“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
C.S.Lewis’ problem is one that is very familiar to me, as I’m sure it is to you.
I caught the reading bug at a young age. I used to stay up past my bedtime, huddled up under my duvet with a torch, reading as late as I could. It didn’t really matter what I was reading, whether it was a prescribed reading from school, a borrowed book from a friend, or an old favourite from years before. A far more simple judgement was passed on the books I read- either I loved it, or I forgot about it.
As we get older, however, it becomes far more important to assess whether a book is worth reading before starting it. We have less time to read, and what time we can give over to this hobby needs to be used in a way that is valuable to us. We need reading as a respite, not an addition to the boredom of daily life.
This point became even starker to me as I progressed through my undergraduate degree in English Literature. Suddenly, it wasn’t just my enjoyment that mattered when deciding whether I should read the book. External ideas (fuelled by my imposter syndrome as a first generation university student) about the academic worth of books began to influence my reading decisions, forcing me to create quite a pretentious reading list for about a year. By this, I mean, I read War and Peace just so I could say that I had read War and Peace.
I’ve just graduated, and I’m about to start a masters course in English Literature in September. After submitting my dissertation, I began to read for pleasure properly, probably for the first time since I was 18. I went to a book shop, I scoured the popular fiction section and I looked at what was popular on social media (TikTok advocates very strongly for certain books and I couldn’t just ignore that). I went home with some books that I thought would be interesting to me, rather than books I thought would validate my position as ‘the reader’.
This blog is going to try and offer book reviews that can speak to both the simplistic enjoyment of books, and a more academic assessment of them. I’ll be reviewing books that I’ve read for pleasure, and ones that are part of the reading lists for my modules at university. I think that offers more of an accurate picture of how we read as adults, half for our entertainment and half to serve a higher purpose, maybe to educate us or offer different perspectives on a certain place, topic or issue that we might not encounter in everyday life.
I hope you enjoy these reviews, and maybe find some inspiration for your own reading in them.
I’ve been writing this blog for around two months now, and I thought it would be interesting to give a break down of how I rate the books I read! Obviously you can tell from the reviews I give individual books, but there is a rough overarching scale that I use to assign ratings to books.
I think it’s really interesting to read how other people rate the books they read, and what elements they prioritise when deciding this! We all have very different qualities that we look for in books, and I think it helps you get to know the reviewer when you can see their thought processes.
So without further ado, let’s get started! I will only be looking at full star ratings, but I do sometimes give half star ratings, so if it would be helpful for me to do a blog post about how I make that decision let me know in the comments.
This is a rating I really don’t ever give, because I don’t tend to read many books that I really dislike anymore. I think I’ve fine tuned what I like to read in my head at this point in my life, so I tend to pick out books that are at least a two star read.
However, a one star read for me is a book that was very disappointing. Maybe it was a genre that I was interested in trying for the first time and it didn’t end up appealing to me, or maybe it’s a book in a genre I love that just fell flat.
I’d say that one star and DNF’ing a book almost go hand in hand, but I rarely find a book so bad that I can’t find any redeeming qualities in it. There’s usually at least one section or element of the writing that helps me to carry on and gets it a higher rating.
Maybe I’m too generous with my reviews, but I do think looking at books from an academic standpoint also helps you to see the better aspects as well as the bad. Even if the plot was dry and the characters were awful, there was probably a choice of writing style or narrative voice that I really liked.
I would just like to say that if I DNF a book, or I find it offensive and don’t want to read anymore, I would give it zero stars. For me, even a one star book has to have at least one small redeeming feature, even if that’s just me being able to read until the end.
I can’t give an example of a book that I’ve given one star too yet. I’ll update this post if I ever do, but hopefully that will never happen
Much like my one star rating, two star reads tend to be books that were disappointing. They were probably very hyped up online, and I just didn’t share everyone else’s enthusiasm for them.
This tends to be books that were from a genre that I like and fell short of the other books I’ve read. Not the worse book I’ve ever read, and I can appreciate some aspects of the book, but overall I wouldn’t really recommend it unless someone loves the author or the genre and is really interested in it.
Sometimes I think two star books are sometimes worse than one star books because I always have more hope for them. There’s nothing worse than getting a book with a really interesting premise that just doesn’t amount to much.
