What I’ve Been Reading…

Despite being fairly committed to reading books over the past few years, and having a to-be-read list longer than both my arms, I’ve found it quite difficult to concentrate on reading whilst I’ve been pregnant. Partly, it’s because I’m a lot more exhausted, so I’ve forgone my extra reading time in favour of naps and early nights, and also partly because my brain has been racing with all things baby, which makes it tricky to fit in a trip or two to my favourite fictional land. I’ve mostly been devouring historical romance novels, which I know will have happy endings and are easy to read so are perfect for my current state of mind (would people like recommendations? I’ve found some great ones!). But, since I’ve been on maternity leave and found myself at a loose end with no baby currently in sight, I’ve been able to get stuck into a few more books than usual – so if you’re looking for something to throw in your beach bag this holiday, then look no further… 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

If you read just one book this year, please make it this one; I know I’m not the first to rave about it but believe the hype, it’s all true. Plus, it’s less than £4 on Amazon right now, which is ridiculously cheap for such a masterpiece. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give follows the story of sixteen-year-old Starr and what happens when she becomes the only witness to the fatal shooting of a friend at the hands of a police officer. As she finds herself at the middle of a media circus, trying to balance her life becomes more and more difficult as she seeks justice for Khalil whilst trying to maintain her own safety, and that of her family. 

It’s not just the timeliness and poignancy of the story, but the characters which make this book so incredibly readable and wonderful. In the first instance, Starr is just someone you want to be friends with, and there is a real focus on her family, who are all fantastic characters in their own right, as well as being amazing in their supporting roles. Everyone in the book felt fleshed out and important, from her ex-drug-dealer father to her Asian best friend, and they all had their own storylines that ultimately fed into the wider plot. Basically, this is some complex writing that will still have you tearing through it to find out what happens – which is a surprisingly rare thing to find. I teared up on more than one occasion; anyone who has followed #BlackLivesMatter will recognise just how *real* this story is, which makes it all the more heartbreaking, but I also felt like it left room for hope, too. 

Becoming by Laura Jane Williams

If you hang around on the Internet, you’ve probably come across Laura Jane Williams and her brilliant blog at one time or another (and if you haven’t, where have you been?). There was a lot of praise for her first book when it came out last year but it’s only just fallen into my hands. With a subtitle of ‘Sex, Second Chances, and Figuring Out Who the Hell I am’, you can guess at the subject matter, and I think a lot of people will have similar stories to tell from their own lives – but isn’t that the point? After being dumped by the man she thought she was going to marry, Laura turned to booze and sex to try and heal her heart. But, after finding that it just isn’t working for her, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery from Derby to Detroit, and finally to an… Italian convent?

The comparisons with Wild by Cheryl Strayed or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert are inevitable, but I think they are justified; not only does this book feature solo female travel, designed to repair and restore the traveller’s heart and soul, but Laura manages to combine that wonderful mixture of honesty and sincerity with humour and self-deprecation, which makes this kind of memoir work for me. It would be so easy to go too far down the navel-gazing route, or to make the story more light-hearted in an effort to shun emotional intimacy with the reader, but Laura is unfailingly honest, even when it doesn’t picture her in the best light, whilst remaining warm and self-aware enough to have you rooting for her the whole way. We might not have all gone on such a journey, but anyone who has ever experienced heartbreak (and haven’t we all?) will find something special in this book. 

The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik*

I read Ayisha Malik’s first novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, on honeymoon almost two years ago, and the protagonist is one that’s stuck with me ever since – so I was delighted to find that there was a sequel! Sofia Khan is touted as a Muslim Bridget Jones, letting you in on her diary as she struggles with love, life and finding her purpose – but (spoiler alert) it looked like she had found her happily ever after at the end of the first book. But what happens after? Is it really as easy as sailing off into the sunset with your true love? I think we all know, of course, that it isn’t – and it was refreshing not only to revisit this beloved cast of characters but also to get a glimpse at the reality of life after the ‘I do’s.

Sofia finds herself torn between countries and priorities, as she struggles to balance her life with her new husband, Conall, whose work (and annoyingly attractive colleague) is keeping him up at all hours, with the demands of her family and her own work as a writer and publisher back home. Mourning her father, supporting her friends with their own turbulent love lives, and writing a book on Muslim marriage when she’s not sure hers is going to work out, all take their toll as she discovers Conall’s darkest secret and has to decide just what to do. It’s a book full of strife and struggle, but also of warmth and humour; reading this book was like returning to an old friend and I hope that it’s not the last we hear from Sofia Khan. 

Party Girls Die in Pearls by Plum Sykes*

If you’re after some pure escapism, you could do a lot worse than taking a trip to 1980s Oxford with Ursula Flowerbutton and trying to solve a murder… Ursula is expecting Pimms, punting and parties at her first term at Oxford University but when a glamorous classmate is discovered with her throat slit on the first day of term, Ursula finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation. With the help of uber-fashionable American exchange student Nancy Feingold and uber-camp gossip columnist Horatio Bentley, who dresses almost exclusively in purple, Ursula navigates the snobby world of the champagne set, dodge romantic overtures from potential murderers and try to find the time to write her first essay. It’s a little absurd, sure, but with a ridiculous(ly posh) cast of characters and some stellar pop culture references, this was a seriously enjoyable read for me. Think Jilly Cooper meets P.G. Wodehouse meets Cagney and Lacey. I mean, how can you resist? 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and buy something, I may receive a small commission. Books marked with a * were provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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A Few Book Reviews…

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

I’ve had some conflicted feelings about this series so far; the first couple of books seemed to be an amalgamation of a bunch of other popular dystopian YA novels, repackaged and resold. However, I couldn’t stop myself from picking up the sequels, so I’m probably not in any position to criticise – and if you want a story that will keep you turning the pages then this is a good place to go. I actually thought that King’s Cage was the best of the three, because it started to deviate a little from the expected storylines and gave some new perspectives on the storylines from other characters, but I still wasn’t totally blown away. I found the main characters hard to connect and sympathise with; I don’t care if characters are ‘likeable’ but when you know you’re supposed to be rooting for them, it can be tricky if you just don’t really care… Some of the fringe characters feel more interesting and fleshed out to me than Mare, the supposed heroine, and I find myself not caring about the love triangle she finds herself in – despite there being a lot of potential in it as a storyline. In fact, that’s what the whole book felt a bit like to me – wasted potential; there’s a lot of promise but despite my coming back for more each time, I leave a little disappointed. 

