queer romances that make you feel so loved and warm you’ll turn the final page beaming. At first, I wasn’t sure if McQuiston’s complexly funny, metaphorical writing style would translate well to a gossipy, YA novel. But some of the pages read like pure poetry. And while the style doesn’t make IKSW a light hearted read, (you have to pay attention!) it works. You can tell how writing adult novels first influenced them to create such complex and incredible YA characters. But more on that later.

2) This book will change lives

No, I’m not just saying that. Have you ever read Paper Towns by John Green? I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a bit like a gay Paper Towns: a lover letter to high school theatre. To growing up queer in small towns. To teenage friendships.

Genuinely, I believe this book will influence and help and change so many people’s lives, especially LGBT+ teenagers living in more conservative areas. It’s more than just a book; the ideas within could help young people navigate really tricky topics. So, we need to make as much noise and hype as possible about this awesome book, so it reaches as many people as possible.


“There are things that don’t make sense about me. I don’t know if I belong here. How can that be possible, to feel estranged from a place where everyone loves you? To owe your life to a place and still want to run? I’ve been trying and trying to figure out what it is about me that makes me feel this way and why it feels so deep and so big that it must be most of me, the skin stretching between my knuckles and across my shoulders and then the bones under them too.” 

– I KISSED SARA WHEELER
THAT’S SO BEAUTIFUL, RIGHT?

3) It’s a very sexy hardback

If you’re not yet convinced by the plot, let me show you the cover! If you’re the sort of person who scours for the most aesthetic books, look no further. It’s truly beautifully, inside and out. The chapters are interspersed with scorched documents from a mysterious ‘burn pile’ – they don’t add much but they’re funny.

Just saying, I love how McQuiston’s book designs are becoming more elaborate as they gain all the popularity they deserve – this gorgeous hardback feels a long way from my floppy Red, White and Royal Blue paperback.

4) Most importantly: the characters! (You will cry. It’s non-conditional).

In I Kissed Shara Wheeler, stereotyping is banned. Breaking out of how American high school characters are usually written, the characters fit no boxes (Karen MacManus, take notes). Each one is so complex and interesting and utterly gorgeous – because they’re written with faults.

None of them are perfect! And I love it! At times, Chloe gets pretty irritating (communicate with your friends girl) and Rory makes some painful mistakes. Smith has grown to become one of my favourite characters ever but he still isn’t faultless. Everyone’s flawed, which only emphasises how it’s high school. Everyone makes mistakes.

None of the characters are morally black and white either. You get impressive depth within each character for such a large cast. At points, the characters are almost so metaphorical or complicated that I didn’t really understand them, especially Shara. Some readers might not enjoy how unrealistic Shara was, how incomprehensible her actions were but I quite liked her. If you’ve read it, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!

“There was this one weekend, a million summers ago, when I sat on the shore drinking a frozen limeade, and I realized the only thing I wanted to look at was the way the sun hit the girls swimming in the lake.

The problem has always been this: When I look at you, I taste lime, and I see light on water.” 

SHARA SPEAKS IN POETRY, PRETTY MUCH

I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a bit absurd. A wacky, gossip-filled treasure hunt with good heart. I’d struggle to explain the plot to you, but it’s one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read. I think it’s so romantic because it’s atypical and a bit ugly and complicated. I Kissed Shara Wheeler is weird. Okay, it’s really weird, but it works!

It’s abundant in their other books and very clear here: without fail, Caey McQuiston’s books seem to inspire this pure, affectionate joy. They’re the reigning champion of the found family trope. The characters will come together en mass, collective and queer and weird. And that is why they’re my favourite author.

So, maybe there has been lots of hype for IKSW. Maybe I’ve just missed it. But the book certainly hasn’t properly breached the hallowed halls of book blogging – as it rightfully deserves. We all know the power blogging, Booktok and Bookgram hold; we can immortalize books, make or break them. IKSW shouldn’t be pushed aside just because it doesn’t follow the conventional formula for Young Adult books. On the contrary, it’s quirky, queer individuality needs to celebrated. I genuinely believe this book could change people’s lives, especially of those living in conservative areas. I Kissed Shara Wheeler deserves all the hype it’s already received and so much more.

Where’s the hype? Let’s go out and make some.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Animal Crossing Book Tag

The cutest tag I’ve ever done. If you need a sharp kick of nostalgia, look no further than this Animal Crossing Tag – and get some great book recommendations as you do! Thanks so much to Georgia over at Lost In Neverland for nominating me for this tag – find her brilliant post here. All credit goes to Bookish Things and Tea for the cute graphics 🙂

The Rules:

  • Please link back to the original creator of the tag, Bookish Things and Tea.
  • Answer the following Animal Crossing themed book questions.
  • Feel free to use graphics, but be sure to credit Bookish Things and Tea.
  • Tag some friends to spread the love!

The Tag:

Animal Crossing_ Gamecube

I really want to read more classics. I’m currently obsessed with the Waterstones fabric hardback covers – have you seen them? They’re gorgeous! And I’ve always wanted to read The Picture Of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde because of the Ben Barnes film.

Animal Crossing_ wild world(1)

Have you ever read a series where you can’t decide which one is your favourite? I love every book in the Simon Snow trilogy for different reasons – and the whole series because it’s consistently so good. Normally the second book is pretty weak in a trilogy but not here! What do you think? Are the second books generally the worst? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Animal Crossing_ city folk

One of my biggest book surprises of 2022: I actually loved Cinder. I was expecting bland and forgettable, but the dystopian, robotic New Beijing drew me in and didn’t let go. Find out why in my review here!

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Animal Crossing_ new leaf

*Incoherent screaming*
I will read anything and everything Casey McQuiston ever writes. They may as well just take my credit card. This book made my year.

Review incoming…

Animal Crossing_ isabelle

Do you have any specific books you reread loads? I love I Wish You All The Best very, very much and it will always have a special place in my heart. Find out why in my review here.

Animal Crossing_ bells

Arggggh is there such a thing as too much character? David Nicholls is a master of cringe-worthy, squeamish college experiences, and Starter for Ten is no difference. Brian is empathetic and awful at the same time; I thoroughly enjoyed this book… even if I had to put it down more than once when the cringe became too much.

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Animal Crossing_ fossil

Rich in myths, dragons and heroes, Chinese history is fascinating. I love She Who Became The Sun for it’s immersive, fresh take on Chinese history – and sold by a take-no-prisoners, cunning protagonist. Find out more about this incredible book in my review here!

Animal Crossing_ pitfall

Every character is awful! Without fail! If they’re not marrying their cousin or dead already, the characters are busy being boring, bad people. And did Bronte really need to give all the characters the same name? Listening to the Wuthering Heights audiobook was a confusing messand quite honestly a waste of time.

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I TAG…