November Reading Wrap Up

The further I get into the year, the harder I find writing these wrap ups. You know the drill, I read three books, they were great, they were as follows:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – a book that I read years ago, but had no recollection of the vast majority of. All I could remember was that there was a girl who went to live with adopted parents, a woman who called her Saumensch, Death is the narrator, and the setting is World War II. I’m so glad that I decided to pick this one up again and reread, because there was so much that I didn’t remember and characters that I fell in love with all over again. A true classic that I think everyone should read, even if it’s only to read a book where you have a narrator almost more interesting than everything else that’s happening.

The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward – I picked this book up because I was going on a short holiday away and needed a light book to take with me (along with The Book Thief, which I was so close to finishing). I had no idea what this book was about before I started, and I’m actually very glad that I didn’t. This is memoir that is part prose, part verse about childhood, growing up, and the bonds of family. I read this in a few sittings, and could have done it in fewer had I not chosen to take breaks. A really engaging, powerful read.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – now this is the kind of book I adore. Sweeping fantasy tangled up with historical fiction, with beautifully written prose, fantastical creatures, and a great plot. Set in the wintery wilderness of Russia, this story follows the grandchild of a woman who was called a witch and appeared from the woods. You follow her along with various other characters she encounters as an old evil gathers strength near by.

I set a goal of reading 45 books this year, and currently I’m at 40 – whether I can read 5 in December who knows, but we’ll see what happens…

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August Reading Wrap Up

Plot twist: I did not read four books this month, like every other month. I read fewer books, but in my opinion more pages as last night I finished an 800+ page fantasy book that I adored – stay tuned until next month to find out what that was, or just look at my Instagram where I’ve already told everyone about it.

The first book in August that I finished was the incredibly powerful and moving Almost Love by Louise O’Neill. This is my third book by this author, and I still don’t know how I don’t seem to realise beforehand that, like all of her other books, this one would also wreck me in its own, gutting way. In some ways this one was similar to Asking for It, in the way that the main character isn’t immediately ‘likeable’. She’s a tough character to stick with, I’ll give you that, but mainly because you’re watching a woman who has been abused push everyone she loves away – and the worst part is, something you see from page 1, is that they let her. This is a story split into two narratives – the present, and the past. In the past you watch the main character in a ‘relationship’ with an older man, and in the present you see how the abuse from that affects her still, especially with her current partner. I didn’t read this quickly because I felt it difficult to read in long periods of time – not because it was a bad book, more the opposite. It was so well written, so poignant and close to real life that I found it difficult to stay in that ‘world’ for long.

After that tornado, I went to my happy place: fantasy with dragons. This time I picked up Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman – I read Seraphina a few months ago and really enjoyed it as a very differently written fantasy. Tess of the Road was no exception, but this time I far preferred the main character and her journey. Tess, our heroine, is sister to Seraphina – but unlike her esteemed sister, Tess is the opposite. From a past mistake, she is a disgrace to her family and destined to forever be a nun or a maid to her sister. One day, she decides to take a risk and runs away from home to find her own happiness elsewhere. A really enjoyable read, this was exactly the kind of book that I was after following the heartbreak from Louise O’Neill gave me.

The last book I finished in August was Fen by Daisy Johnson. This was an unexpected book, one that was sensual, dynamic, and pointed – far closer to the themes of Almost Love than Tess of the Road, for sure. Haunting as much as it was illuminating, this short story collection shows the contrast between the routine, everyday life and dark, magical wild that lives close by. I read a review of this that talked about the themes of Otherness, desire, and loss – and that’s exactly what these stories encapsulate in every line. It is twisted, dark, and exists on a very different plane. Some stories I loved, others I struggled with, but overall really enjoyed the full experience.

And that was my August. Unlike last month, I’m sat here in a jumper not even thinking about ice cream, so it definitely feels like Autumn is on it’s way. Although I’m sad to see the hot sun leave once more, I can’t wait to bundle up in scarves and jumpers, light candles every evening, and restock my bath bomb supply – and, of course, read some fantastic books.

 

July Reading Wrap Up

Every time I try to sit down and write this wrap up, I keep having to abandon all progress I make because it’s too bloody hot to be sitting down with a laptop and all I really want to do is lie in the shade with an ice cream. But, here I am, ready to bash out this wrap up post in a prompt fashion so I can go back to finding ways to keep cool.

