book review · books · features · lists · shanti

Fiction-Non Fiction: Language

I have decided, in my finite knowledge and wisdom, to turn fiction-non-fiction recommendations into a series. This is mostly because I realized that I have been reading some non fiction books which group nicely into categories and non-fiction is AMAZING and somewhat underappreciated, I feel, in my blogging community. So over the next few months there will be a couple of these posts, once I figure out all of the groupings. There’s going to be a post about genetics books, nature writing books, semi-funny memoirs, economics possibly…it’s a series in development (if you have suggestions, please let me know!)

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blogging · books · features · shanti

Interview: Michelle Cooper, Author of Dr. Huxley’s Bequest

Hi Virtually Readers! Remember a few weeks ago when I reviewed Dr. Huxley’s Bequest, a really wonderful exploration of the history of medicine that covers a lot of ground? It’s a fascinating book, and Michelle Cooper, who wrote it, is one of my favourite authors. She is an incredible researcher, and uses her characters and stories to bring history–and now science–to life. She was gracious enough to let me interview her (which I promptly derailed by losing her email in my spam folder). If you want to learn about Tasmanian Devil milk and Michelle’s research process, you’ll definitely want to read the interview below.

Continue reading “Interview: Michelle Cooper, Author of Dr. Huxley’s Bequest”

book review · shanti

Save the Date: not for me

I’ve liked Morgan Matson’s previous books: the pathos of Second Chance Sumer, the calm American-ness of Amy and Roger’s Epic detour, the brightly lit The Unexpected Everything, the punchy format of Since You’ve Been Gone. But something about Save The Date really didn’t work for me. It felt forced and farcical, which is not necesserily a bad thing, but didn’t really work for me.

Continue reading “Save the Date: not for me”

book review · books · shanti · Uncategorized

8 Reasons to read Ashbury/Brookfield

Hi Virtually Readers! A few months ago I was deep in some corner of the internet (aren’t we all) and found all these posts on inside a dog that Jaclyn Moriarty had written AGES ago, about her Ashbury/Brookfield books, a series of contemporary novels told entirely in found documents. They’re more companion novels, btw, rather than sequels. And I read the series over then next few months, finishing in September, and I loved them all. The books are Feeling Sorry for Celia, Finding Cassie Crazy, The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie, and Dreaming of Amelia (except I got confused and read Amelia before Bindy). Those links, by the way, go to my reviews. I loved the series, and now I’m going to give you some reasons to read it.

One, the books are all hilarious.

Because it’s told in documents, there are all different styles of writing to differentiate the characters. One character, Emily, is prone to malpropism (I shall rain over everyone). Another character thinks she’s really smart, and it shows hilariously in the writing. Then there are fake court summonings (SO FUNNY) and drunk blogging. Not to mention the situations the character get into which are funny…one character is hilariously convinced that there is a ghost and another runs away to the circus.

Two, they’re all mysteries.

Now I’m an idiot and it took until the fourth book for me to figure out that all the books were mysteries. I actually really liked this though; it’s a sign that the mystery is well incorporated into the novel, and the focus stays on the characters.

Three, melodrama

All of the characters are teenagers, and like teenagers are wont too, tend to exaggerate their own circumstances to be a little more important and life changing than they really are. (especially Emily. Oh Emily, how I love you) But there are just enough instances where something ~creepy~ is actually happening that you can’t quite be sure.

Four, friendship

There are so many strong female friendships; and even just friendships in general. Finding Cassie Crazy and Dreaming of Amelia especially focus on a trio of girls, Cassie, Emily, and Lydia, and they are very funny and very supportive and generally excellent. And Amelia and Riley are very good friends to each other, and I love that Ernst is friends with Bindy (also a bit of shipping there tbh), and also all the boys in Finding Cassie Crazy are great (except for some of them). I liked Seb particularly.

Five, creative and quirky documents

Remember the fake court summonings I mentioned up above? Well, they’re part of the documents that make up the story. It’s a lot like Illuminae, but less pretty. There are also these excellent messages from various ‘societies’ in the first book which help us get into Elizabeth, the main characters head. In every book except The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie, you don’t know why the docements have been found and collected; but they’re there, and they’re wonderful, and you just enjoy it.