Ctrl, Alt; Delete by Emma Gannon 

I have seen this book lauded across the Internet as a relatable memoir about growing up online, and what that means for our generation. And I think I get why; at times, Emma is candid about her own experiences at the hands of the Internet – from the moments where she was the victim, to moments where she used it in slightly nefarious ways herself, as I think we have all done. A lot of her anecdotes were achingly familiar for someone who found the Internet at a similar time, and who has equally made her life and career online – from MSN messenger conversations to typing out blog posts to making friends online, long before that was cool. But, for all her candidness, I also felt a level of detachment in the writing that made it hard to actually ‘relate’ to the author as she charted her journey to adulthood. For me, the book couldn’t quite decide whether it was a memoir that spoke of the author’s learning curve, or whether it was cultural criticism of what the Internet has done to our generation. As the former, it didn’t dig deep enough to satisfy me, and as the latter, there were a lot of speculations and generalisations that didn’t hold water for this erstwhile sociologist. The premise was interesting, and definitely something I want to see explored more as we live longer with the Internet as the background to our lives, but this just didn’t hit the spot for me. 

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus*

If you want an addictive YA novel to see you through your summer holidays, then please pick this one up; it was smart, thrilling and excellently paced – and one of the only books that I have raced through this year, unwilling to become distracted from the storyline. Five strangers walk into detention, but only four walk out alive. When Simon, creator of a gossip website reminiscent of Gossip Girl, but even meaner, and focused on the students of Bayview High, dies under suspicious circumstances, his fellow detention attendees become suspects – especially when it’s revealed that they all had something to hide that Simon was threatening to expose… On the surface, this was a traditional ‘whodunnit’ read, that kept you guessing as pieces of the puzzle were slowly revealed or, rather, it kept me guessing because I am always terrible at working out the plot until it’s right in front of me – but I suspect that even if you do guess, you’ll still enjoy this novel enormously. Whilst the characters are described as the typical YA/high school stereotypes in the blurb (jock, prom queen, nerd…), they were written with complexity and sensitivity and given unexpected but realistic plot lines that made them more than just bit-part players in a murder mystery. Their lives were messy and real, and I’d have been happy to read about them even without the thriller/mystery element of the plot. I don’t want to give too much away, so you really must read this one for yourself! 

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon*

Oh, my heart. This book is so adorable and precious, and it will fill you with joy. Sure, it’s a little unrealistic in places (namely, the ending) but do I care when it gives me such a happy feeling? No, not really. Dimple just wants to escape her over-bearing mother and ace her summer web coding programme. Rishi just wants to please his parents and impress his future wife. I want them to just fall in love and live happily ever after. After a very adorable meet cute, in which Dimple has *no clue* that her parents have arranged a marriage with Rishi’s parents behind her back, the two start a slightly rocky friendship. They think they have each other pegged, but as the summer progresses and they reveal their hidden depths to each other and love might just find them after all. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll definitely fall in love with these characters – with fierce, determined Dimple and sweet, soulful Rishi, as well as their friends and family. I never wanted this book to end; I wanted to stay wrapped in its warm embrace forever more – but the best I can do is to pass the recommendation on to you! 


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World Book Day: My Life in Books

I have always been a big reader, from insisting my parents reread Postman Pat to me for the thousandth time, to today when I would usually rather pick up a book than do almost anything else. Reading has been integral to my life and who I am, so it’s pretty natural that World Book Day brings me a lot of joy every year. I live for those round ups of kids dressed in their favourite character costumes (fun fact: I won first place for my Mildred Hubble costume when I was in Year 4). Understandably, after almost 30 years of reading, my tastes have changed somewhat, so I thought it might be fun to have a look back over my life in books… 

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton 

Enid Blyton was my first ‘favourite’ author, and I loved everything she wrote from The Magic Faraway Tree to Mallory Towers but it was The Famous Five that truly captured my imagination. Her books are full of adventure, whimsy and nostalgia, and I wanted to be a part of the gang so badly. I received the full set for my seventh (or maybe eighth?) birthday, and read them all cover to cover until it felt like I was friends with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy, going off to their private island and foiling the plots of smugglers. 

The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson 

Like all girls my age, I was a big fan of Jacqueline Wilson books and it’s hard to pick a true favourite as I’m sure at any one time I would have cited a different one – other runners up include The Illustrated Mum and Vicky Angel. But, although The Lottie Project is not one of her more famous novels, it really sticks out in my memory; as a school project, Lottie writes the fictitious diary of Charlotte, a Victorian maid, whose struggles mirror her own. It was the start of a love for historical fiction for me, for sure. 

The Harry Potter Series by J.K.Rowling 

I’m not sure I need to explain this one; which child of the 90s (or any other decade for that matter) doesn’t cite Harry Potter as their favourite books? My mum bought me the second one to read on our caravan holiday one summer, and I was immediately hooked, joining in with the hype with every release from there on out. Since then, my relationship with the books has deepened with every subsequent reading, and one of the things I am most looking forward to about having a baby is being able to share the magic with them. 

Cuckoo in the Nest by Michelle Magorian 

This book combines so many of my favourite things; theatre, historical fiction, seemingly-cranky-old-ladies-with-a-heart-of-gold… The protagonist Ralph has long been one of my favourite characters of all time, and whenever I pick up this book it’s like coming home for me. 