It seems my average books per month this year is the nice, even number 4, and July was no different. I was off to a flying start in this month because I picked up a fantasy novel I’d been meaning to read for a while, which only fed my fantasy addiction so I picked up another straight after. The first was Beyond a Darkened Shore by Jessica Leake, a fantasy set in a historical Ireland where the main threat consisted of Nordic Viking invaders. You follow the heroine Ciara, who has strange and powerful gifts to control the minds of people in battle, as she is forced to partner up with her enemy to defeat a greater threat. There are great elements to this story, blending two different folklores such as The Morrigan with Norse Mythology, and doing it very well. I loved the opening chapters, with these engaging storylines and well paced plot – any book with Norse mythology in it will obviously keep me very happy, but I think there was definitely more that could be done.

On the whole, the book was paced well, but scenes towards the end seemed cut short – a huge battle that is essentially the ‘boss fight’ lasted no more than two or three pages. And let’s be honest, I love a good bit of romance and I liked the two leads, but I was the complete opposite of invested which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a fun fantasy adventure. Overall a good book and a fun read, but definitely think there was more room for development – especially in the second half of the story.

Whilst I was still in the high of whizzing through that fantasy, I dived straight into Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett. And, again, I finished this in two or three days. A really enjoyable, quick read – which was exactly what I wanted from it. For me, I think whilst I did enjoy the book it definitely needed some more worldbuilding and explaining of magic systems, religions, and the actual reasoning behind some parts of the story. There are also more YA fantasy cliches and tropes than you know what to do with, which can be a bit of a slog if you’re fed up with similar plot ‘twists’ and character traits. I’m hopeful that the world will develop more in the sequels, and maybe the following books will give answers to elements not covered in the first book. Overall, I found it gripping up until the last quarter, where the end felt forced and rushed. Still, I would recommend for a light, fun read if you’re not too worried about large world building elements and rich detail.

Deciding that I needed to make sure July wasn’t a fantasy-a-thon, the next book I picked up was I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. Wow, is all I can really say. An incredible memoir of Maggie’s near-death experiences, from reckless childhood behaviour to illness to giving birth. There are accounts of encounters with strange men on deserted paths, being robbed on holiday, and ending with protecting her daughter from a condition that leaves her vulnerable to the world around her, for who the book is written for. I honestly could have read this all in one sitting, but it was the perfect book to read on the tube, dipping into one episode after the next on each journey. A truly fantastic, powerful read.

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Finally in July, I ended on a bit of a slog with The Idiot by Elif Batuman. Despite all the acclaims, praise, and recommendations, I just couldn’t get into this one. I really struggled to pick it up and read, and so ended up talking half the month just to finish it. In comparison to the fantasy I read, this was the exact opposite where I had to force myself to find time to read it, and felt like I’d read 50 pages when I’d barely got through 10. It is very well written, but unfortunately wasn’t for me.

And that was my July! Four books, all memorable and different in their own ways. I’m on track for my Goodreads reading target for the year, but since leaving working at a bookshop my TBR pile has really shrunk – hurrah! This means I’m on the hunt for reading recommendations, so if you have any definitely let me know. I’m also on the hunt for a proof of Samantha Shannon’s new book The Priory of the Orange Tree, but I have a feeling I’ll have to wait a long while for that one.

May Reading Wrap Up

And just like that, we’re approaching the half-way mark for 2018. Mad, exciting, worrying, and ever so slightly terrifying, this year has flown by – which I know I probably say every year, but at least I’m consistent.

Reading wise, May has been my best yet with 5 books devoured. The first of which was particularly monstrous, as I finished the Laini Taylor Trilogy with Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Breathtakingly creative, this series has been one that is as inspiring as it is impressive. There are moments of hilarity as well as heart-wrenching sadness, with characters that are diverse, charming, and well-crafted. Laini Taylor has had be won over as an author since reading Strange the Dreamer last year, and I’m so glad I decided to read this imaginative, fantastical series.

Somewhere during my reading of Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I went to an incredible talk by Louise O’Neill, an author who manages to deliver books that punch you in the gut and leave you reeling, wanting to change the world. You can see my review of Asking for It here, a book that I’ve thought about often since finishing, so I knew I had to pick up her latest book The Surface Breaks. A feminist retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’, this treasure of a book is one I’d recommend to anyone in their early teens – as I wish I had had it when I was that age. Closer to the original story rather than the Disney version, this tale is of a young girl who is paraded around as a commodity and something to possess rather than an individual with her own voice, her body something to be used and decorated and belonging to the men around her. This is a story of her reclaiming her body and her voice, despite losing it. The Sea Witch is an incredible character, one who I want to have her own story, and never before is it made so painfully clear that the heroine goes from one abusive relationship to the next, her life dictated by the men she tries to love, until she finally wakes up and sees the world for what it is. Buy it for your daughters, nieces and sisters, and especially buy it for your sons, brothers and nephews. A powerful, important book.