I also think that two stars reviews are often more because of personal preference than the book being objectively bad. If I’ve given something a two stars, I definitely don’t think it’s a bad book, it just wasn’t for me.
An example of a book I’ve given a two star review is The Watsons by Jane Austen.
We’ve finally broken into the more positive reviews! Three stars is, of course, a book that was middle of the road. It was an enjoyable read, but not something I’d necessarily rush to re-read or recommend to everyone unless it met their personal tastes.
For me, a three star book perhaps is one from a genre I don’t normally like and that surprised me by being enjoyable, or a book that I thought I’d quite like and it met those expectations.
I always feel boring when I give three star reviews because it’s such a neutral standpoint in my opinion, but quite often that’s what fits the book! I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, I enjoyed it for what it was but it didn’t change my life. I probably give out the more three star ratings than any other rating, maybe because I’m trying to make sure I’m not being too generous when reviewing.
The writing and characters are usually good in three star books, and it was interesting enough to keep my attention throughout the whole thing.
An example of a book that I’ve given three stars to is Pine by Francine Toon.
This is another rating that I rarely give out, and I think it’s because I struggle to differentiate between books that I really love, and books that I like a lot. Nevertheless, four star books are ones that I really enjoyed, but just had an element missing to stop it from being one of my favourite reads.
This usually tends to be a book that is from one of my favourite genres, or really surprised me in enjoying it so much. The plot and characters were really interesting to me, and I never felt bored or like I was struggling during the reading process. There might have just been one small problem with the premise or the ending that made me wish something was slightly different.
I think there’s a really big drive to not give all books you enjoy a five star review and to think critically to identify which books were really amazing and which fell slightly short. I’m definitely going to try and give more four star reads in the future.
An example of a book I gave four stars to is Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.
And finally we reach the pinnacle: the five star rating. These are the best of the best, the books that you finish and just want to start over again straight away. I try not to give too many five stars out, so when I just can’t resist I know it’s worth it.
For me, five star books are almost always from my favourite genre, and probably my new favourite book within it. I would recommend this to anyone, regardless of their taste in books, because I’m sure it’s that good.
They’re the type of books that you can’t think of a way to make them better, which is so rare but so great when you find them.
I really think that people shouldn’t shy away from rating books five stars. I get why you shouldn’t give every book you like five stars, but honestly I think it just encourages others to give those books a try, which in my opinion is the whole point of book reviewing! I definitely am not scared to give books five stars, as much as I try to keep things critical and not be too generous!
An example if a book I gave five stars to was Mythos by Stephen Fry.
Thank you for reading! Let me know what you use to choose how to rate the books you read in the comments!
Jane Austen is one of the most famous English authors of all time. Everyone is bound to have read one of her books at some point, whether it be at school or out of personal choice. However, The Watsons is one of her less well-known works.
It is an unfinished story that focuses on Emma Watson, who is cast out of her rich Aunt’s house and has to return to the family home. Upon doing so, she becomes entangled with her sisters’ search for a suitor, and begins to negotiate her place in polite society.
I’m not going to split my review into spoiler-free and spoiler sections, because I don’t think there’s enough to say without addressing specific details, and as the book is unfinished there’s not really anything to spoil in terms of plot. Like this story, my review will be short. If you don’t want to know specific details, feel free to exit this review now!
I think what’s most interesting about The Watsons is the fact it’s unfinished. Thinking about why Austen abandoned this novel, and how the plot may have developed had she not abandoned it, adds a dimension of intrigue to the novel. I actually think it helps to remove the barriers that are seen to surround the giants of classics because it shows that they were humans too. If you’re an aspiring author, surely that’s a far more inspiring perspective to take of Jane Austen than simply looking at her most successful novels.
Unfortunately, however, this story isn’t the most interesting in terms of its actual content. It doesn’t really have any elements that are unique from the other Austen novels- even the main characters’ name is the same as the more popular Emma. If you never read The Watsons, you won’t have missed out on much.
All the problems with this book do ultimately come down to the fact it is unfinished. The plot never really goes anywhere, and all the set up never pays off because of this. It’s hard to invest much in the characters, or form a personal opinion on them, because we don’t have enough time around them or see how the consequences of their actions and attitudes.