Six, compelling characters

Sometimes with document based stories, it’s hard to connect to the characters, but Jaclyn Moriarty is so clever that this never happens. I especialy connected with Bindy Mackenzie and Elizabeth Clarry, in the first and third books, which are more centred on one person. The honesty of the stories, the issues the characters have, and the way that the documents they leave can and simeltaneously cannot account for their lives; somehow, it works, and all the characters are just so true to life.

Seven, surprises

I often guess plots, but Moriarty consistently surprised me. I never knew what to expect and quite what each clue added up to, and that made such a nice change. The endings are a little ridiculous, but still perfect.

Eight, ALL CAPS.

There are a lot of ALL CAPS as emphasis in the book. Very relatable if you’re a book blogger.

I do actually have some critiques of these books, which you can see in my reviews. Overall, though, they’re very clever, very enjoyable, and very funny and I think more people need to read them so go forth and do likewise.

Have you read any of these books? And what’s your favourite document based book? let me know in the comments!


discussions · shanti

Dear YA, not everyone is sporty

Okay, so in this year, I’ve read a lot of books. Specifically, a lot of contemporary books. Including quite a few contemporary romance books. And this is what I found there (as well as two guys called Evan, don’t know what that’s about): almost all the male love interests were a) sports players and b) traditionally good looking. Traditionally good looking varies in different cultures, but for these books, which were, I think, all American, it meant that they were tall; had nice clear skin; were able bodied; and were very muscly. I think that this a problem, and because this is my blog, my platform, I now get to tell you all about why.


I’m pretty sure that the above description matches at least 80% of the male main characters of especially contemporary romance books (as opposed to contemporary ‘issue’/ sadder and arguably more realistic books), not to mention the rest of YA. Now, I’m not saying that all these characters were personality-less husks and copies of each other (though some of them were) and I’m not saying that what you look like is the most important thing about you (though the way that love interests are described in YA, you might think it was). I’m just saying that this is unrealistic and unfair.

Not everyone plays sports, and not everyone looks good all the time. This is a fact. Also, not everyone that people fall in love with looks the same. That’s unrealistic. The diverse books campaign has absolutely had some effect, and books are definitely getting more diverse, and that’s a good thing. But diversity isn’t just about the ethnicity of the main character, or the culture they live in or their sexuality, though of course those things are important. Diversity is about what you do, and how you look (beyond skin colour) as well.

The pool of ‘attractive people’ is not limited by muscle mass. Now, I’ve taken psychology, and while I’m definitely not an expert, how you look does impact how attractive you seem because of human evolution. And you could argue that sports are a way for someone to show their skills, to show what they’re good at, and of course it’s a great character quirk to write about.

I just refuse to believe that out of all the boys (and girls) in the world, our YA main characters always end up falling for the ones who play sports. There are books where this doesn’t happen, but these tend to be books where body image is a central issue. And that’s not how it works. Not everyone can be the star of the basketball team or whatever, and be super tall and have stupidly overdeveloped muscles, and a great personality (beneath their bad boy image, of course). There are many people who I know who don’t look like that and are perfectly happy with themselves—and some of them *gasp* are in romantic relationships.

To me, the push for diverse books is about nuance. Not just gay best friends. Not just studious East-Asian oriented characters. Not just disabled people who are sad. Not just tall people who are attractive. When you’re young and reading YA (and beyond that) it’s important to challenge stereotypes, to encounter a world that is not simplistic.

Look, I like reading swoony love stories as much as anyone else. But there are no requirements for love except human connection. Nowhere does it say ‘All male young adult love interests should be tall and good looking. And I want to read that.

What’s a love interest trend that bothers you? When do you get sick of tropes? Tell me in the comments!(also I might totally write some more posts about this, because I have Thoughts. A multitude of them.)

books · features · shanti · writing

YA Found Poetry

Hi Virtually readers! So this is a sort of random post, but I was in the mood for it. Have you ever heard of blackout poetry? It’s basically where you have a page and cross out all words except the ones in the title. So today I’m doing that except I’m just taking random words and phrases from YA books and turning them into poetry. Each book (there are three) was published in the last five years by a major publisher (but none are from 2016 or 2017, and they’re all different) and is pretty popular. You have to try to guess the book. Hint: the title of the poem will in some way relate to the title of the book.