After thoroughly enjoying the new Marvel film, I decided to keep that love going by picking up Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. He is such a clever writer, and more and more I find a more suitable title for him is wordsmith. He crafts sentences and stories in a way that sweep you to another place, and definitely makes his mark on these myths – some well-known, and others less so. I honestly could have read this in one sitting, but managed to pace it out with various tube-journeys. Would highly recommend to those who are new to Norse mythology, and even old hands who want to revisit the grand stories told in a different style.

Clearly not over my onslaught of fantasy, after that I delved into Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. I’ve seen this book several times over the last few years, and always thought it would be something I’d enjoy (hello, dragons). A very different kind of fantasy book, this one is set in an old-fashioned world and written in a language to reflect this setting. It’s a world of court and dragons, and a girl stuck between the two worlds. Well-told, this was definitely a slow-burner for me but definitely worth the wait.

Then finally, I read ‘The Custard Heart’ and other stories by Dorothy Parker, all wrapped up in the new beautiful Vintage covers. Along with two other tales, ‘The Custard Heart’ was a well-told short story with a strong female lead and interesting side-characters. Each had a loud, boisterous heroine and tackled various themes and topics. Whilst they didn’t have my heart soaring, I did enjoy them as short reads and am glad to have had a taster for Dorothy Parker’s writing style. A great way to finish off the month of May.

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April Reading Wrap Up

We’re already past the halfway point for May, but seeing as I’ve been so behind on updating my blogs, my April wrap up is happening now. I haven’t really had the inspiration to blog much recently, but luckily that hasn’t extended to my reading.

In the month of April, I finished reading 4 books – the first of which was The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, a mammoth of a book that took up most of my March reading time. I truly enjoyed it – the writing style was beautiful, the world perfectly crafted, and such interesting characters. However, I wanted just a little bit more from it (which isn’t what I thought I’d say about that beast of a book). Despite it’s length, I felt some of the characters didn’t get enough time to be developed. As I don’t want to spoil it, all I can say is that there were certain characters who were set up fantastically, but didn’t really have much of an ending or story-arc. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one, and hope that the un-finished stories of the characters that I felt deserved more are merely indications of further novels dedicated to them.

After that, I went into full fantasy mode starting with Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Illuminae Files series, and the final instalment was not exception. It had me on the edge of my seat, in denial half of the time and in pure disbelief for the rest of it. Fast-paced, action-packed, and full of life, laughter, and such brilliantly created characters, this is a sci-fi series I’d recommend to everyone. One page can have you sniggering, and the next moment you’re tearing up and cursing the authors. This series also has the added impact of the non-prose led narrative, the story told instead through accounts, images, recorded conversations, and other various pieces of information to create the ‘files’. I already miss this series and its unique way of telling a story, and can only hope that these authors collaborate more in the future.

Next, I listened to everyone, falling to peer pressure (and I am so glad that I did) to pick up Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Clearly I wasn’t ready to let go worlds such as those created in the Marvel film Black Panther, and this book definitely filled that void. Similarly fast-paced, the world-building was stunning and had such a action packed plot that I could barely catch my breath from one scene to the next. This is fantasy at its best, with challenging characters, adventure tales that keep you guessing, and a world you want to sink into. I loved it.

The final book I read in April was The Bone Season, the first book in a series by Samantha Shannon. I’ve been so intrigued by this author and her writing, and I’m glad that I picked up The Bone Season. This is definitely a book devoted to world-building, set in a dystopian world that has an alternate history with the addition of people with certain abilities. In the end, I really enjoyed the writing and the storyline, the world clearly heavily developed and researched. My only issue was that, whilst it was flawlessly researched and hugely developed, the first third of the book felt like an information-dump. An overload of facts and points and info that, frankly, I couldn’t keep up with. I’d read snippets during commutes only to have to go back and re-read the next time I picked it up. Whilst I enjoyed the book, it felt like a battle before I could be fully immersed into the story. Still, it has definitely not put me off reading more from this clearly talented author.

So all in all April was a good month, filled with fantastical stories and brilliant characters that I’m sure I’ll want to go back to and re-read one day. May so far has been a similarly good month, and equally filled with plenty of fantasy. Let the days continue to be warm and sunny, so I can continue to laze about and read in the park on my weekends.

March Reading Wrap Up

So March came and went, completely passing me by. One day I think of a nice review to write on this blog, and the next thing I know it’s April 4th and I need to do a wrap up of all the books I read last month.

