Top 5 Friday – Books of 2020

I’ve had such an amazing year in terms of books, I seem to have read so many brilliant ones which hasn’t happened for a while! So, it’s going to be tough to just pick my five favourite reads of the year. In order to make it slightly easier for myself I’ve decided to just focus on those books that were published in 2020. Although, that’s still going to be a challenge!

These aren’t in any particular order as I loved all of them and couldn’t choose between them to even have a singular favourite out of the five! 

Cat and the City by Nick Bradley

This novel combines two of my biggest loves: Japan and cats, however this novel went way beyond what I was expecting. Whilst the novel sounds like it is a collection of short stories of different people in Tokyo, they are actually all related to each other in some way some with just subtle nods and others more detailed. Each story too is told in a different way, not only does Bradley wonderfully craft a brilliant cast of characters, but each segment is written in a different genre, from mystery fiction, to haikus, to manga this book has it all! Although the novel is written this way, it doesn’t feel disjointed in the slightest, in fact it makes it feel even more cohesive as it gives each character a unique voice and really emphasises how many different types of people there are in Tokyo (or any city, for that matter). It also emphasises how talented Bradley is as a writer.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

This is easily one of the most unique novels that I have ever read. I was drawn to this novel by the beautiful hardback and the mysterious description. It’s impossible to capture the brilliance of this novel in just a few words, especially as going into this novel completely blind really makes the experience even more magical and more impactful. I loved the protagonist and the way he views, and catalogues, the world that he is in. After finishing the novel I just wanted to re-read it immediately and experience it all over again as I was in denial that it was over. Once I had finished Piranesi I just had to sit quietly for a while afterwards just absorbing what I had just read and, almost mourning the fact that I won’t get to experience the novel for the first time again. This narrative and story is one of the most unique I have ever read, I can’t think of another novel like it and I doubt I’ll find another one like it for years, if ever. 

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

This is one of the strongest debut novels I have read in a long time and has me very excited, not just for the rest of this series but for any work Gong releases in the future. As an English Literature graduate, I love Shakespeare so I’m always intrigued by adaptations of his works and this was, without a doubt, one of the most refreshing takes on Romeo and Juliet since Baz Lurnham’s. This take on Romeo and Juliet is set in 1920s Shanghai, home to the blood feud of two rival gangs, with a slight fantastical element too, is just such a unique way to transform a classic work of literature. Don’t be fooled, however, just because you may have read and studied Romeo and Juliet there are still many surprises and twists that you won’t see coming. 

The Burning God by R.F. Kuang

This novel was very bittersweet for me, as I’m sure it was for everyone else. Not only was the novel a great ending to the series but it also means that the series has ended. Going into this book you know that you won’t get a ‘happily ever after’ ending, no matter how much you may want and wish for it. If you haven’t read any of these books, you need to do so in 2021 as they will have a huge impact on you. What I often worry about with the last book in a series is whether everything in the previous instalments were relevant to the ending or completely disregarded. However, that certainly wasn’t the case with The Burning God – Kuang continued to build upon the character development but there were also many callbacks to the first book too. This novel was a wonderful end to a wonderful series and I can’t wait to see what Kuang does next.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

I received this book as book mail from Bloomsbury, which was a complete surprise to me, and I adored this book. Alam is a very talented writer, who expertly managed to make even a list of items bought whilst shopping make me feel uneasy. I could have happily read another few hundred pages as the novel quickly sunk it’s claws into me, and still hasn’t completely let go even now. Which is even more impressive when barely any of the characters were even likeable, but that was all part of the books appeal-these characters are flawed, average, people not heroes or anyone special which had a much bigger impact when it comes to the suffocating and unsettling tone of the novel. I feel that this is another book that will continue to reveal different things to you on each read.

It was very difficult to narrow my favourites list of the year down to five books, and I still keep changing my mind on which books I want to feature! Hence why I’m posting this list now before I change my mind again…! I may have to do a part two focusing on books that I read in 2020 but wasn’t necessarily published in 2020… Let me know if you’d be interested in reading that!

What were your favourite books of the year? Did you read a lot of great books this year or did you have a slightly disappointing book year?