The writing, of course, is great, and Austen captures polite society and its inner workings perfectly. But for me, this book has little of the charm that other Austen novels do, and good writing unfortunately isn’t enough to make this an engaging read.
If you’re a big Austen fan, then definitely give this a read. It’s very short, and it’ll give you a much more grounded view of her development as an author and her story writing process. It is interesting to consider why she abandoned this story, and I do think if she hadn’t have done it would’ve made for a very engaging read.
However, if you don’t like classics or you aren’t that interested in Austen beyond her popular works, I would say give this a miss. It’s nothing different from any other work, and reading Emma would be a more interesting alternative to this story with a similar plot.
Overall, I would give The Watsons by Jane Austen 2 stars
The debate that often gets talked about, and has proven very controversial as technology advances, is physical book versus e-book. However, this binary is too simplistic nowadays, as more ways of reading emerge, and our own habits no longer tie us solely to one camp or the other.
I thought it would be interesting to speak about my thoughts on the different reading formats, and talk how this has changed in recent years.
We have to start with the tradition method of reading: the physical book. I think there’s a really interesting purity complex that surrounds the glorification of the physical book that’s quite unique to the reading community, in that it diverts from society’s common valuing of the new and technologically advanced.
Personally, I prefer reading physical books. It’s nice to hold the book in your hand, it feels more like an active process of reading than a passive one, and you get to keep it on your bookshelf as a physical memento. It’s also nice to cut down screen time, especially after a year of online learning that I’m sure has done permanent damage to my eyesight. I do have to admit, reading a physical book does feed into my ‘I’m a reader’ superiority complex, because it signals to everyone what you read, and that you read a lot.
However, there are definite downsides to reading physical books. They’re hard to transport, they’re breakable, and they tend to be more expensive. And yet, we seem to cling to them despite these disadvantages and form an emotional connection with the books themselves. I have books that I would never want to throw away because of the nostalgia they hold, or because someone special to me bought it as a gift for me. I think it’s this hook that brings us back to physical books, and brings horror to us when we hear about more and more libraries being closed in favour of providing the books online.
Kindles have been popular for a good few years now, and I can definitely see why. Being able to transport that many books with you at once definitely would prevent the feeling of not being in the mood for any of the books you chose to take with you, and offers the chance to have instant access rather than waiting for delivery or going to a book shop. Aside from buying the actual device to read it on, a lot of e-books can be found for cheap or for free on online book resources, which makes reading a lot more accessible. I think accessibility also comes from e-books being more adaptable for those who struggle with reading in terms of changing text size and colour and background colour.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of e-books. I think this might partially arise from studying because our secondary reading is always online, so after spending all day reading on a computer I like to switch to a physical book. I just also find that I’m less engaged when I read online for some reason, and I don’t know if my brain still associates reading online only with things like news articles or blog posts that don’t require quite the same mental processes. You also lose the physical show of your progress a little when you’re online, because although a lot of devices show you the percentage that you’ve read, the physical movement of pages from one side to another motivates me a lot more.
I would just like to say that I think reading on a kindle or another online reading device is a lot more appealing to me than reading on my phone. For me, the key thing is making reading a separate activity, and staying on my phone doesn’t really give me that. The main thing holding me back from e-books is that I don’t think I’d use a kindle enough to warrant spending the money on it.
For a long time, I swore I hated audio-books. I didn’t get them and they just weren’t for me. However, I recently tried to use an audio-book to get me out of a reading slump, and it worked. I really enjoy listening to podcasts, so why not audio-books? There’s not that much difference between the two. So I’ve decided to give them another try, but only in specific contexts.
My problem was always that my attention drifts very easily, and I felt like I was missing half the story. It’s a very passive form of reading, and I found it frustrating that it took twice as long to listen to them (even on 2x speed) as I could read the book myself. I’m not the type of person that would listen to audio-books whilst doing something- I definitely need to be sat still. I think that’s really important with choosing reading formats; you can have different preferences depending on what you’re doing. Like I said at the start of this post, you don’t have to be in one camp or the other.
I listened to an audio-book on a long train journey I took recently and I really enjoyed it. I don’t get travel sick, but I don’t really like reading physical books on trains, so it was the perfect compromise. I also think the book I was listening to (The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri) was really well-suited to the audio-book format (I’ll talk more about this in the review I post for this book). So, maybe my thoughts are changing regarding audio-books, but I don’t think they’ll become the main reading format I reach for.