Cat by Freya North 

In my teens, I went through a big chick lit phase. I would devour as many books about glamorous women in magazine jobs leading complicated romantic lives as I could get my hands on. And, if I’m honest, I couldn’t tell you much about the seemingly hundreds of books I read during this time. I don’t mean to be disparaging, as I think ‘chick lit’ is an under-rated genre and is often dismissed out of hand – but I don’t think I was very discerning at the time, and would just race through them as quickly as I could. That said, there are a few notable exceptions to the rule, and Freya North’s first books, all named after their main characters, were some of my favourites – and I sometimes still think about them now, years later. As well as Cat, there were her sisters Pip and Fen, as well as Sally, Chloe and Polly, all of whom I loved equally – but I chose Cat because the book is set in France (in fact, it is about the Tour de France) and I read so many of these books whilst on holiday there with my friend Jess and her family, that it feels particularly fitting. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Oh, this book. It has my heart and will probably always be my favourite. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming in all the best ways, and it introduced me to so many concepts and ideas that still inform my thinking now. If you haven’t read it, you really must – it’s a tale of suffering but also of the redemptive power of love, female friendship and sisterhood. It’s an astounding tale, and I cry at the ending every single time. My copy is covered in notes from when I wrote my A-Level coursework on it, and it is one of my most prized possessions. 

Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti 

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this book changed my life. I’m not sure why I decided to order this from the library (perhaps because of books like The Color Purple?) but I’m so glad I did. I remember reading it and feeling both angry at the statistics and facts I was reading, and also relieved that it wasn’t just me that felt that anger. Having had this introduction to feminism, it became a central part of my life and has remained so ever since. I followed Jessica Valenti’s blog – Feministing – and from there discovered so many more blogs and books, which eventually lead to me doing my Masters in Gender, Sexuality and Queer Theory where my dissertation was on feminist blogging (what else?). 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte 

For an English student (by which I mean a student of English, not a student from England – although I am that, too), I have been pretty disparaging about classic literature in the past. I was scathing about Jane Austen during my A-Levels and was easily bored by school set texts. However, when I got to University that all changed and now I could wax lyrical about Austen and her ilk for hours on end – and it was reading Villette as part of a Victorian literature course that changed all that for me. Jane Eyre is usually thought of as Charlotte Bronte’s best novel, and although I now love it, it was the unusual character of Villette, the independent character of Lucy Snowe and the modern & pragmatic love story at its heart that turned my head and found a place in my heart. 

Atonement by Ian McEwan 

Alongside discovering a love for classical literature, I also delved into the realms of Booker Prize winners as part of my degree – and in doing so stumbled across Atonement by Ian McEwan, a truly incredible novel that affected me so deeply that I don’t think I can ever re-read it again. Ian McEwan is the king of surprise endings (I also love Sweet Tooth by him, which has a similarly incredible twist) and this one is all-consuming. I leant the book to a friend, and after a few days came down to find her sitting shock-still on the sofa – I knew immediately that she had finished it and was feeling all the feelings. It’s books like this that makes me think it’s not worth bothering to write, because it has already been done so perfectly (which I know is foolish, but seriously.. it’s amazing). 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 

For a while after University, I read almost nothing. After reading three to four full books a week for three years, and then diving into some deep feminist theory for another two years after that, I was ready for a break. But it was Lolita that clawed me back into the world of books (and I am so glad that it did). This book is understandably controversial, but it is a true work of art and I think the opening paragraph may be one of the most perfect pieces of writing in the entire English language (so much so that I have accidentally burnt it into my brain by reading it so many times… Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins and all that). I’m forever grateful to Nabokov for reminding me why I love reading, and for putting me back on the path of my favourite hobby. 

Yes Please by Amy Poehler 

It is so difficult for me to sum up the past couple of years of reading; after undertaking a challenge to read 100 books in a year (and then 101 books the year after) I discovered so many incredible books. You by Caroline Kepnes, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill all jump out as recent favourites, but it feels as though they’re all still so fresh in my mind. It’ll be a while before I’ll know which books really stuck with me from this time in my life, but I’m certain that Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes Please‘ will definitely be on the list. When I grow up, I want to be Amy Poehler, and I turn to this book time and again for wisdom, reassurance and a giggle or two. At times, it feels like a guiding light, which is a pretty magical thing for a book to be. 

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February Book Reviews

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell*

Holy shit, I have been waiting for this book for years. And, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. If you were around on a certain part of the Internet circa 2011/12 then you’re probably familiar with Cat Marnell; if not, then you should go and read some of her xoJane pieces from around that time and then you’ll get what all of the fuss is about. She was the beauty editor who wrote about how to disguise your night-before-drug-binge on the way to work; she specialised in beauty advice with an edge, which went (and still goes) against so much about what the beauty industry stands for. She’s also a phenomenal writer. Soon after she announced that she was writing a book, she mostly disappeared off the Internet, leaving us all (me) on a cliffhanger until now… 

This is an honest, raw, emotional and hilarious memoir, and I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever read. Cat charts her life through drug addiction with a candidacy that will make you cringe and cry, and occasionally cackle with laughter. She’s certainly not lost the skills that kept her on top at xoJane, despite her destructive drug problems, and this book is peppered with witty lines that I kind of want to steal for my own. From troubled teenager at boarding school with her Dad writing her prescriptions for ADHD medication, to beauty editor at large barely holding on by a thread, I could barely put this book down.

Her descent to rock bottom is a glamorous one, peppered by celebrity name-dropping, stints at high-flying magazines, and is therefore probably not a great portrayal of the ‘realism’ of addiction for many, less privileged people. At times, it is frustrating how Cat managed to sustain something that ‘a million girls would kill for’ whilst self-destructing at such a magnitude, but she is equally candid about her emotional distress, loneliness and even about just how self-absorbed and boring drug addiction can be. If you’re interested in the world of beauty, journalism or blogging then I think you’ll probably be hooked on this book; Cat Marnell was a pioneer of the ‘blog-style’ articles in journalism that are now a mainstay of the industry and her writing will feel familiar to so many who have grown up online. For me, it’s a five star read, for sure. 

Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding 

I’ll admit, I think a lot of my love for this book was pure nostalgia; I’ve been a fan of Bridget Jones for over ten years so reading the latest instalment felt so much like coming home and hanging out with old friends. However, I think that Bridget’s time may be coming to a close for me – I will always love her but this book definitely felt less substantial than the others. Maybe I’ve changed, maybe the world has changed, but the problem is that Bridget hasn’t really changed, which feels a little unrealistic given the timeframe. I feel like portrayals of women have moved on since Bridget; at the time she was the quintessential twenty-something girl struggling to find love and get her shit together… but now she’s a thirty-something and she’s still slacking at work, unable to talk to her friends, family and lovers, making poor life decisions and rather incompetent at looking after herself. That’s not to say that women don’t exist who are all of those things – and Bridget is also lots of other things, like a caring friend and daughter – but I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t have had any personal growth in the intervening years. This book is still funny, heart-warming and cringe-inducing in the way that Bridget Jones always has been, and there’s no doubt that I’ll continue picking up Bridget Jones books as long as they come out (unless this is the last?) but it is purely because of that nostalgia, and because I can’t resist the perfect Mark Darcy (perhaps the most unrealistic of all…). What can I say, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. 

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye 

Oh my god, this book. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre and you consider yourself a feminist then a) let’s be best friends and b) you must read this book. It’s glorious. Like the heroine of her favourite novel, Jane Steele has suffered the cruelty of her aunt and schoolmaster. Unlike Jane Eyre, however, she doesn’t take it lying down, leaving behind the corpses of her tormentors as she moves to London to start her new life. After years of living in the underbelly of the big city, she spots an advertisement for a governess at her old home, the place she believes herself to be the heiress to. Intrigued, she finds herself employed, and eventually enmeshed in the strange household of Mr Thornfield, who has a few secrets of his own… 

Jane Steele is a feminist vigilante serial killer, which is basically who I want as the heroine of all books I read from now on, if publishers could be so kind. Where she views herself as wicked for having murdered, the reader can see clearly her sense of justice and, at times, you’ll probably revel in the deaths of her victims – from attempted rapists to sanctimonious religious hypocrites who threaten the lives of her friends. As she goes from her aunt’s house to boarding school, and on to London, there is plenty of blood and excitement to keep you on your toes. 

The second half is probably more ‘traditional’ in feeling, and slows a little in pace but as she begins to fall in love with Mr Thornfield, and with his extended household, I was equally as captivated as in the first part. It almost feels like a separate book, as Jane works to find out if she is the true heiress to Highgate, and what happened to the mysterious trunk of treasures that Mr Thornfield is so adamant has been lost in another time and place. The references to Sikh and Punjabi culture were fascinating, and not at all what I was expecting from a ‘retelling’ of Jane Eyre, whilst Mr Thornfield was a much preferable romantic hero to dear Rochester. 

The nods to Jane Eyre are clear throughout, and will be a delight to anyone who’s a fan of the original book, but this novel certainly stands alone as a work of triumph. I never wanted it to end. 

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry*

At the age of thirteen, Julie is kidnapped at knifepoint and taken from her home never to be seen again – her younger sister, Jane, the only witness to the crime, hidden in the closet and unable to comprehend what’s going on. Eight years later, she reappears on the doorstep of her childhood home, the victim of imprisonment at the hands of a shady drug cartel leader, and the family look to start rebuilding their life. But her mother, Anna, has doubts – is the young woman upstairs really her daughter? Doubts she wants to ignore, until a former detective turns private investigator gets in contact with some information that might just lead to the truth behind Julie’s disappearance… 

I’ve avoided thriller novels for a while; so many of them seem to hinge on a common thread of violence towards woman – the more brutal, shocking and, in many cases, sexual, the ‘better’. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s important that we discuss the realities of violence against women – there are too many who seek to belittle and ignore it, and it’s unfortunately an experience that too many go through. That said, I think that there are a lot of suspense novels that are gratuitous about it, using it as a trope to shock the reader without any real exploration of the topic more widely. I was hoping that this novel, recommended by one of my favourite bookish podcasts – All the Books – and with a not-so-subtle nod in the title to ‘Gone Girl‘, which is one of the best in the genre, would be a little different. I think you can probably tell from my prelude that it was not, at least for me. 

At first, I was captured by the mystery; who on earth was this woman claiming to be Julie, and what was her motive for doing so? Safety? Money? Something more nefarious? As you’re taken back in time through the case and through the many lives of ‘Julie’, the plot becomes more intriguing, and slightly more obvious. I’m not that great at guessing twists and endings, but by halfway I was pretty sure I had this one nailed (and I was right). There were a few parts that I couldn’t (and would not have been able to guess) when it came to the actual revelation, so it wasn’t a total loss and I did read through to the end but I found myself a little disappointed that, once again, gratuitous violence against women (and in particular young girls) was at the crux of it without much context or depth. I’m left wondering, once again, whether I should just ditch thrillers for good – but when they’re good, they’re so, so good and I’m going to keep hoping for one that surprises me and goes against those tropes. 


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3 Romance Series That Will Make You Swoon

If October is the month for reading scary books, then February is definitely the month for reading romance books. I fell into the world of romance novels last year, and haven’t looked back since. The world doesn’t need another think piece about a snobby reader who discovered that romance novels are smarter, more feminist and better written than she ever expected (guilty) but suffice to say, they are. So throw away your prejudices, grab yourself a juicy romance novel and feel the love! 

Rules of Scoundrels by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean has a stellar reputation in the world of historical romance and, whilst I haven’t had a chance to read her full back catalogue, I was happy to have started with her Rules of Scoundrels series. Prepare yourself for some brooding heroes, some feisty heroines and some pretty steamy scenes… Centred around The Fallen Angel, a notorious London gaming hell run by four aristocrats, once exiled from society, who now count themselves as royalty amongst the underbelly of London, this is *not* the kind of historical romance you’re imagining. There’s very little that’s prim and proper about these books – we’re not talking courtships and balls, here. Each book centres on one of our heroes, and the love that captures their heart and changes everything. With a few pretty major twists and turns along the way, this ragtag bunch of misfits is bound to capture your heart.