  1. Fragile Beauty

She wasn’t hungry

A small box

Her heart twisted

She couldn’t approach


Bewilderment and desire and fear

You need protection

Kissing her again


Don’t control you

Every time you touch me

A cruel sound


It was perfect

Everything she wanted

Didn’t seem to care


Good progress

A good queen

A plan


Those bodies were her fault

  1. Remaining Ashes

Obsidian eyes

Shadows and claws

Rare gift



Iron figurines

The whispers died


They might have valuable information

Still gruesome

So vital


Burnt yourself out

That much magic

Cut open and broken


Usual vitriolic dislike


curled up in the corner


deadlier than poison


wildfire in her mind

  1. Tender Monstrous Skeletons.

It should end with one too

Neither disappointing nor magical

A shared secret

Pestilence is free.

As fortune would have it

Luteous gold with vertical slit pupils

Unlike the other bidders

It isn’t becoming

And use it. And use it.

Something else. Something else.

Ambassadress of teeth.

Mint leaves

You don’t know everything


A passage of dull black stone.

She was caught

Voice lifted in hope

That vivid searching


Nothing at all had happened

Repelled by his hands

Plan. Plan. She had a plan


Fragile in his fist

What am I not?

Its bright and shining madness

Do you still want to know who you are?

Eyes filled with tears

Doubt her guilt

A resurrectionst

I came here for you.

Her angel had gone


So, this was fun. Do you have any guesses which books the poems came from? And do you ever dabble in poetry? 

books · features · Uncategorized

YA Psychologist: Holiday Edition

Hi there Virtually Readers. I am currently sitting in my sunny bedroom, and I just remembered that I wanted to write a blog post today. I am having a lot of struggles with books (not reading them but… other things, you’ll see) and I thought that I would offer advice to myself and maybe others, in a new YA Psychologist post. And, good news! I have gotten MUCH better at spelling psychologist ever since I took psychology. (click for parts 1 and 2) (also, I get that this doesn’t apply to everyone. That’s okay)

hof psychologist.jpg

Patient #1: The Control Freak

Hi. I’m just kind of in a panic right now. Like, I know that I love books and I want to read. And my friends and family have noticed. With my heavy hints, they’re mostly getting me books for Christmas. Which is great…except what if it’s a book I don’t like? Or if it’s a book I already have? Or a book that I have heard bad things about? Is it rude to tell them what to buy me? What if I feel obliged to read a book I didn’t want? What do I do?

Psychologist: Firstly, stop hyperventilating. It will be okay. Their need to buy you books comes from a good place—because they love you. Because they care about you. Books matter a lot, I get that. But the fact that you have people who are buying you things you want because they love you and notice you matters more. Secondly, if there is a book you really want, you can ask for bookshop vouchers, or return coupons. Remind gift-givers of this. Thirdly, the people buying you books know you. They are not choosing books at random: they are choosing books they think you’ll like. Maybe you’ll already have some of those books—in which case you can just pass it on. But maybe you won’t, and the book will be a good surprise. Who knows? Just try to be calm, and glad that there all these great people in your lives who are giving you books.

Patient #2: The Social Reader?

To me, the best thing about the holidays is the time to read. But other people seem to think differently. People keep coming to my house. I have to go to other people’s houses. And I like spending time with other people, and Christmas food is the ACTUAL best, but my books are feeling very lonely. How can I balance all these social things with my lovely books?

Psychologist: Aah, the eternal duality: socializing and books. Both are fun. Both are important. Both…can sometimes feel unavoidable. But why do they have to be in opposition to each other? Whenever you go to a social event, bring a book. Then don’t read it—immediately. Talk to people! Eat! Enjoy yourself! Then if you feel bored, read for a while. Then talk to people. Better yet, just have friends that enjoy reading, who you can talk (social) about books (books) with. And if you don’t feel like tackling that TBR, you can leave the books at home. If you don’t want to make awkward small talk and tell someone what you’re doing in the holidays for the fiftieth time, stay at home with a book. But it’s not something to get stressed over. You can be calm.