Overall, I think that my loyalty still lies to the physical book, but I am starting to diversify a little. Honestly, I don’t think any format can categorically be labelled as the best for everyone, because we are all so different and want different things from our reading experience. Instead of viewing the different formats of reading as competitors, we need to start seeing them as a way to find what best works for you, and solve a problem that arises in specific areas and contexts of your reading.
I still personally have a long way to go with figuring this out, but I’m glad I’ve started to diversify my reading!
Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.
Matthew: the perfect husband
Titus: the perfect son
Charlie: the perfect illusion
Rachel: the perfect stranger
Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.
And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.
Crime and murder mystery fiction is something I’ve read a decent amount of in the past year, so I feel in a good position to review a book like this.
I think Walter does a great job of misdirecting the reader’s attention and focus throughout this book, and I think there are enough elements that you’re unlikely to correctly guess the whole plot. The characters are all fairly unlikeable, and I think this really aids the misdirection; there’s no character you completely trust, and therefore nothing is out of the question
I really enjoyed the non-linear structure of the narrative, because it kept the mystery alive and fed details through in a way that at times became more confusing the more that was revealed. I’m a big fan of crime novels that manage to keep readers at the same level of understanding as the characters in the novel and yet feed them pieces of information that the characters are missing. This book definitely achieves that.
The only downside to this book comes from its genre: at times it does rely quite heavily on classic crime genre tropes. There’s only so much difference a murder mystery can have, and the idea of the looming dinner party does give it a unique twist, but there was nothing I haven’t read before in this book. Of course, there’s nothing necessarily bad about a book not being completely unique, but some of the events seemed far too theatrical for the realism of the plot because it follows crime tropes more fitting in less reality-based novels.
Overall, if you like crime and murder mystery fiction, definitely give this book a read. You won’t miss out on anything ground-breaking if you don’t read it, but you won’t regret it. I read this in one sitting, so it’s definitely captivating and a good mystery to explore.
I think the plot is very clever because as much as it uses tropes from the crime genre, it also alludes to and dismisses others. From the start, it becomes fairly clear that Rachel should be the main suspect. She stalks them to London, is found snooping around their house, and is the one holding the bloody knife. Walter alludes to the classic stalker murder story line, and then recovery’s your suspicions onto Titus. We’re shown his grandparents and Charlie convincing him to get his story straight and lie after the murder, he seems to be captivated by Rachel and is frustrated with his controlling father. Again, a son kills father narrative is alluded to, when finally Charlie is highlighted as the suspect. But the blame extends past his physical murder.
I thought it was clever to extend the mystery beyond the murder itself, and it becomes clear that the events themselves echo Charlie and Matthew’s relationship: perfect from the outside, messy and broken on the inside. Their model gay relationship is really a sexless and fading one, their perfect family is shrouded in the guilt of Matthew’s murder of Titus’ biological father, and their new book club member is determined to expose them for all their misdeeds.
I went down many wrong paths whilst reading this in an attempt to guess the plot. At first I thought Matthew was responsible for Rachel’s mother’s death (wrong family member but close!), then I thought she was in love with Titus (very glad I was wrong about that) and many more theories that were disproved. I guess that stands testament to Walter’s ability to write an effective mystery. I think that’s what makes this book really work, because you end up vaguely guessing the right events but getting the characters involved wrong, or vice versa. The events themselves (an affair, revenge for a family member, a stalker) aren’t exactly unique, so I think without this misdirection and Walter’s carefully planned release of information this book would be underwhelming.
In terms of the characters, Walter creates people that are unlikable, but still realistic. No-one is reduced to a stereotypical villain, and they all retain a crucial aspect of humanity that keeps the book firmly placed in reality. This is part of the reason why I found the ending a little problematic, because the theatricality of Rachel recording her conversation with Charlie and using it to blackmail him and Matthew’s mistress started to creep into the stereotype. I understand it sets up the potential for a sequel, and it did create a final sense of dread that undercut the resolution of the crime, but it just felt a bit odd considering the rest of the story felt like it could happen to anyone.