The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn

Here you’ve got an extensive and close knit family, and a mother who’s desperate to marry them all off. From Anthony all the way down to Henrietta (there are xxx of them in total), they’re all looking for love in their own unique ways. This series is more of what you might expect from a historical romance series, with balls and carriages and dresses, but with a little twist… the ladies and gentlemen of the ‘Ton are plagued by the straight-talking gossip paper delivered straight to their doors, written by the mysterious XXX, which reveals their secrets at the most inopportune times. There’s something incredibly sweet and heart-warming about these books, and you’ll find yourself wanting to be part of the Bridgerton family (or married to one, at least), as they tackle their issues and find love across the pages.  

The Brothers Sinister by Courtney Milan 

I wrote about this in my ‘best books of 2016’ post a couple of months back, so I think you can tell that I have left my favourite until last. I think about the heroes and heroines of this series often – I devoured every part of this series looking for more snippets about the characters, not willing to let them go on with their lives without me. This is feminist romance at its very best, tackling the issues head on with heroines that defy expectations and heroes that love them all the more for doing so. The women are scientists, suffragettes and society outcasts, but they are also bold, brave and beautiful in their own unique ways. There are the obligatory kisses (and more) and marriage proposals, but there are also thrilling plots full of twists and turns, and I was left wanting more every single time. They were all wonderful, but I have a particular soft spot for Violet and Sebastian from The Countess Conspiracy.

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January Book Reviews

Another year, another reading challenge for me to tackle. For reasons that are probably obvious now, I’m only giving myself a target of reading 52 books this year – less than half my total last year. My hope is that I can sit with a sleeping baby in one arm and my Kindle in the other so I’ll actually be able to read more than ever, but suspicion (and anecdotal evidence from friends who are parents) suggest that is a rather unlikely scenario. S0, I’m just going to try and get as much reading done before July and then we’ll see, shan’t we? Luckily, this set of books was a rather wonderful way to start a reading year… 

Heartless by Marissa Meyer*

Heartless is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland from the perspective of the Queen of Hearts (you know, “off with their heads!”)… before she became the Queen of Hearts. If you’re after an unputdownable read, then I think this might be the one for you: you’ve got a star-crossed love story, controlling parents, unexplainable events, delicious descriptions of pastries and some familiar characters sprinkled in there. 

Catherine is a favourite of the unmarried King but, unlike her social-climbing parents, she’s not fussed about becoming the Queen. She wants to open a bakery with her best friend – a goal that seems to be slipping out of her reach with every new attention from his majesty. At a royal ball, she meets the handsome and mysterious Jest, the new court joker and the two begin a secret love affair. Cath wants to follow her heart, but in a land filled with magic, madness and monsters, is that even possible? 

Marissa Meyer manages to capture so much of the quirky, surreal, nonsense quality of the original Alice in Wonderland tale in this novel, which has twists and turns around every corner. Characters that you know and love, from the Cheshire Cat to the Mad Hatter, are given new depth and personality, whilst you can’t help but fall in love with both Cath and Jest. My heart ached for them, for the impossibilities of the stifling sexist society they live in, and for the ending that you know is coming. As a re-telling you sort of know where the story is going, although the ending did manage to shock me and break my heart regardless. There’s a really good balance between the original and Meyer’s own innovations that make this feel so fresh – I wish there was another one to come! 

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp 

As more school shootings happen, so, too, do books about them seem to proliferate as people try to make sense of something that seems nonsensical. There’s the infamous We Need To Talk About Kevin, the darkly funny Vernon God Little and plenty more – including this young adult offering, This is Where It Ends. At 10am, the principal of Opportunity High School finishes her welcome speech, marking the start of a new semester. At 10.03am, the auditorium doors won’t open. At 10.05am the shooting begins. Told from the perspective of four different students with personal connections to the shooter, this book tracks the incident minute-by-minute in heart-stopping detail. At moments, it is truly terrifying. The shooting, as I imagine it is in reality, is brutal, indiscriminate and all the more scary for it, and the scenes inside the auditorium were incredibly powerful.

However, for me, it just wasn’t nuanced enough; school shootings are such a complex issue and tackled so well elsewhere, that this felt a bit bland at times. The four voices we hear all felt quite similar; although the characters ostensibly had quite a few differences between them, they spoke in the same way and were all quite clearly the ‘good guys’ when put against the shooter. There were moments were the narrative tried to give him redeeming qualities, but they were weighed down by how ‘evil’ he was portrayed in other moments. I’m not sure it’s always as clear cut as that, and I wish that he’d had a chance to speak in the same way as his ‘victims’. There was so much potential, but I feel like the other books I mentioned do a better job of tackling such a deep and difficult topic. 

Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson*

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child, and my favourite book of hers (at the time) was The Lottie Project, with half of the novel set in Victorian England. So it was with no small amount of childlike excitement that I set about reading ‘Clover Moon’, a novel set in the Victorian slums about a plucky young girl with a lucky name. Clover’s imagination is her best escape from her poverty-stricken life, but when tragedy strikes she realises that everything she once loved about her home is gone, and her abusive step-mother and indifferent father loom large in her life. She’s heard of a place that girls like her can run to, but can she find the courage (and the opportunity) to break free and find a new home? 

Wilson excels when she’s writing about hardship, never shying away from the details – a skill that I think is the reason why she is so beloved as a children’s author. In Clover, we have a brave and brilliant heroine that you will root for from the very first page, and despite the moments of darkness, there is a huge amount of hope within this book – again, a typical feature of Jacqueline Wilson. Clover encounters some real characters on her travels, including the kindly Mr Dolly, a hunchbacked doll-maker who will bring tears to your eyes, and Hetty Feather, the eponymous heroine of another of Wilson’s books. Whilst the happy ending might not be realistic for most children in Victorian England, this heart-warming tale has all of the elements of the perfect story. There’s a reason why Jacqueline Wilson is a national treasure, and I’ve yet to read one of her books that proves otherwise. I hope to be able to read many more of her books in years to come! 