Top 5 Friday – Video Games for Book Lovers

As the long awaited PlayStation 5 is released this month, I thought I would combine my two biggest loves of video games and books for this month’s Top Five Friday feature! This post was inspired after reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea and her take on the best games for book lovers. Her list is filled with loads of great games! Some of which I would have included on my list but I wanted to try and offer something a little different. 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
For lovers of: Fantasy, Mystery, Military Academy trope

Whilst I was reading The Poppy War I just couldn’t stop thinking about the similarities to Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which is one of my favourite games of 2019. This turn based strategy JRPG, is set in the fantasy world of Fódlan where you play as a mysterious young mercenary turned professor at the prestigious Garreg Mach Monastery, a military academy founded by the Church of Seiros. 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses has a cast of brilliant characters which you can form strong bonds (and even relationships) with. It has a plot of war and magic and gods, that you can become very easily invested in and has different endings and routes you can take – meaning there are even more stories to discover on each replay of the game! 

For those who have never played a strategy RPG before, this game is a great entry! The easy mode is very forgiving and the battles are based more on logic than video game skill. 

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Platforms: PC, PS4 , PS3
For lovers of: Fantasy, Choose Your Own Adventure, Chosen One trope

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third installment in the Dragon Age series (a fantasy RPG series), I’ve chosen this one in particular as it is the only one I have played (as the other two games aren’t available on PS4), however if possible you should definitely check out the first two games too! Set in the region of Ferelden on the Thedas continent, a mysterious tear in the sky (called the “Breach”) is releasing demons into the world and needs to be closed. However, there seems to be only one person with the gift to do it…

Okay, so I know this series is mentioned by Morgenstern but I couldn’t not include this on my own list as it is one of my favourite games I’ve played. Not only can you make your own character (and not just aesthetically but race and class too) but the choices you make during the game actually matter. Whilst the game only has one ending and overarching plot, there are still other things that will change (and even have serious consequences) depending on different decisions you make. 

Nier Automata

Platforms: PC, PS4 and Xbox One
For lovers of: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Narrative Switch trope

Moving away from fantasy games, next up is Square Enix’s Nier Automata; a hack-and-slash (with some puzzle elements) JRPG. Nier Automata is set in the future where humans have fled Earth for the moon and androids and robots are at war on the abandoned planet. The androids are fighting for the humans to reclaim the Earth from the robots possession, however a lot has changed since the war first started. 

Not only does this game have a beautiful dystopian setting where nature is reclaiming the cities (which is an aesthetic I personally love), but it has interesting characters and a deep plot. The narrative of this game is very interesting too, you begin the game as android 2B and spend the most time in this perspective. This allows the player to build a relationship with her and 9S and learn about the world and what happened. Then you have the ability to replay the first part of the game as 9S and more gaps in the story begin to be filled in. Without any spoilers, the narrative then changes again where you explore the world after the first part and constantly swap between the perspective of two characters. 

I thought it was a brilliant way to tell the story and it even has 26 different endings! Before you panic, only four of them are considered ‘main’ endings with the rest just fun little add-ons which you may come across as you progress through the game. 

Persona 5

Platforms: PS3, PS4
For lovers of: Magic Realism, Japanese Fiction, Teens vs. Evil Adults trope

Persona 5 is a modern take on the classic turn based, JRPG style. You play as a teen male who has just been kicked out of his house and school after being put on probation. After moving into the attic of a small cafe in Tokyo your life completely changes on your first day of school. After finding a mysterious app downloaded onto your phone you are transported to the ‘Metaverse’ where you take on a new persona. You, along with your friends, become the Phantom Thieves and you make it your goal to steal evil from the hearts of corrupted adults. 

I just want to start off with, the cafe in this game is the one I was imagining throughout my time reading Before the Coffee Gets Cold. I think this game is great for those who love the magic realism of Japanese fiction or YA urban fantasy. The pacing of the game is very well done, with the game starting in the present day and then going back to where it started and how you got to this point. Not only is the game stylistically gorgeous, but it has a wonderful soundtrack and a brilliant plot filled with mysteries and revelations. 

Also, the game’s attention to detail for it’s Tokyo setting is incredible and gives a pretty accurate portrayal of what parts of Tokyo is like. One of the settings you get to visit is Jinbōchō which is Tokyo’s book district, which is a must visit in game and in real life!

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Platforms:  PS4
For lovers of: Action/Adventure, History, Back from the Dead trope

Uncharted 4 is the final game in the mainline Uncharted series, where you play as (ex) adventurer Nathan “Nate” Drake. Who has been tempted back into the world of treasure hunting by his brother, Sam, who he has believed to be dead for years. The treasure in question is the long-lost treasure of the infamous pirate, Henry Avery. Naturally their journey isn’t plain sailing with a rival treasure hunter, and his hired mercenaries, on their tail… 

I’ve chosen this one in particular as it is my favourite of the series but they are all very similar so if you like one you’re most likely going to enjoy the rest of them! As most of these entries have been fantasy or RPGs, I wanted to add something different into the mix. The Uncharted series is renowned for its cinematic set pieces and compelling storytelling. The characters are all a lot of fun too and are well developed, especially Nate if you spend time with him throughout the series. 