For the first time, I actually set a TBR (to be read) list last month – normally I don’t like having them, as I quite like having the freedom to um and ah over what I’ll read next with no plans in mind. However, I thoroughly enjoyed having one. It’s great to look back and see what changed, as of course a TBR isn’t a set, permanent fixture that can’t be moved around a little. It’s also nice to have something to work towards, whether you’re determined to achieve something or just see how much you can read in one month. So, the books I had hoped to read, of course anticipating I wouldn’t read them all, were:

 

 

 

  1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  3. Eat, Sweat, Play by Anna Kessel
  4. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon and/or Dreams of Gods and Monstersby Laini Taylor
  5. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof

I did indeed pick up Orlando first, and boy what a book that was. I have to say that I was excited as well as cautious to read dear Virginia, but I can say that I did like it. Whilst I took a long time reading it, I definitely could appreciate the quality of the writing and I found the plot, as mad as it was, incredible interesting. The fact that Woolf was challenging gender norms all those years ago is incredible to me, seeing as I feel the world is only really starting to have an open conversation about gender being fluid. As an introduction to her work, I thought it a fantastic one.

At the beginning of the year I stated that I’d like to read more non-fiction, so before facing the mammoth of a book that is The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, I decided to read Eat, Sweat, Play. I loved this book so much that I wrote a blog about it on my other site (you can read it here). I’ve been getting back into exercise over the last couple of months, and this book truly spurred me on. Discussing women in sport, it covers everything from how we talk to young girls about sport to how we advise women about exercise during pregnancy. It’s the kind of book that will definitely stay with me for many years to come, and I know that if I ever have daughters one day I will use this book like my bible to make sure I encourage them to enjoy sport in every way possible.

Next up, I decided I’d pick up the beast that is The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, but as it is such a heavy (and pretty) book I knew I didn’t want to carry it in my bag or read it on the tube. That’s why I picked up one of the new Penguin Vintage minis, and the one I read was called The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier. Despite it being my designated tube read, I ended up making time one evening to finish it just because I was enjoying it so much. Whilst I may not have enjoyed it had it been 200 pages long, this short story was perfect for me – the writing style was beautiful yet precise, the characters seemingly fleshed out in a few mere sentences, and a plot fast paced enough to keep me hooked without feeling dazed. It has certainly convinced me to pick up some more of her writing, so I’m definitely going to read more of these Vintage minis in the near future.

I ended up finished three books in March, even though I spent most of it reading Orlando and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. I finished the latter a couple of days ago, so technically that has to come under my April Wrap Up. Still, I’m happy with what I read in March, and can happily say that I’m reading Obsidio now, which was number 5 on my TBR list.

For April, I’m planning to have a mini sci-fi and fantasy-a-thon, as it feels like I haven’t read any for a long ol while. The books I have in a pile by my bed, ready for this month, are:

  1. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof
  2. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
  3. Dreams of Gods and Monstersby Laini Taylor
  4. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  5. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Again, there is no chance that I’ll be able to read all of these in April (unless I have an absolutely incredible month), but I’m so excited to read all of them at some point. As I said, I’m reading Obsidio now (and of course loving it), but I think I’ll have to read the Adeyemi next due to all the incredible press that it has had, and unbelievably positive reviews. High fantasy that has everyone on social media going wild and a fantasy book that finally has a majority non-white cast and a book that’s said to be like Black Panther? Sign. Me. Up.

Favourite Books of 2017

2017 was a brilliant year for me in reading terms, with only a few books that I didn’t give four or five stars. Still, there were a few that still shone out from the rest, so these are my Top 10 favourite books I read in 2017. First of all though, honourable mentions go to The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas, and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. All three fantasy books were definitely some of my favourites read this year, two of which were final instalments of trilogies I adored.

Moving on to the top 10, this ordering of the list is subject to change many times due to my inability to be decisive when it comes to things I love and choosing between them, as really there’s no comparing a few of them. Can anyone truly say that their adoration of an epic fantasy book is in any way comparable to a piece of emotive literary fiction that had their heart clenched within its grip from start to finish? I get very different versions of enjoyment and entertainment from different genres, so as much as I want to list my top three fantasy, top three fiction, top three non-fiction and so on, I’m just going to stick them in an order that works for me at this moment in time.

Who knew a top 10 needed such a preamble. ONTO THE LIST.

10. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I loved reading this book, but I’ve grown to love it even more since finishing it and discussing it with others. There was a lot of ‘hype’ and anticipation going into it, which is probably why I was so conflicted about my feelings of it, as although I thought it a brilliant piece of fiction it didn’t change my whole world. Yet, I admit, since discussing its nuances and clever points with friends, I can say that it deserves all of the praise it receives.