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2017 Books You Need To Pre-Order Now

There are so many books published every year, and only just so much time to read them in (not forgetting the ones you didn’t get around to from the years before…), so it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s some of the reads that I’m most excited about getting my grubby mitts on this year. It’s in no way an exhaustive list (this is a better bet for you, if you want comprehensive!) but hopefully it’ll give you a little inspiration. One thing I’ve been noticing from my reviews and book lists, is that I’m not reading as diversely as I’d like, with very few authors of colour, LGBT and international authors making my lists. So that’s something I’ll be working on this year, for sure. But for now, these are a pretty good starting point if you want to find some good books to preorder… 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay 

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed this book on my previous ‘books I’m excited about’ lists; the publication date has been postponed a couple of times but I’m hoping that this year is the year that I finally get my mittens on it. Roxane Gay is one of my favourite writers (look out for a review of her newest work, Difficult Women, next week) and this ‘searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself’ promises to be my favourite of hers yet. 

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell 

This is another book that I feel like I’ve been waiting to be published for years. I’ve actually had a little sneak peek at this one and, oh boy, was it worth the wait. Cat Marnell is an ex-beauty editor and sort-of-ex-drug addict with a witty & irreverant but emotionally honest style that will have you tearing through this memoir. Seriously, you’re gonna want to get a piece of this. 

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

If you’re not already in love with Dawn O’Porter, then make this the year that you start following her – she’s just a delight. Her podcast about fashion is particularly good (and will make you want to be her best friend). But it’s her books I’m here to talk about. Her first two YA novels surprised me (in the best way) with their frank and emotional portrayal of teenage girlhood and friendship, and The Cows is her first adult offering. The blurb reads: 

It’s about friendship and being female.
It’s bold and brilliant.
It’s searingly perceptive.
It’s about never following the herd.

Yep, I’ll take three copies, please. 

How to Be a Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan 

I’ve heard Daisy Buchanan described as the Internet’s big sister, and I think that’s probably a very accurate description. She’s a wonderful writer, a thoughtful and empathetic agony aunt, and an excellent Twitter follow. Her first book, How To Be A Grown Up, is a ‘comforting, witty, supportive handbook for real twenty-something women’ on how to negotiate a difficult decade. I think this is a book that we might all need to read. 



The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this YA novel is already getting people talking. Starr is torn between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born & raised, and her posh high school in the suburbs. When she becomes the only witness to the fatal shooting of her best friend by a police officer, her whole world is turned upside down and what she says has power she can only guess at. This is going to be an important read, for sure. 

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard 

Okay, I’ll admit that this isn’t the best ever YA series, but after reading the previous two instalments, I’m dying to find out what happens to Mare and Cal in their fight against Maven. Will the rebellion succeed or, with allegiances being tested like never before, will everything crumble around them. You’ve still got time to read the first two if you’re after a bit of fantasy action this winter. 

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My Favourite Books of 2016

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood*

This is the book that I think will stick with me for a very long time. I was surprised that it didn’t get more pick up in the bookish press this year, but perhaps that is due to the controversial subject matter (or perhaps the sheer volume of books out there). The story follows eight year old Wavy, daughter of a meth dealer and only ‘adult’ in her household, and twenty-one year old Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold. After a chance meeting, the two form an unlikely friendship – and begin to fall in love. It’s shocking and complex and thought-provoking and ugly and wonderful, just as the title suggests. 

The Girls by Emma Cline* 

Quite the opposite of ‘All the Ugly and Wonderful Things’, this book seems to have been in every ‘best of 2016’ list going – and was hyped from the very start of last year. And whilst some have questioned its popularity, I would definitely say that all of the praise for this book is very much deserved. The lyrical, lilting writing is evocative and beautiful, capturing the heady summer of 1969 and that liminal moment on the cusp of girlhood and teenagedom that characterises the life of protagonist, Evie Boyd. Based on the true story of the Manson Family, Evie is captivated by the girls who come to town, living on a ranch in the hills under the leadership of the enigmatic Russell. As Evie grows closer to the girls, and, in particular, the bewitching Susan, she finds herself pulled into life at the ranch, until something happens that changes everything forever… 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 

Another heart-wrenching and heart-breaking novel – this is not a light beach read, but it is an absolute masterpiece and another book that will stay with me for a long time. After college, best friends Jude, JB, Malcolm and Willem move to New York to pursue their dreams. They are more like brothers than friends, but whilst they are close, none of them know the true pain of Jude’s past and present. As they make their fortunes, you learn more about Jude’s history and it is more painful and horrifying than you can imagine. You will need a million tissues when reading this book, for sure, but it will also bring you moments of lightness and hope, and one of the most touching portrayals of male friendship that I have ever come across in literature. 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney* 

A family drama that’s whip smart, funny, and surprisingly touching. The Plumb children have been relying on ‘The Nest’ – a trust fund payment that will pay out when the youngest turns 40 – to help solve their self-inflicted problems. However, just before the pay out, eldest brother Leo – notorious rogue and failed businessman – gets into a car accident whilst under the influence and the resulting fallout depletes ‘The Nest’ that they were all relying on. As the siblings struggle to find a solution, they must battle with old conflicts and the very particular pain that your family can bring. It’s entertaining, a little madcap with a very lovely ending. 

The Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan 

2016 was the year I discovered historical romance novels – and I am so glad that I did. I devoured this series, which follows a group of friends (the eponymous Brothers Sinister, and their honorary members) as they each fall in love. This is feminist romance at its very best, with heroines that defy expectations and stand out from the crowd – and I loved them all. And I loved the male protagonists more because they could see how wonderful these women are, which is the right way round in a romance, I think. The stories were full of intrigue and feminist badassery, as well as the obligatory kisses and marriage proposals. 

Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi*

This debut from comedian Shappi Khorsandi is absolutely stellar. Seventeen-year-old Nina has a drinking problem, and her life begins to unravel after a rather traumatic evening that she doesn’t quite remember. This book is darkly funny, very powerful, emotional and brave. Nina is a fantastic protagonist; although she acts like a bit of an asshole to her family and friends, she goes on a real journey and you are rooting for her all the way. This book pulls no punches when it comes to the reality of alcoholism, and there are some pretty big roadblocks for Nina to overcome, but you find yourself rooting for her all the way. 

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne’s whole Spinster Club series is absolutely excellent, but the third one, which focuses on Lottie and her #Vagilante campaign to call out every instance of sexism she encounters for a full month, was my favourite. This is a really excellent look at the struggles of being a modern feminist, and Lottie is such an amazing character. The scenes of sisterhood in this novel had me welling up, and I’m sure I punched the air a few times as Lottie got down to some serious feminist business. We need more books like this in the world! 

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven*

If you need a book to uplift you, then you definitely need to pick this one up. Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ and had to be cut out of her own house. That was years ago, and now she’s ready to embrace every possibility that life has to offer. Jack is one of the popular kids at school, but he has a secret. He can’t recognise faces – including those of his own family. Every day is a struggle to play it cool. When the two get tangled in a cruel high school game that ends them in group counselling, they come to realise they have more in common than they’d first imagined and they start to change each others’ worlds. This is a gorgeous love story, and if you don’t adore Libby and her fat-positive, grab-life-by-the-balls attitude then you maybe don’t have a heart.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult*

This book is a punch in the gut, especially given the current political climate. Ruth is an experienced labour and delivery nurse, but during a routine shift she is abruptly told that she can no longer care for a particular newborn. The parents are white supremacists and they don’t want Ruth, which is African American, to touch their child. When an unfortunate incident leads to the baby’s death, the parents accuse Ruth of a serious crime and the life that she has built up around her starts to crumble. Kennedy, a white public defender, takes the case and the two struggle to see eye-to-eye as they confront racism, privilege and prejudice in order to win Ruth’s freedom. I was hooked on this interesting and emotionally smart book, and I think it would make a great book club read if you’re starting one up this year! 


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November Book Reviews


No Virgin by Anne Cassidy* 

I’ll admit I was a little cynical when I picked this up; I think it’s important that young adult fiction (or any fiction, really) addresses issues of sexual assault and rape but after reading some very hard-hitting books of this ilk recently, I was worried that it was becoming a bit of a trope, a way to short-hand deep feelings and trauma into a novel without always acknowledging the realities of such a traumatic experience. I needn’t have been so worried; this is an stark portrayal of sexual assault and the ways that class and power allow perpetrators to get away with it. Stacey Woods is your typical teenage girl; she worries about her best friend abandoning her for someone else, about her prying younger sister, about her Dad getting serious with someone new, about exams and finding a career she’s passionate about. When it all gets too much one day, she finds herself in a café being chatted up by a posh boy, who takes her on a whirlwind adventure. It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to Stacey, until it all takes a dark turn. Stacey’s experiences of rape are raw and unflinching, without being gratuitous, and highlight some important issues that I think it would benefit everyone to think about more. 

Small Great Things: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird for the 21st Century’ by Jodi Picoult* 

This book is a punch in the gut, especially given the current political climate in the USA. (I’m sure the publisher couldn’t have planned it, but now more than ever are books like this important). Ruth is an experienced labour and delivery nurse, but during a routine shift she is abruptly told that she can no longer care for a particular newborn. The parents are white supremacists and they don’t want Ruth, which is African American, to touch their child. When an unfortunate incident leads to the baby’s death, the parents accuse Ruth of a serious crime and the life that she has built up around her starts to crumble. Kennedy, a white public defender, takes the case and the two struggle to see eye-to-eye as they confront racism, privilege and prejudice in order to win Ruth’s freedom. 

I think this book will make for some pretty interesting book club discussions; I’d be interested to see how others have read it. I admit to fluctuating between being completely hooked by the story, compelled by the characters’ journeys and also a little reticent at the sometimes simplistic way that the novel laid out the realities of racism in America. At times I felt it was spoon-feeding the morality of the tale, but that may have just been my reading and, as I mentioned, I’d love to know what others thought. It’s difficult to talk about a book like this without becoming mired in a lot of history and politics (don’t get me wrong, that’s exactly where I like to be mired, if I am to be mired at all, but it’s not always great to be mired). I think it’s an important read, as well as one that is interesting and emotionally smart. However, at times it felt very black and white, if you’ll excuse the pun; I loved Ruth and wanted only the best for her, and she felt like a very rounded character to me, but the white supremacist couple were almost cartoon-ishly bad to me. They were consumed by their obsession with white supremacy; it infected everything they did, even the ordinary mundane things, and whilst I don’t doubt (having seen the evidence in the coverage of Trump rallies) that people like that exist, I thought it made it almost too easy to draw a line between right and wrong. Perhaps the hope is that white people reading this book will identify more with the white lawyer, so sure that she is not racist until her own privilege and prejudice are presented to her starkly by Ruth and by the facts of the case. Either way, whilst I think it would be hard to do, there is room for a little more nuance on each side. 