Have you played any of these games? Do you have any recommendations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

Acronyms used
RPG: Role Playing Game
JRPG: Japanese Role Playing Game

Top 5 Friday – Gothic Books

Now, I love Autumn, and I love October, but I hate Halloween and I stopped really reading and watching horror years ago. However, I still wanted to do a Top Five Friday post with a traditional October theme, so I settled on my favourite Gothic stories!

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Not only is Frankenstein a great Gothic novel, but it is the first published sci-fi novel. I love the story of how Shelley ended up writing this novel just as much as I love the novel itself. How, one stormy night in Geneva, Switzerland, Mary Shelley, her husband Percy and, Lord Byron’s talks of galvanism and the occult turns into a horror story writing competition. The novel follows Victor Frankenstein in his quest to create life by piecing together body parts and bringing them to life with electricity. However, it doesn’t quite work out the way he imagined it would…

Like most people who have read Frankenstein I first read it because I was studying it at school. Throughout my education I’ve studied the novel around four times, so I’ve read it quite a few times at this point! Now I must admit, as I’ve got older and studied it more the more I grew to love the book. There are just so many different layers to the novel, with many different narrators, that you initially don’t realise if you just know of the several adaptations that have come from this novel now. 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner a black woman who escaped slavery to Ohio with her family. However, they were ultimately found and she made the difficult decision to kill her two-year-old daughter so she wouldn’t be subjected to life in slavery. In Beloved we meet Sethe, a former enslaved woman who is now living with her 18-year-old daughter in a house that is haunted by a spirit who is believed to be the ghost of Sethe’s eldest daughter. 

Okay, so this might not be a Gothic novel in the classic sense however as I came across it during my Gothic to Goth module I’m adding it to the list! This was such a beautiful, haunting, novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and analysing. Beloved does an excellent job of combining gothic fantasy with the real history of slavery in the U.S. with fantastic and unforgettable characters. 

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter 

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is a collection of dark, feminist, fairytales with a seductive twist. Whilst the tales draw upon classic favourites such as “Beauty and the Beast”, “Red Riding Hood” and “Puss in Boots”, they look very different with Carter’s wonderful retelling. 

I was lucky enough to study The Bloody Chamber during school, and I’m thrilled I did because otherwise I might not have ever come across this! I adore all of the stories in this collection, I think my favourite one was The Snow Child, it was the first one that I read and it just stuck with me after that. The collection’s titular story, The Bloody Chamber, is a great opening to set the scene for the rest of the collection with a young virgin girl marrying a much older, mysterious, man with a dark secret. 

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman

Again, another entry that isn’t immediately what some people might think of as Gothic but GoodReads is telling me it’s Gothic so we’re running with it. This story explores the treatment of mental illness in women in the 19th century through diary entries. However, the treatment of being confined to a room slowly sees our protagonist spiral even more… 

I came across The Yellow Wallpaper when I had just finished my A-Levels and I wanted to prepare for my degree by reading generic texts that are usually found on university reading lists. Whilst it’s only a short story it’s impact is no less than a full novel. The diary format is the perfect way to tell this story, it was personal and the reader witnessed the extent of her mind unravelling.

Selected Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is revered as one of the best American writers in Gothic fiction, or even the best. I particularly love his short stories as they are brilliantly able to unsettle the reader despite only using a few pages. 

My first experience of Edgar Allan Poe was in an episode of The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror when they recreated The Raven. To this day it is still my favourite Edgar Allan Poe work, however, it isn’t one that is included in Selected Tales so I’m sort of cheating by mentioning it. However, I also love many of his other works, hence the addition! From his short stories, I think The Tell-Tale Heart or The Murders of the Rue Morgue are my favourites and ones that I definitely recommend! 

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned? What are your favourite Gothic reads? Let me know in the comments!

Top 5 Friday – Books Studied at University

Throughout my time at university I had the opportunity to study a variety of books as we had a lot of very different modules available to us. There were many that I loved, many that I just about tolerated and some that I forced myself to finish (as I did try to read as many of the novels as possible) or just gave up with.