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9. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Perhaps one of my favourite fantasy authors, the Darker Shades of Magic trilogy was the first book of Schwab’s that I picked up. I finished the first two in as many days, and before the third was released I read several of her other books and equally adored them, so to finish the trilogy that started my love for this author was bittersweet. I’m so happy with how it ended, and can’t wait for what this author will bring in 2018.

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8. The Northern Lights series by Philip Pullman

Maybe cheating a little, but I’m listing the whole Northern Lights series as my number 8 for 2017. I read the whole series last year, a feat I’m rather proud of, and plan to read The Book of Dust sometime this year. The first instalment was my first read of 2017, and definitely set the standard for the books that I read afterwards. A brilliant series, one that took me by complete surprise, and I’m so grateful that I finally got a chance to read it for myself.

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7. Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

I’ve been thinking about reading more poetry since finishing university, and after a friend highly recommended Kate Tempest I was so glad that a) my friend has good taste and b) Kate Tempest exists. A beautiful collection, one that is inspiring me to read more and more poetry (recommendations are more than welcome please and thank you).

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6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Damn, it’s hard to pick between your favourite reads – as if they’re all children who have fulfilled your every wish. The Secret History is a book that everyone and their mothers have been badgering at me to read and, finally, I can say that I fully understand why. Prose so eloquent and rich that I felt like I had to reread sentences, because I was pretty certain that just reading  them once wouldn’t be enough to fully appreciate the complexity of graceful talent that exists within every one.

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5. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Ah, Pachinko, you still make my heart ache. Whilst it wasn’t as gutting and soul-destroying as A Little Life (in a good way), it was still emotive enough to have me texting friends at all hours with updates of where I was for emotional support. A beautiful piece of fiction, and a family-saga the likes of which I’ve never enjoyed more.

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4. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Perhaps one of the most important pieces of non-fiction to read in 2017, and I hope that it’s one that everyone does read. Charming, hilarious, and moving, this has you crying from laughter one moment and just all out crying from despair the next. Brilliantly told, and its message is unmistakable; we need to help our NHS, and we need to do it now.

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3. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Ah, the top three. What a wonderful place to be – and in third Laini Taylor has more than earned her spot, her Strange the Dreamer winning my heart within mere pages. It was fantasy the likes of which I can’t ever remember reading before, the type that would make your heart feel full and send your spirit soaring. Strange the Dreamer felt like it was written just for me, for all those dreamers and book-lovers in the world who find solace within the written word and see stories and adventures where other people would see lines on pages. After reading this book, I bought the whole of her previously written trilogy without even reading the blurb of it, knowing that this author would not fail me – and having just finished the second in the series this afternoon, I’m pleased to say that this statement holds true.

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2. Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about this book since I finished it. I also have continued to recycle the same sentences when trying to describe it, telling everyone that it is a love letter to New York and captures Hayes’ life with partner Oliver Sacks. It’s filled with stories of his work as a photographer and the people he meets, and the love story between him and Sacks pretty much had me in a constant state of vulnerability and warring emotions as I tried not to descend into sobs. Truly beautiful, and it’s a book that has sparked a need inside me to read more and more non-fiction – I honestly feel like I owe so much to this one book. An incredible writer without doubt, and there is no reason that I could think of as to why someone wouldn’t like this book.

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And, finally, my number one.

1. Circe by Madeline Miller

This book hasn’t even been published yet, but it still remains as my favourite read of 2017. The Song of Achilles holds its spot at the top of my all-time favourite reads, and Circe joins it in the ranks. It’s everything I want from a book, with classical inspiration, beautiful prose, and characters that make me want to fling myself into the narrative just so I can spend some time in their company. Miller’s use of language is skilled and seemingly effortless, and the Classicist within me is so grateful and overjoyed to have her writing such excellent fiction based off of myths. She manages to rewrite them in ways that make them seem fresh and new, without changing anything fixed – she merely adds elements that, if you didn’t know any better, Homer must have just left out. She brings new life to these old characters, and even though you know how their stories end she still manages to keep you hooked, and also cruelly gives you a glimmer of hope that tragedy will not come their way. Just superb.

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And that, reader, is my list of my top 10 reads of 2017. Let me know your favourites and what you’ve read, or if you agree with any of my favourites. Go forth, read widely and diversely, and report back. I personally hope to gain even more from what I read in 2018, from reading more non-fiction to reading more from POC authors. It’s very apparent that I have hardly any POC authors near the top of my list, which definitely means that I’m not reading enough by them. If anything, reading opens up the world in a way that nothing else can, and it’s very clear that if I only read white authors, that’s the only view from which I’ll be able to understand the world around me – and I’m a girl who likes her varied vantage points.

So, once again, let’s smash 2018.