I am maybe biased because when looking up some facts about the book, I stumbled across the sub-title given to it by Amazon: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird for the 21st Century’. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked this book; maybe even loved it. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and will stick with me for a long time. But to compare it to To Kill A Mockingbird, which is very subtle, and therefore perhaps more powerful and long-lasting, in its messaging is mis-leading, I think. I know those were not Picoult’s words, but I think it’s worth thinking about nonetheless. With everything that has happened, are we ready now for a more heavy-handed portrayal of racism in America? Is subtle no longer going to work on us; do we need something more to hit the message home? I urge you to read this book and find out for yourself (especially since it’s just £4 on Amazon at the time of writing – you’ve got no excuse not to!). 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han 

What a contrast to the other books on this list! If you spend any time on bookstagram, you’ll probably have spotted the cover of this sweet book. When it popped up on Kindle for just 99p, I couldn’t resist and I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s heart-warming in the best way; if you want to lose yourself in a teen romance then this is an excellent one to pick. Lara Jean is one of three sisters; after her mother died, her older sister Margot took on a lot of the responsibility but now she’s off to college in Scotland and it’s Lara Jean’s turn to pick up the slack. In a year that’s already going to be full of change and turmoil, something disastrous happens; the letters that she wrote to each of her previous crushes and stashed under her bed have been posted and everything has gone awry. As her crushes start to confront her about the content of the letters, Lara Jean starts to learn a little something about love… Whilst the romance in this book was touching and definitely had me squealing with joy at the end, it was the relationship between the sisters, and with their father, that I really loved the most. Definitely one to pick up on a dreary day! 

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

In Tally’s world, sixteen is the age when you are turned from an ‘Ugly’ into a ‘Pretty’; when you’re a Pretty, everything is wonderful and you can forget all of your problems. Your only job is to have fun and hang out with other Pretties. Tally can’t wait to join her best friend Peris across the river after her operation, but when she meets Shay everything is turned upside down. Shay isn’t sure she wants to be Pretty and when she runs away, Tally begins to learn more the ugly truth about being Pretty. If you’re into young adult dystopia, then this could be one for you but it didn’t grab me as much as I thought it would. Tally was a bit of a nothing character; somehow she managed great feats without previously demonstrating any particular drive or intelligence, which made it difficult to care about her eventual fate, and there was something a little bit obvious about the big reveal (if you’ve read any dystopia before, you can probably guess pretty quickly…). There were a few action scenes, but they were not as exciting as others I’ve read, and a bit of a romantic storyline that, again, didn’t capture my imagination. It ended on a cliffhanger, and I’m in two minds about picking up the next one; I hate to leave a story unfinished but I find myself not caring all that much about what happens to Tally and her gang.


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September Book Reviews


Modern Lovers by Emma Straub*

Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe were in a pretty popular college band, but now they just do regular people things. The fourth member of Kitty’s Mustache went on to become a star, burning out in her youth and leaving behind the band’s best song as her legacy to the world. Now, they live almost-next-door to each other in Ditmas Park, and their lives are simultaneously tangled and completely separate. When a producer gets in touch to buy their life rights for a movie about Lydia, their once-friend and fated rockstar, it brings up a whole host of issues and feelings on ageing, purpose and relationships. 

This book manages to be dramatic and quiet, all at the same time – which is quite some feat. Fans of literary fiction will love the phrasing in this novel, which is beautiful and slow-paced without being dull. The characters are well-rounded and I very much felt that they could be real, from Andrew’s mid-life crisis to Ruby’s teenage one. This book does an excellent job of juxtaposing young love with the realities of what ‘happily ever after’ really means, the spontaneity against the monotony, the honest against the buried secrets. If you’re looking for something sweet and thought-provoking, then I think you will love this.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven*

This book took me completely by surprise. I am a little sceptical, probably unjustly, by the suite of YA novels populated by dying teenage characters, or characters who want to die – as in Jennifer Niven’s first, very popular novel All the Bright Places. They feel a little bit emotionally manipulative to me, and they’re just not my jam. It should be noted that I haven’t read any of the really popular ones, but it’s just a feeling I get – and I’m willing to be proved wrong some day. This book, though? Is about the very opposite – about living, seizing every day and squeezing every last experience out of your time here on earth. It was inspiring, joyful and so full of love for the characters. 

Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ and had to be cut out of her own house. That was years ago, and now she’s ready to embrace every possibility that life has to offer. Jack is one of the popular kids at school, but he has a secret. He can’t recognise faces – including those of his own family. Every day is a struggle to play it cool. When the two get tangled in a cruel high school game that ends them in group counselling, they come to realise they have more in common than they’d first imagined and they start to change each others’ worlds. This is a gorgeous love story, and if you don’t adore Libby and her fat-positive, grab-life-by-the-balls attitude then you maybe don’t have a heart. This is the YA story that I want to see them make a movie out of, please. 

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne 

I am clearly on a feminist YA kick at the moment, and this is the most feminist of them all, in that it is explicitly about being a feminist and all that entails. The third in Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club series, and the best of the three, in my humble opinion (although the others are definitely worth picking up), follows Lottie as she takes on the world with her #Vagilante campaign. Determined to call out every incidence of sexism she encounters for a full month, Lottie finds herself at the centre of a feminist revolution at school and in the wider world – until it all starts to get out of hand. This is a really excellent look at the struggles of being a modern feminist, and Lottie is such an amazing character – I love her no-holds-barred approach to life and love. The scenes of sisterhood in this novel had me welling up, and I’m sure I punched the air a few times as Lottie got down to some serious feminist business. We need more books like this – it’s an absolute triumph.

The Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan

I’m going to lump all these books together for the sake of this post, but they are all individually pretty excellent so I would definitely encourage you to look them up and discover their individual merits. As well a feminist YA kick, I’ve also been dabbling in the world of historical romances and I am completely head over heels for this series. I’m always a fan of books with crossovers, where characters you fell in love with in the previous novel come back with cameo roles and/or get their own starring title, and this series does it perfectly. By the time I was reading The Suffragette Scandal: Volume 4 (The Brothers Sinister) I was so enmeshed in the world of these characters that I never wanted it to end; I’m still in denial that I won’t ever find out more about their lives because they felt so real to me. These books completely smashed my preconceptions about romance novels – they’re body positive, they’re diverse, they’re feminist and each time I thought I couldn’t love another one more, the next one came along. Although the series is named for the Brothers Sinister, the three heroes of the novels, it is the heroines who steal the show. These are books about women who won’t be put into boxes, and the men who love them because of, rather than in spite of, that fact. 


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