If You Loved ‘The Scarlet Letter’, You’ll Love This Book Even More

Disclaimer: Please note I received a free ARC of this book from Duckworth Books in exchange for my honest review.

In my last Coffee Time Tuesdays column, I admitted I struggle to get into seasonal reads. But because autumn is my favourite season, and my life feels a little more stable this year, I decided to give it another go and dive straight into a truly atmospheric read this month.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Hester, by Laurie Lico Albanese, coming this October from Duckworth Books, imagines who could have been Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original Hester. Albanese, therefore, sets on the quest to tell the story of Isobel Gamble, the fictional lover of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who may have inspired Hester Prynne and who clearly deserves a voice.

But before I dive into why this book was excellent through and through, I need to justify why it’s the perfect autumn read:

  • it’s largely set in Salem
  • witchcraft is a recurring motif
  • our heroine is a descendent of witches, who experiences synesthesia — seen as a sign of madness/magic at the time
  • her husband is an alchemist
  • the atmosphere is cold and dark, with isolated woods, and lonely bays, cottages and secret streets

If you enjoy an atmospheric read, you’ll adore Hester. But that’s not all there is to it. The book is fast-paced and clever, keeping you guessing and longing for answers throughout. Our protagonist is a smart, fierce young woman who would do anything to pursue her dream — running her own dress shop.

And although it’s painful to witness in how many ways men can limit a woman’s potential, Isobel doesn’t allow the obstacles set by her husband, and the misogynistic Salem society, to stop her.

I loved the idea of exploring who inspired the voiceless adulteress in The Scarlet Letter. Laurie Lico Albanese does a stellar job of depicting how the mere attempt of living her own life can bring a woman to ruin, accused of all the faults she never had.

“I recognised Hester as America’s first historical feminist hero and our original badass single mother. And I became increasingly aware that Hawthorne wrote an entire novel about an adulterous woman defying those who shame her, yet he never gave Hester a voice.” — Laurie Lico Albanese

When Isobel falls in love with Nat, the very same Hawthorne who wrote the classic, it is not him who is judged, oppressed, or chased away from his own home. But it is him who writes the book labelling Hester an adulteress, confirming that he, too, believed in society’s scrutiny of women.

The plot itself is fascinating and endearing, making you fight, love, and suffer with Isobel as the story progresses. But my favourite element of the story was the needlework, which becomes a side character in itself, empowering our heroine and speaking her truth, when she is forced to stay silent.

As someone who loves embroidery, it was comforting to read about Isobel turning to her needle in the face of aversion. I loved the writing, which at times becomes almost poetic, as it describes the passion, strength, and certainty behind Isobel’s craft.

Isobel’s synesthesia is also a side character that helpfully tells us if someone is honest, or defying, or affectionate, and helps describe the characters in deeper, more introspective ways. I’ve never seen synesthesia represented in books, much less in historical fiction, and the way it adds another layer to how we see other characters through the heroine’s eyes, creating a colourful web of intuition, is ingenious.

Hester was a pleasure to read from cover to cover, tucked in bed with the rain tapping at my window. It’s the perfect example of how you can live a full life of joy, love, disappointment, and determination alongside the protagonist, all while being still and silent, nose buried among the pages.

Get your copy of Hester and discover the skilled descendent of witches that could have inspired Hawthorne’s story.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end. If you’d like to stick around, please consider signing up for Medium through my referral link. But I don’t like things to go one-sided, so if you’d like me to check out your work, drop a comment!

Coffee Time Tuesdays: Autumn’s in the Air and an August Wrap-Up 

Happy Coffee Time Tuesday, dear readers! I’m writing to you from Romania, where I landed yesterday morning to spend a couple of weeks with my family.

And while the weather is very much still summery here, I can’t help but be excited that in two days, it will be autumn. Autumn is my favourite season and I’m glowing with anticipation for the cosy evenings in my reading blanket, with an equally cosy book, or audiobook and knitting project. I’m itching for light sweaters, trenchcoats, and berets, for chilly mornings, spiced lattes, and pumpkin pies.

I’ll let you in on a fun(ny) fact about me: I’m awful at reading seasonal books. Every year, I try my best to pick my TBR in accordance with the season, and every year, without fail, I end up with a coastal romance in October, and a Christmas mystery in February. 

This year might be different, though. Because it’s been a summer full of new beginnings and incredible positive change, and I’m determined to have the sound of dry leaves, the smell of cinnamon, and the chill of autumn air dominate my last few months of this year’s reading challenge.

So join me today, as I look back on what books I finished in August and try to close a sunny chapter of my reading in 2022. Stick with me, as I have an enticing new release at the end.

My August Wrap-Up

It’s no secret I love me some queer romance, especially in the summer. Because here’s the deal: you know how most readers get all excited and giddy about summer because it’s prime time to make a dent in your TBR? 

Well, that’s not me. Summer is all about my comfort genres and feel-good books. For some reason, it’s peak slump season for me, and nothing else will get me out of it.

I read four books in August. Two 4-star ratings, one 3-star rating, and one 5-star rating.

I kicked the month off with Shooting Martha, by David Thewlis, a solid 4-star exploration of grief and family trauma. This book was thrilling, weird, heartbreaking, and kind of entertaining at the same time. A famous film director whose wife, Martha, has recently died by suicide, hires an actress who looks exactly like his dead wife to — wait for this —  play his dead wife while he shoots his latest film. For inspiration. 