So, I thought I’d go through my five favourite books that I studied at university! As always, this list isn’t in any particular order. 

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

I studied this dystopian novel in my Health, Illness and Technological Imaginaries module (like I said, our modules were different) and loved it. My entire dissertation was around dystopian novels so they’re usually a win for me. I just loved how this was pretty much the reverse of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It’s also one of the only dystopian novels that I’ve read where I felt genuinely unsettled as it felt like the idea of this society could actually come to fruition in reality. 

Dawn by Octavia Butler

I’ve briefly mentioned this book before, but this was a novel I also studied in my Health, Illness and Technological Imaginaries module. Unfortunately, I missed our discussion seminar on this novel (as I was failing my driving test at the time) which is a shame as I had so much I wanted to say about the novel. I thought this was a really interesting take on the idea of a small number of humans left alive and it remains one of my favourite sci-fi novels. Perhaps I will re-read this one to review it properly, as well as give the rest of the series a shot!

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Now, I’m going to be honest, I’m not a fan of Jane Austen at all. I’ve read four of her books at this point and this is the only one that I have enjoyed (sorry to all the fans of Mr. Darcy out there). This novel came up in my Gothic to Goth module which looked at the progression from Gothic literature to the ‘Goth’ subculture. What Austen does with this novel is very clever and it’s a brilliant parody of the classic ‘gothic’ genre and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

This novel was included in my Postcolonialism module and it was just amazing. When I used to see a long book on my reading list, I would feel a bit of dread as it could very well derail your reading for the entire week for other modules, but that dread was totally unfounded with this book. The novel is set in 1970s India which sees four different characters come together during India’s ‘State of Internal Emergency’. A Fine Balance is both hopeful and heartbreaking, and a novel I highly recommend. 

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

I’m fairly certain this novel was in my first year module The History of Literature. I had heard of the book before but I didn’t really know anything about it. I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this novel so much is because it wasn’t what I expected at all, it also opened my eyes to post-modernism. I loved the sudden change in narration and it made the novel feel fresh and left a big impression. 

BONUS – Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

Now, the reason this is a bonus entry is because it isn’t actually a book it’s actually a play that I studied in my Modernism module. I love it when texts break the fourth wall, so to speak, and this is something this play does brilliantly. With the characters storming the stage, demanding that their author finish their stories. I would love to be able to see this play performed in person. 

Have you read any of these texts? Do you have favourite texts you’ve studied at school or uni? Tell me what they were! Also, let me know if you’re interested in a post going over the worst books that I studied at university. 

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Top 5 Friday – How to survive your Literature degree!

As it is September I can’t help but be nostalgic for my time at university, so as a way to indulge in this nostalgia I decided to focus my additional monthly posts on university advice and reflections! 

Although the start of this academic year is not like the others, with more long distance learning than ever before, there are still things you must know before starting your English Literature degree! You may think some of these are obvious but as starting university can be overwhelming, it is incredibly easy to overlook the basics! So here are my top five tips for getting through your Literature degree!

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Spend your time wisely!

When you first receive your timetable you may think you have more free time than you actually do. In my first year I had a total of eight hours of class time a week. However, this was to accommodate all of the time that I would need to spend reading and preparing for classes. 

Try and plan your weeks as best as you can, not only with the work you’re expected to do but also so you can fit in your uni work around chores.

Read, read and READ

Okay, this should go without saying but try to read as many of your set texts as possible. Not only does this help when it comes to seminar discussions but, it also helps give you an idea of what you would want to write about for your essay. If you’re struggling to keep up with all of the reading, try listening to an audiobook whilst you’re doing chores. 

It’s important to remember that lecturers aren’t the uncaring, scary, people that school teachers make them out to be. They want you to do well and understand that university is overwhelming at times. If you have a lot of long books due to be read all for the same week, let your lecturers know. Some will then tell you specific chapters to read to be able to contribute in the seminars. By letting them know as much in advance you can show that you’re trying to plan and manage your time, instead of discovering at the last minute that you won’t finish the book on time. 

Avoid buying new books

You’re going to get a lot of reading lists throughout your degree, which means a lot of books, which means a lot of money. Student loans only stretch so far! It’s relatively easy to pick up cheap fiction books, either through second hand websites (like AbeBooks or World of Books). When it comes to classics, you’ll be able to find a lot of them for free on Kindle. 