I think this is a really good example of a murder mystery that is firmly grounded in reality, and yet has all the twists and turns that make it theatrical in its own way. If you’re a huge fan of the crime genre it’s definitely worth a read, but I don’t think it would be anything new to you. For me, it’s a great murder mystery that demonstrates how stereotypes and tropes can be used without it feeling repetitive or already done.
I’m giving The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter four stars.
What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next?
My current read is The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. I’m actually listening to this as an audiobook, and this format really complements the story. As you can see from the picture above, I’m almost finished, so I will post a review soon. I will also probably do a blog post on my feelings about audiobooks, and why I tend to shy away from them.
Recently Finished Reading
The last thing I read was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein. I actually listened to the first 60 pages as an audiobook (narrated by Jim Dale, very nostalgic), but then I switched back to a physical copy.
I really enjoyed reading this book, and it is rare that I read a magical fantasy novel so it was a great change. It was on my tbr list for years, so to finally have read it and enjoyed it is amazing. I’ll post a review for this soon.
I think my next read will be a re-read of Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. I really loved re-reading the first book in the series, and I definitely plan on continuing this. With university reading though, it might not be the next book I read overall, but it’ll definitely be the next book I read for pleasure.
I’m so excited to be doing part two of this tag! It was so nice opening up about my reading habits and opinions in the last post, and I hope that it’s given you a clearer view of me. So, without much introduction, let’s get on with the second half of the questions.
Just to note again, I took these questions from A Book Owl’s Corner, who’s post you can find here.
Newest book you’ve read?
I’ve read quite a few books published in 2020. I’m yet to read one published in 2021- I’m so behind on reading for pleasure I’m catching up on books I’ve missed in the past, let alone reading new releases as well. In general, I don’t really follow new releases that closely, partly because I love reading older books, but I also find it’s quite an expensive way of reading.
This is so so difficult, because nowadays I really don’t read that many books by the same author. I’m more of a stand alone than a series kind of girl.
I would have to say my favourite author is probably Rick Riordan, because I feel confident that I could pick up any of his books and thoroughly enjoy them. Yes I know it’s YA and it probably doesn’t really reflect my favourite kind of books now, but I think it’s the most accurate answer I can give.
Buying or borrowing books?
Interestingly, when I first started reading properly as a hobby I always borrowed books from my best friend or the library. I only ever bought books when I knew I liked them (a very backward and weird logic I know), and I discovered a lot of my most loved childhood series through her. my parents weren’t big readers and I never had any idea about what to read, so it worked out pretty well for me.
Now, though, I have to say I prefer buying books. I need my own copies of books for university, and there’s just something nice about owning a book yourself and being able to revisit it whenever you want. I’m also a big fan of cracking the spine and dog-earing books, so it wouldn’t be in the lender’s best interest either!
A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?
For this question, I’m going to go down more of the route of me not quite getting the hype, rather than disliking the book. Honestly, I’ve hated on Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam enough, and it’s time to give a more interesting answer than that.
I haven’t released my review of this book yet, but it would have to be Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I didn’t hate it, but I don’t understand how it could be someone’s favourite classic. I think I might have had unfair heightened expectations, and unfortunately it was a bit mediocre for me.
Bookmarks or dog-ears?
I have some beautiful bookmarks, which I’ve had since I was a child. And yet, do I reach for them? No. I dog-ear the pages.
In all seriousness, it really doesn’t bother me. I like it when books look imperfect and used, and I’ve never lost my page using this method.
A book you can always re-read?
I’m on a real Rick Riordan appreciation train here. Ive just re-read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief for probably the fourth time, and it was just as good as the first. I love the comedic way that Riordan writes, the story is so compelling and exciting, and of course the mythology is a plus.
I’m planning on re-reading the whole Percy Jackson series, so I might do a blog post rating and ranking each one. I think that’ll be more interesting then giving each one an individual full review.
Can you read while listening to music?
Yes! It actually helps me to stay more focused, especially when I’m finding the book a tough read. I’ve started to search on Spotify for playlists called ‘reading [insert author or book here]’, and it’s a great way to find mood-appropriate music to listen to!
I also like to listen to background noise like waves or café noises sometimes.
One POV or multiple POVs?