Patient #3: The Matcher

One of the best things about the holidays is getting to wear nice outfits. And there are decorations everywhere. #aesthetic. But sometimes I worry that I’m reading a book with a sunset on it, when it’s cold outside. Or I’m reading a book about Winter except it’s summertime. Or my book and outfit don’t match—this is an all important time of social events, you know.

Psychologist: Books are beautiful. Decorations are great. I know that how you look matters, but books are so awesome that it doesn’t matter if they fit your aesthetic or not. Don’t worry about it. An awesome book is perfect for all occasions. A good book will ALWAYS match.

So did this make any sense? Have you ever encountered any of these problems? What’s your favourite holiday book? Tell me in the comments!

blogging · books · discussions · shanti

Is YA Unsophisticated?

Okay, so a few weeks ago I was reading an article. It was otherwise a very interesting article, about Indian history, but then the author went and said this

‘The misconstruals [of Indian history] leave many people[…] with[… ]a young adult version of Indian history’ (italics mine)

Now, I can’t be certain that the author of this article specifically meant young adult literature. But the implication—that teenagers are somehow less smart, less sophisticated than adults, left me seething—especially because it isn’t unique.

sophisticated YA

There seems to be this idea that what young people want to read—and what a lot of adults want to read too—is somehow lesser for being marketed towards teenagers. How does that make sense?

Teenagers don’t have fully developed brains (or ‘not fully myelinated. Yes, I can use sophisticated vocabulary). But that doesn’t mean we’re stupid. It doesn’t mean that what we have to say and what we want to read is unsophisticated. In fact, a lot of teenagers have taken or are taking literature classes, and could probably analyse adult books very sensibly. But instead, we read YA books. This isn’t because we aren’t capable of reading adult books, and it isn’t because YA books are dumbed down to our level. It’s because YA books and their characters represent us on a basic level—having characters our age who share the struggles of growing up and figuring out who you are (not that I’m trying to criticise adults who read YA).

I’ve read a fair few adult books. I have, in fact, enjoyed many of them. Probably I’m going to read more as I get older. To me, those books were in no way better than YA books. They were a little more explicit about certain things than YA books are (and those things aren’t usually sex, it’s more the complexity of adult relationships). But I look at the YA I read, and the way YA tells stories is by no means lesser. Look at the complex storytelling used in Illuminae—do many adult books dare experiment in that fashion? Look at the compassion in The Wall—could an adult character have told that story? Look at the complex layers of reality created in Made You Up—could an adult writer have done any better? Look at the sophisticated humour and adventure in The Wee Free Men—is it lesser than the Discworld books aimed at adults?

Sure, YA has so much I love, that you sometimes need to dig a bit harder to find in literary adult books. Adventure! Transitions into different stages of life! Romance! Beautiful writing! Community! There is nothing wrong with that. It might be a good thing, even. YA can be beautiful and sophisticated, even if it isn’t always. This misconception that teenagers are lesser has to go away.

Young adults need books written for them (but not exclusively. Adults can join in too). But just because the people reading these books are teenagers, it doesn’t mean that they’re worse books.  There seems to be a pervading notion in our society that teenagers are somehow ‘lesser’ than adults—for being interested in pop culture, for not having degrees yet, for generally being responsible for the corruption and mayhem of how things used to be. As such, people dismiss what young adults are interested in—or what is designed for young adults—as not worth their time. And so people—like the person who wrote that article—use the words ‘young-adult’ as derogatory, as implying that something is not refined or sophisticated or good enough. But that isn’t true, and it doesn’t make sense. I’m not really sure how to change this (wrong wrong) notion. But I’m going to keep reading and writing young adult books. I’m going to keep analysing them and loving them and blogging about them. And those people with different opinions to mine, those people who are simply wrong can suck it up.

What do you love about young adult books? Do you feel like some adults judge them? Tell me in the comments!