If you do prefer a physical copy, though, Wordsworth Classics is your best option. Not only are they cheap but they also still include all the notes you need. There will be the odd occasion when your lecturer puts an obscure novel on your reading list and it’s best to get those from your university library. But be quick! As there will unlikely be enough copies for everyone in your class if you all have the same idea!

However, if you would prefer to buy new books or are able to (which is great!), Blackwell’s have a student price match guarantee and offer free shipping so click on one of the banners on this post to find out more!

Research around the texts

Naturally, you will be researching texts to write your essays and to prepare you for exams, however I also recommend that you read around the texts to prepare you for seminars. Everyone dreads the ‘seminar silence’ where no one wants to share their ideas, however if you do a bit of research around the book beforehand you will be more confident in speaking up in class. 

Not only will this score you some serious brownie points with your lecturer, but you will also be seen as the saviour amongst the rest of the students! Additionally, this will open a dialogue with your lecturer and your class resulting in more thoughts and arguments coming across which is a great help when it comes to assignments. 

Up your note taking game

Although many lecturers use powerpoint for their lectures, which then gets uploaded to a learning platform for students to access outside of lectures, it is still important to take as many notes as possible during the lectures. Some lecturers will have in-depth slides, and some will have the basic points, regardless of their approach there will always be things that come up through discussions that won’t be on the slides and you will most likely want to reference or research later. 

If you prefer the pen and paper approach to note taking, I recommend typing up and restructuring the notes digitally, either through Google Docs, OneNote or Evernote. Not only does typing up the notes help go over material from the classes but having digital copies of the notes makes them easily searchable for when you come to do assignments or exam revision later. 

BONUS – Have fun!

It’s easy to get caught up in all of the work, and the reading, and the chores that come with uni. But, you need to remember that university isn’t all work. In your classes you’re surrounded by fellow bookworms and fundamentally you’re just expected to read and write for your classes (no more maths, no more P.E.!). 

Are you starting your literature degree and have any questions? Have you finished a literature degree and have some tips of your own? Comment down below!

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Top Five Friday – Childhood Books

Welcome to my first ‘Top Five Friday’ post where I will be posting my top five on a particular bookish topic once a month. As this is my first one, I thought that it would be good for this top five to look at where my love of reading started: my childhood. 

These aren’t in any particular order as they are, as you will see, very different! I’ve also only chosen books rather than include picture books for this post.

1. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo 

This novel is the account of soldier Tommo (Thomas Peaceful) as he looks back on his time on the front line during World War I and the relationships he has with his brothers before and during the war. I think out of all of the books on this list, this is the one that had the biggest impact on me and it’s haunting ending has followed me ever since. Just thinking about the novel again for this post is causing my heart to break all over again. 

2. Point Blanc by Anthony Horowitz

This novel is the second in the Alex Rider series where the teen spy is sent to a boarding school for troubled elite teens to discover the sinister motives behind the institution. After seeing Stormbreaker in the cinema I immediately begged to be taken to Borders (still bitter that got shut down as it was HUGE) to get the books. I loved the series as a whole but Point Blanc stands out to me in particular. I just loved the settings and the creepy undertones! 

3. The Witches by Roald Dahl

Now, it is important to note that this book isn’t a fairytale, it’s about real witches. A young boy learns of this fact after going to live with his grandmother, who happens to be a hunter of witches. He quickly discovers that witches aren’t as rare as he thought and they are incredibly dangerous to children. This was a book that I studied in primary school and loved it, despite it also leaving me rather unsettled! Although, as well as the book being an exciting tale of a boy trying to save himself from being eaten by witches, it’s also a lovely representation of a child’s love for their grandmother.

4. Fairy Tales told by Berlie Doherty and illustrated by Jane Ray

A collection of classic fairy tales including Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, mixed with some lesser known fairy tales that quickly became favourites like The Wild Swans and The Fire-Bird. I remember finding this particular edition at a school book fair and immediately fell in love with the illustrations. I still treasure this book to this day with the magic of the fairytales combined with the beautiful, unique, illustrations. 

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling 

Okay, so, I’ve buried this one at the bottom as I still wanted to acknowledge it (as the series was a huge part of my childhood, as it was for most people my age) but not dwell on it. Out of all seven books, the fifth one was by far my favourite and the one I re-read multiple times. I will always be disappointed in how much the film adaptation cut out, but not as disappointed as I am in Rowling herself and her views on trans rights amongst other things…

So, here are my top five favourite books from my childhood and I’m curious to know what are yours? Do we have any of the same? Let me know in the comments!