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Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

“Months passed, winter easing gently into place, as southern winters do. The sun, warm as a blanket, wrapped Kya’s shoulders, coaxing her deeper into the marsh. Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land that caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

I was completely entranced by this story, in ways I never expected to be. It was memorable, both in character and in content, and though it was only a story about one little girl in one small part of the world, it swept me off my feet as if it were a saga. It’s books like these that prove stories do not to be epic in scope to pack a punch. You can still fall in love with a character and their journey, and that’s exactly what I did. If you’re a fan of utterly moving character-driven dramas a little bit à la Celeste Ng, Where the Crawdads Sing may be the book for you.

At the tender age of six, Kya Clark watches as her mother walks away from her family. One by one, the rest of the Clark family follows in her footsteps, elder siblings walking out of Kya’s life one day at a time. They leave Kya alone in a run-down shack with her father who negligent at best and abusive at worst. Kya is left to raise herself in the deep marshes of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, alone and unloved. What follows is a story of survival, of loneliness and human connection, the story of an innocent girl who did not deserve such a start in life.

“Alone for hours, by the light of the lantern, Kya read how plants and animals change over time to adjust to the ever-shifting earth; how some cells divide and specialize into lungs or hearts, while others remain uncommitted as stem cells in case they’re needed later. Birds sing mostly at dawn because the cool, moist air of morning carries their songs and their meanings much farther. All her life, she’d seen these marvels at eye level, so nature’s ways came easily to her.
Within all the worlds of biology, she searched for an explanation of why a mother would leave her offspring.”

I did not expect to love a story set in the depths of North Carolina marshland. The ‘deep south’ has never been an appealing setting for me, and still isn’t if I’m honest, but Barkley Cove seems to be the exception. These marshes are written as their own character, full of life and personality. They are as much of a part of the story as Kya is, and together they make a heart-melting duo.
Kya herself is one of those ‘good and pure’ protagonists. I wouldn’t say she’s fraught with complexity, she’s a very innocent and naive child entangled in a survival story, and that just makes her insanely likeable. She’s a kid surviving in the wilderness on her own, you can imagine what a satisfying read that is. I felt myself cheer when she prevailed, I felt my heart sink when she didn’t, and goddamn it I cried when she cried – and I do not let the tears fall for just any book, I can tell you.

At the crux of her story, though, is a murder mystery. Not a big one, it teases its way into the plot bit-by-bit. This is where the story fell short for me. I didn’t mind this crime-y subplot, but in the end I just felt like it could have been executed better. I found myself wishing it was either more ingrained in the story or just left out entirely, but that was really my own qualm about the book.

In all, a massively engaging read, and well-deserving of the accolades it has already received. I’d recommend picking this up if you are a fan of Little Fires Everywhere or The Great Alone, or if you’re looking for someone who inspires you to keep working hard, no matter the circumstances, and prevail when everything else seems against you.



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My Top 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2019

10. Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich

Before the birth of time, a monk uncovers the Devil’s Tongue and dares to speak it. The repercussions will be felt for generations…
Sixteen-year-old Zoey has been fascinated by the haunted ruins of Medwyn Mill House for as long as she can remember–so she and her best friend, Poulton, run away from home to explore them. But are they really alone in the house?
In 1851, seventeen-year-old Roan arrives at the Mill House as a ward–one of three, all with something to hide from their new guardian. When Roan learns that she is connected to an ancient secret, she must escape the house before she is trapped forever.
1583. Hermione, a new young bride, accompanies her husband to the wilds of North Wales where he plans to build the largest water mill and mansion in the area. But rumours of unholy rituals lead to a tragic occurrence and she will need all her strength to defeat it.
Three women, centuries apart, drawn together by one Unholy Pact. A pact made by a man who, more than a thousand years later, may still be watching…

9. The Cerulean by Amy Ewing

Sera has always felt as if she didn’t belong among her people, the Cerulean. She is curious about everything and can’t stop questioning her three mothers, her best friend, Leela, and even the High Priestess. Sera has longed for the day when the tether that connects her City Above the Sky to the earthly world below finally severs and sends the Cerulean to a new planet. But when Sera is chosen as the sacrifice to break the tether, she doesn’t know what to feel. To save her City, Sera must throw herself from its edge and end her own life. But something goes wrong and she survives the fall, landing in a place called Kaolin. She has heard tales about the humans there, and soon learns that the dangers her mothers warned her of are real. If Sera has any hope to return to her City, she’ll have to find the magic within herself to survive.

8. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.
As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

7. Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.
A prince in danger must decide who to trust.
A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.
Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.
In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light.

6. Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

No one in modern-day Seoul believes in the old fables anymore, which makes it the perfect place for Gu Miyoung and her mother to hide in plain sight. Miyoung is a Gumiho, a nine-tailed fox, who must eat the souls of men to survive. She feeds every full moon—eating the souls of men who have committed crimes, but have evaded justice. Her life is upended when she kills a dokkaebi, a murderous goblin, in the forest just to save the life of a human boy. But after Miyoung saves Jihoon’s life, the two develop a tenuous friendship that blooms into romance forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

5. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.
Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.
This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

4. Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.
Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant and alluring investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?
In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.

3. Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas

Set in a world where humans struggle to survive amid intricate hierarchies of demons, shifters, angels, and countless other magical creatures, Crescent City tells the story of half-human, half-Sidhe Bryce Quinlan. After the brutal slaying of her best friend, Bryce joins forces with a powerful warrior-angel to hunt down the killer, leading them toward a treacherous enemy that could destroy the fabric of their world. The series will feature an array of captivating new characters, including a spitfire heroine who will stop at nothing to avenge her friend and protect her vibrant city, an epic world on the brink of war, and Maas’ signature heart-pounding romance.

2. The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.
With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.
But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.
The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.

1. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.
Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.
Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

What are your most anticipated reads of 2019?



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My Top 5 Reads of 2018

“When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me.
One was the usual birds and bees. […] The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.”

Echoing the words every single reader has said about this book: The Hate U Give should be required reading. For everyone. Of any age. It is the ultimate flagship novel for the YA genre; Angie Thomas gives us characters we can love, who feel real and that we care about. It talks about important and relevant topics but not harshly; it’s done with emotions, with tears. It’s done slowly, making you fall for Starr and her family, presenting the themes with a side of love and compassion. It explores racism in a way we can all understand, or we all should understand, whether we are old or young, black or white. The police brutality against innocent black people and the horrors and injustice that ensues, but also casual day-to-day racism, the kind that so many people just don’t understand is harmful. It’s not only the big things we need to talk about, we need to be showing our kids about every facet and form of racism, and why our perspectives can differ due to our experiences in our own skin, whatever colour it is.
I say again, The Hate U Give is one of the most important novels in the YA genre, and I bloody loved it.

“Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.”

Little Fires Everywhere is the kind of contemporary fiction you can enjoy even if you’re not a regular reader of the genre, as in my case. A close-knit family tale with secrets and the theme of love at the center, it’s an enticing read with fiercely real characters and a poignant plot. The enigmatic Mia and the stifled Mrs. Richardson were my favourites: polar opposites, each morally opposed to the others’ lifestyle, and they interacted brilliantly. I loved how Celeste Ng portrayed each character: they felt real and I cared about their struggles. A lot of their story arcs presented controversial themes, but Ng made sure to show the reader what it’s like in each character’s shoes. She showed the flip side of the coin in each story, creating empathy for each character even if I didn’t necessarily agree with their views. It got me to take a moment to think about my preconceptions and remember, sharply, that nothing in life can ever be easily classified or judged.
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the story, I loved the characters, and I loved sitting down with a cup of tea to read about them, and have myself a ponder about society, and empathy, and what truly makes a family.

“I am a haenyeo. Like my mother, and her mother before her, like my sister will be one day, her daughters too – I was never anything but a woman of the sea. Neither you nor any man can make me less than that.”

This novel captivated me in a way I really wasn’t expecting. This book was – and there’s really no other word to describe it – brutal. It offers a stark look at our not-so-distant history and the real-life crimes committed in times of war. Crimes that aren’t spoken about enough. Crimes that some governments are actively trying to sweep under the rug, and pretend never happened.
It’s the story of Hana, a young haenyeo of Korea, abducted as a teenager and taken to serve as a ‘comfort woman’. Told through alternating POVs, we follow Hana’s excruciating story of torture and abuse, and her little sister’s devastation over losing her and determination to solve the mystery of where she went. Both girls’ stories were touching, compelling, emotional and important. Sure, the author’s writing style may have veered to the side of “tell” rather than “show”. And yes, perhaps the characters were not as well-rounded as they could have been. But they were enough. All of it was more than enough. To make me feel for them. Make me feel for the 200,000 supposed women who were taken from their homes and ripped of their innocence by this regime. Their stories were seldom told, most didn’t survive, so many families never even knew what became of their daughters.
White Chrysanthemum is harsh. Its cold and unforgiving, but it’s real and important. And it’s also well-written, compelling and wrought with emotion. As dark as the subject matter is, it’s still enjoyable. For the truth of it all, for the bravery of the characters, for the feelings that we can relate to, and those we hope never to have to.
Read it for the intensity. Read it for your feelings. Read it to honour the women who lost their dignity, their sanity and their lives, whose families never found them, whose stories were never told. Read it for them.