For me, it’s got to be one POV. Sometimes multiple POVs are used super effectively, but in general I like sticking to one. I think you get used to the narrator and changing it halfway through or multiple times just creates a disjointed narrative.
If anyone has recommendations that will change my mind about multiple POVs, I’m very open-minded!
Do you read a book in one sitting or multiple days?
One sitting. I’m a very all or nothing person. If I can get it done in one day, I will try my best. I think it helps to really immerse yourself in the story as well, creating a far better reading experience. I think I’m lucky to be a fast reader, because I generally can read a book in a day.
Who do you tag?
Anyone who wants to take part! Especially blogs who have just started, it’s a great way for your readers to get to know you better!
Following on from my blog post about the first series that I remember reading and enjoying as a child (you can read that post here), this is a collection of the series that I loved when I was a teenager. A lot of the earlier series were fantasy, and more specifically contained magical elements. It’ll be interesting to see how my tastes developed into my teenage years, and once again compare them to what I currently read!
The Twilight Series
Of course, this series is very obvious and probably features on a lot of people’s ‘most loved’ teenage series in my generation. However, I do think that The Twilight series shows a really interesting transition in my reading tastes. Although the story is about vampires, and therefore shares elements with fantasy novels, there is also a transition here more towards romance and stories set in our world.
I remember really liking these books (I wasn’t as fond of New Moon from memory though), and as cringey as they seem now, I think reading something that I viewed as more mature was really important for carrying reading as a hobby into being slightly older. I think I read these right at the turning point of me going to secondary school, so this was a great starting point for entering into the realm of YA. I also referenced Twilight in an essay I wrote about the Gothic in my second year of university, so I guess I can thank teenage me for giving myself material there.
The Kane Chronicles Trilogy
Moving on from reading the Percy Jackson series, I read the Kane Chronicles, another trilogy from Rick Riordan. Once again, here the development in my reading can be seem simply in the length of the books I was reading. Clearly I loved reading about mythology and enjoyed the comedic writing style used in these books, so I did the sensible thing and stuck to reading things by the same author. Not the most adventurous, but it worked.
Once again, this trilogy probably helped to lay the framework for my love of historical fiction and anything to do with mythology. Interestingly, I remember that this book helped me realise that I don’t love narration written from multiple perspectives. I think getting older is when you really start to pinpoint what tropes you like and dislike more so than when you’re younger, and it’s an opinion that I still hold and consider when choosing books today.
I would happily re-read these books, but my tbr pile is too long with books I haven’t already read, so unfortunately I won’t be doing so in the foreseeable. Maybe if I get into a reading slump…
The Maze Runner Series
I think the Maze Runner again shows how I moved away from magical fantasy and into more dystopian, sci-fi novels as I got older. Ironically, this is now one of my least favourite genres, so unfortunately this didn’t influence my adult reading habits so much. At the time though, I was devastated when I finished the last book in this series, and it put me in a reading slump for a long time. It’s not really a plot that would really interest me now, but I think again it was a step in me reading books that were founded more on reality than the books I read as a child. The movies were pretty good as well (despite completely changed the plot of the final book).
What this series did influence was me being active in a fan community for a series of books. When I read these books I had a twitter account, and so I was able to experience the great feeling of being immersed in an online book community. My friends at school also read these at the same time as me and we became obsessed with them for a while as a group, which is a nice call-back to my Harry Potter fan club that I had in primary school. In this sense, I guess the Maze Runner series introduced me to the idea that reading didn’t have to be a solely independent hobby, and that it was something you can share with other people. The fact I’m writing this blog now is testament to the influence that this idea had.
The Hunger Games Series
I actually had to re-read the first book for one of my modules last year, which is not something I thought I would ever do again (especially as part of the final year in an English Literature degree- take that intellectual snobbery). Once again, another dystopian series that I probably wouldn’t be interested in picking up now. Looking back though, the concept felt so ground-breaking to me, and yet felt very real and believable. If we’re talking about cultural impact, The Hunger Games will be remembered for a long time.
I wasn’t as big of a fan of Mockingjay as the other books, but it definitely made me cry (this might have been the first time I ever cried at a book- and it was at an airport). Overall, this series introduced me to books with darker themes, and started to push me towards reading books that made some kind of political or societal comment rather than just being entertaining.