“Life in the bush is hard work, but you can’t beat the taste of salmon you caught in the morning, drizzled with butter you churned from your own fresh cream. Up here, there’s no one to tell you what to do or how to do it. We each survive our own way. If you’re tough enough, it’s heaven on earth.”

This little slice of magic really did tick my boxes. Survivalism against a glorious Alaskan backdrop with intense family drama and characters that made the heart melt? I am all over that.
I can count on one hand the number of books that have actually wrenched tears from my eyes, and The Great Alone is the book that carries me over to my second. It’s the story of Leni and her family, surviving the harsh wilderness of the north, and fighting harder to survive the darkness that resides inside dad Ernt. Honestly, this book stole my heart. In less than 500 pages, Kristin Hannah squeezes in so much, but she does it so well. There’s action and excitement, there’s surviving and thriving, there’s amazing characters, growing pains, gut-wrenching love, dread and woe, happiness and contemplation. And then there’s just me, crying in my bed over fictional characters, wishing the story hadn’t ended.

“You called a god, and the god answered.”

If you’re a fan of Chinese-inspired high fantasy, pay attention. The Poppy War draws from the culture in so many different ways, ways that make it stand out from other books in the genre. It draws from the rich folklore of course, but touches more on lesser known legends, creatures of nightmare and notably DEITIES. There are copious martial arts here, if you’re into that, but most importantly, the story itself is based on true Chinese history (and a very interesting history, at that.)
I was enjoying myself from the very first page. Rin Fang is our protagonist: a lonely war-orphan, fostered by an unloving and criminal family, and a very likeable character (if not, slightly Harry Potter-ish.) Rin gains entrance to the prestigious Sinegard Military Academy where she is trained up as a soldier. Not only does Rin have to compete physically and intellectually against noble children, she also faces tough classist and racist discrimination from every angle. But Rin is awesome, and more than capable. Together, she and the reader navigate her first year learning more about the world, the history, the lore and the martial arts as Rin learns what it takes to be a solider. The first half of the book is a nice, slow introduction. It sets the scene and eases you in. Then comes the darkness.
War comes to Sinegard. Rin discovers what she’s made of. There’s bloodshed, there’s treachery, there’s magic. And Rin just keeps getting better.
The Poppy War is brilliantly written, with an amazing protagonist and so many layers of awesome and so different from other books in the genre. Trust me, this is not one you want to miss.

2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017



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This is why I write

Some useless dude once told me I should give up on writing. “You really should stop,” he said. “What’s the point? There’s no money in writing.”
As if I didn’t know. As if I had spent my youthyears toiling away thinking I was going to be the next JK Rowling. As if money is the only reason we do anything.

I suffer no delusions, trust me. I’ve always known what I’m getting myself in for. Authors make a pitiful amount of money and it’s only getting worse, yet here I am, still fighting for my place on the shelf.

This is what a lot of non-writer people don’t understand about my (stellar) choice of career. They’re either under the impression that publishing is a lucrative career option (it’s not), or they think I’m a fucking idiot. Because why oh why would anyone work so hard if they’re not going to be paid for it?

I’m no stranger to reward-free work. I’m surprised I stayed in school as long as I did, for the amount of hours I would spend on my homework, even calling my friends to help me, only to walk in the next day to pitiful stares from my teachers as they graded my ‘appalling’ essays and maths problems. For years I was taken in by this wives’ tale, you may have heard it, that if you are loyal and hard-working, the company you work for will reward you in turn with their loyalty and their respect (and maybe even a cash bonus). It took me too long to realise it ain’t the 70s anymore.

But this is not why I write. As accustomed as I am to the penniless toil, I’m not a masochist. I don’t enjoy sacrificing what little energy and sanity I have left at the end of the day to stare at a blank page. I do it despite how much it exhausts me.

Why do I do it then, for the fame? Because a self-published author with little to no funds for marketing has every chance of standing out in an over-saturated market, right?
I think I’ll let my sarcasm speak for itself.