Overall, my taste in series seems to have tilted more towards the dystopian side of fantasy, rather than the magical. Of course, my tastes became more mature and there’s definitely more of a focus on romance and darker themes in these books.
Interestingly though, I think I started to move away from series in my teenage years, and today I rarely read series. When I was younger, most of the books I read were part of series, or were written by the same author and were part of the same group of books. I guess as my autonomy over what I was reading expanded, I started to get more comfortable with reading a wider variety of books and didn’t rely on picking series as a safe way to ensure I liked what I was picking up.
I hope you enjoyed reading through my picks for my teenage favourite series, and maybe it brought back memories of your teenage years!
When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in 1960s Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.
Norwegian Wood Blurb
I really liked this book, and I thought it was a really interesting take on the coming-of-age story we’re all familiar with. I do have to say, I think it’s important to read this book with context in mind: it is translated from Japanese, and it’s set in 1960s Tokyo. When I first started reading this, I didn’t keep this in mind, and it did affect how I felt about the book. Once I took a moment to remind myself of the context, the book became ten times better.
The book does focus on some quite dark themes despite being a coming-of-age story, particularly mental health and loss. I would definitely place a content warning on this novel, so if you’re particularly sensitive to either of these themes then it might be better to give this a miss. It is these darker themes, however, that I think elevates it, and Murakami uses these low moments to make readers really invest in his characters. Although none of the characters are perfect, they are made all the more compelling because of their flaws and mistakes.
Not a lot happens in this book in terms of plot, but the characters’ experience a lot of life-changing experiences, both good and bad.It’s definitely not a boring read, and despite the different cultural context I think it depicts the feelings of a young person or student very well. I’m glad I read this book at this point in my life, because Murakami captures perfectly the strange in-between feeling that I think most young people face when they start to venture out into the world as an established adult. Negotiating your own identity, relationships with others, ambitions and direction in life and coming to terms with the harsh reality of the adult world; all the things that Toru faces were very relevant to my life currently.
So if you’re interested in reading a coming-of-age story that addresses the struggles of emerging as an adult out of childhood, then Norwegian Wood is for you.
If you want to avoid spoilers, scroll to the bottom of this review to see my rating and final thoughts!
Thoughts About the Plot and Characters (Spoilers!)
Onto the spoiler section of this review.
I read this book in one sitting, and I think this really enhanced my experience. Murakami created a world that was very absorbing and insular because that’s how it felt to Toru. He perfectly captured the coming-of-age feeling of being completely consumed by those around you and the journey to establish yourself as an adult outside of the childhood bubble.
I guess when you break it down, Norwegian Wood contains a love triangle, at least without considering the more peripheral characters. To me, this was the perfect example of how to write a love triangle without resorting to overdone fictional tropes. It felt very natural and realistic to watch Toru struggle between his childhood trauma bond to Naoko and this newfound adult desire for Midori. It wasn’t something thrown into the novel to add drama, but rather a manifestation of the struggle between past and future that is so familiar to us all, whether in a romantic sense or otherwise. We watch Toru try to maintain his loyalty to Naoko and finally be with his childhood crush, but as he emerges more as an adult he realises his priorities and wants have changed, and that Midori may match him better now.
I think that Murakami writes about trauma and mental illness very eloquently, especially considering these topics through the eyes of a young adult. Toru’s confusion over Naoko’s ilness and his experience of losing his best friend to mental illness feels honest and true to human expereince, and the stereotypical portrayals of these problems are not drawn upon. True, Naoko does potentially fall dangerously close to the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope with her mysterious sweetness and alluring distance from Toru, but I think Murakami is careful to never undermine her health problems or to fully label her as such. This side of her portrayal, I think, is more down to Toru’s childhood crush which has elevated her to a position that she just can’t achieve, whether struggling mentally or not.
I really liked Midori as a character, and I was hoping that Toru would realise he couldn’t be with Naoko and make it work with her instead. I liked the fact that she was a dimensional character with her own ambitions, problems and personality outside of being just a love rival. It’s also refreshing that she doesn’t let him walk all over her, but she is understanding about his trauma bond with Naoko and doesn’t immediately cut him off for struggling between the two relationships. The other main women in the story, Reiko, is another example of a well-written mental health sufferer. She becomes the font of wisdom for Toru, and uses her life experience to help him negotiate his current affairs. But she also has a tragic background, and for me she underpins the tragedy of the whole book. Reiko is there to remind us that we can struggle at any point during life, but that struggling doesn’t mean you can’t have a positive impact on others.
And of course, Murakami’s book is full of sex. Meaningful sex, casual sex, damaging sex and healing sex. It’s not written like erotic fiction, but it is infused with the eroticism that memories carry. That kind of lost-but-still-there desire that seems to be enhanced with nostalgia. I think that this portrayal is really important because it doesn’t demonise using sex as a way to figure yourself and relationships out, but instead focuses its disapproval on sex that has a lasting, negative impact. Most of the time, this kind of sex is seen as an unfortunate consequence of immaturity and inexperience (excluding the traumatic and outright wrong sexual encounters in the book of course).
The only negative I have about this book is that at times the phrasing felt slightly clunky and didn’t quite match the rest of the writing style. As this is a translated text, I think this probably has to do more with the struggle to match meaning and style in a different language that anything to do with the quality of Murakami’s writing.
Concluding Thoughts and Rating
Overall, this was a really enjoyable and relatable read, and I would recommend this to everyone who likes coming-of-age style stories, especially if they themselves are a student or young adult. The writing is exquisite and the characters are multi-dimensional and feel believable.
I’m giving Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood four stars.
Just like that, August has gone and it really doesn’t feel like a whole month has passed since I made my last post of this nature. I posted my wrap-up of my August reading a few days ago, and now it seems time to look forward into this month of reading.
One of the main differences that September brings is university starting again. Although my term doesn’t start until the last week of the month, it is time I start thinking about preparatory reading. Because of this, my reading this month is going to be a mixture between books I truly want to read, and those I have to. It’s not to say that I won’t enjoy the books I’m reading for university (some of my favourites have been discovered through required reading), but there definitely is a difference between the two.
Because of this difference, I’m having to think about my goals for my September reading in a completely different way. There’s no use in selecting a long tbr pile, because I don’t yet know for sure what I need to read for my studies, and how much reading for pleasure I’ll be able to fit in alongside this. I’ve decided that it’s far more productive to write more general, quantity-based goals for this month.
So, my hopes for September are that I:
Make a good start on my reading for my academic studies
Read at least one book for pleasure per week
These goals are far more realistic, and are likely going to help me feel way more motivated to keep reading throughout the month. By not selecting a specific tbr list, I’m hopefully reducing the chance that I’ll fall into a reading slump and stop reading for pleasure all together. I have faith that I’ll be able to keep to these goals, and it’ll be good to get into these habits before my course properly start. In the past I’ve completely abandoned reading outside of my course, but I really want to try and slot it into my schedule going forward, even if the quantity has to lessen even further.
I’m still going to be writing reviews and updating about what I’m reading, so make sure to check my blog out throughout this month! I hope you all achieve your September reading goals, whatever they might be!
This month has completely flown by, and I can’t quite believe that September is here. The UK hasn’t exactly had peak summer weather, but for the first time in a while I don’t feel ready for Autumn to arrive.
Matching how short this month has felt, I thought it would be good to write a short blog post wrapping up my August reading and summarising how I’ve felt it’s gone.
In terms of reading, I think I did really well. I read 6 books this month, and considering I took a whole week off reading I’m really happy with that. Those 6 books were:
Mythos by Stephen Fry
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Watsons by Jane Austen
The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde
The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
More important than the quantity though, I really enjoyed all of the books I read this month. I rated most of these 4 or 5 stars, and it was such a nice chance to read books I was genuinely interested in. Going back to uni in September means I will be less in control of my own reading, so it’s great to take advantage whilst I still can.
I did want to read The Beekeeper of Aleppo this month, but to be honest I just wasn’t in the right mood for it. For some reason I just never wanted to pick it up, and I take that as a warning sign that I could be nearing a reading slump if I force myself to start the book. For this reason, whilst I’d still love to read this at some point, I have moved it to the lower end of my tbr pile for the time being.
I’m slightly behind on uploading my reviews for this month, so I will continue to post these into September. If you want to read any of my reviews for these books and you can’t find them on my August archive page, check the page for September!
Thank you so much for supporting my blog throughout August, and I hope you stick around for September!