Why do I write?
Because life is more than the money you make, it’s the impact you make on the world and those around you.*

We are born, we work, we die – don’t you want a bigger picture? Don’t you want a bit of meaning to your life, if only to help you sleep at night? That’s my work. That’s my writing. That’s why I do it.

Books have always been there for me, even when no one else was. Stories comforted me, they shaped me, they showed me how to be strong. I’ve always known books were special – I’ve always been greatly aware of what they gave me. I’ve always wanted to pay that forward.
From reading to writing, it was always about escapism – about survival. Some of us can’t linger too long in reality; the harsh sun burns out skin and the cruelness of humanity burdens our hearts. I used to read to survive reality, and now I write to unpack the pain I’ve carried and I use it to teach those smaller than me how to navigate this hostile world.

I write because I have to. Because these stories in my head will not give me peace until I give them life. Because it’s the only thing I have ever been good at. Because it’s my purpose. Because I want to help those who’ve been through the same shit I have.

I’m never going to make much money, I’ve accepted this. I’m a millennial, if I’m ever able to afford a holiday I’ll be patting myself on the back. And job security? Mortgage? Archaic terms, they don’t apply to me.
To top it all off, I’m differently-abled; I live with chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression and daily pain (to name a few of my glorious symptoms). Every full-time job I’ve ever had has wrecked me, left me entirely unable to do anything but down a pot-noddle for dinner and pass out on the sofa. All that for barely more than minimum wage and not even a glimmer of hope of progression? No thanks, I choose life.

Writing has never felt like a choice – it has always felt like my only option. It’s just sad that we live in a world that doesn’t value it enough to let me earn a decent living. And that’s okay, I can put my hopes and dreams of riches in the memory box of my childhood; this is the shape of my life, and it’s beautiful and unique, multi-faceted unlike all the squares out there thinking they’re the cat’s pyjamas. So what if I never make a lot of money? I’m far richer for accepting my lot in life and embracing my creativity, than for throwing my life away over 10-hour shifts on £8.50 p/h. I refuse to go back. I will not survive. But through publishing and whatever part-time/freelance/blackmarket day-job I can manage, I will be okay. More than okay.

My reward is far more valuable than money. I’m rewarded in the praises from my critique partner. I’m rewarded with the comments my Wattpad readers give me. I’m rewarded with this sticker, my prize as winner of The Omega Awards. One day I hope to be rewarded with the news that I’ve helped some young teen during their time of need.

I write because it’s the only way I can survive in this world. I write because I have the potential to influence young readers with my stories, and help them. I write because I don’t want my gravestone to read: “Here lies Tess, she killed herself for the sake of a mortgage.”

I want my legacy to be written in the hearts of the next generation of writers.



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The ads below help to pay for this website. If you can see them, thank you for not using an ad-blocker. If you’re a fan of my content and you would like to support a self-employed writer further, please feel free to share the love and buy your girl a coffee. The caffeine jolt may just get me through my final edits!
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* edit 07.08.18 – “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
I found this quote today and hadn’t realised I’d paraphrased Michelle Obama herself. If that queen preaches the same thing I’ve been saying, I know I’m doing the right thing.

Review: The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

“You called a god, and the god answered.”

The Poppy War may actually be the adult fantasy debut of the year. Everyone and their mother is raving about it, five-star reviews are littering Goodreads. And though I may not have ended up quite as obsessed as the rest of the bookish community, I was still immensely impressed.

If you’re a fan of Chinese-inspired high fantasy, pay attention. The Poppy War draws from the culture in so many different ways, ways that make it stand out from other books in the genre. It draws from the rich folklore of course, but touches more on lesser known legends, creatures of nightmare and notably DEITIES. There are copious martial arts here, if you’re into that, but most importantly, the story itself is based on true Chinese history (and a very interesting history, at that.) Author R. F. Kuang sums it up perfectly:

“This is, as I’ve always conceived it, a war story. It draws heavily on the Second Sino-Japanese war which–if you know anything about Asia–was one of the darkest and bloodiest moments in Chinese history. It grapples with the Rape of Nanjing. It deals heavily with opium and drug use. (Opium was a source of Chinese weakness. This book asks what would have happened if opium were instead a source of shamanic power.) This book is primarily about military strategy, collapsing empires, mad gods, and the human ability to make awful, ruthless decisions. It’s about how dictators are made.”

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