How does anyone come up with a premise like that? As Betty, the actress in question, settles into her (admittedly creepy) role, she starts to uncover the carefully buried family drama that unfolded before Martha took her own life. It was the perfect character-study-meets-thriller and it was beautifully handled. Trigger warning for some pretty graphic descriptions of corpses.

Then, since I needed something a little lighter, I picked up Out of Character by Annabeth Albert, who’s great at writing geeky queer romance. This was a very sweet enemies-to-lovers rom-com, with a D&D type of game at its core, bringing the characters together through cosplay and hunting of rare cards. If you’re a gamer or a geek of any kind, you’ll appreciate this book.

Husband Material by Alexis Hall, one of my two most anticipated sequels of 2022, soon followed. This is my 5-star read of the month. We revisit the sweet and incredibly flawed Luc and Oliver from Boyfriend Material two years into their relationship, trying to navigate the next logical step in their life as a couple.

As everyone around them seems to be getting married, Luc, being Luc (and if you know Luc, you know what I mean) panic-proposes to Oliver and the two are thrown into the whirlwind of organising a wedding as a gay couple with very different preferences for expressing their identity. 

All of Alexis Hall’s books are a joy to read. They’re exactly feel-good books in every sense of the phrase. The characters are well-rounded and relatable, but very funny and engaging, the stories are peak cuteness and swoon, and the conflicts are well-chosen and handled carefully. I loved it.

My summer ended with Emery Lee’s Cafe con Lychee, which was my 3-star read of the month. It’s a sweet, enemies-to-lovers (I swear I don’t seek this trope out), YA queer romance where two teens come together to try to save their parents’ respective cafes from a new competitor. It was a bit of a slow burn for me, but an overall nice story. Trigger warning for homophobia.

Hot New Release

I wonder, when the weather will be a lot colder, if I should stop calling these ‘hot’ new releases.

Anyway, today’s pick is Belladonna by Adalyn Grace, described by Stephanie Garber as “a deliciously deadly Gothic romance”. And all those words combined, as we head into autumn? Yes, please!

Cover courtesy of Goodreads.

Our main character, Signa, is an orphan who was raised by different guardians interested mainly in her wealth, all of whom died untimely and strange deaths.

Ok, I can’t resist. Basically the romance is between Signa and Death. Yes, Death. As in, the shadow-demon thingy that takes us to the other side. Yes, the one with the scythe and the hood.

Do you really need to know more than that?

There’s also a murder investigation and some tense family dynamics, if romance with literal Death wasn’t enough to convince you.

Belladonna comes out today, August 30. 

And that’s it for today’s Coffee Time Tuesday, the last one of the summer. What are your thoughts on seasonal reading and do you have an autumn TBR? Let me know in the comments!

‘Washed Over’ Will Open Your Eyes to The Complexities of Identity and Language

Disclaimer: Please note I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

This is not the first time we’ve featured Ghanaian-American writer Reinfred Addo’s work at Coffee Time Reviews. You can read more about Reinfred’s author journey in our Author Spotlight interview with him:

Washed Over…or Things Dedicated, Reinfred’s latest poetry collection, resonated with me in many profound and almost unspeakable ways. From the connection between names and identity, to nationality and labels, to language and how we can bend it and play around with it to express ourselves, Washed Over is a eulogy to the long-neglected colours in ourselves.

The collection compiles five parts, each exploring the nature of humanity, what is and isn’t perceived as natural, the nature of obsession and devotion and the antithesis between them, and circles back to humanity towards the end.

The opening poem, On Names…Dziedzorm, sets the tone for the entire book, with the poet setting out to explain where his middle name comes from, how it’s pronounced, what it means and all the different ways in which it can be written. It’s a declaration of identity: this is who I am, this is the first thing you need to know about me.

Names are the ancestral pillars of identity. And the ugly truth of our world is that people who don’t have Western-known names are bound to prejudice, or simply laziness to try to respect how to correctly pronounce their names. That commitment to accurate pronunciation is quickly being erased from the Western conscience.

On Names…Dziedzorm ends with “Long live happiness!” further solidifying the general failure to recognise foreign names, while the poet resigns to the English meaning of his name: I am happy. But my interpretation is that, in the end, it’s all about keeping other people happy. We twist and adapt our non-Western names to the western lack of effort. It’s the easy thing to do. 

“I am Happy” is what they call me,

Happiness is my birthright.

Washed Over also covers themes of race and police brutality, in a very gentle but sharp way, which keeps the tone of the collection while also sending a strong, important message. The entire collection has a prosaic nature to it: it’s like the author takes you through different micro-episodes of his life from which he drew meaning.

It’s not overly edited or overly stripped down, the poetry flows as a story. It’s an admirable thing to be able to keep the campfire-tale style of the book while also covering heavy themes. 

Macroaggressions…Get Stabbed or Get Punished perfectly encapsulates the main message and tone of the book: this is my reality as a Ghanaian man living in America. This is what happened to me on a random school day. This is why I’m telling you this story. Simple, easy-to-grasp meaning that packs a punch right from the title.

Well, principal said I provoked the girl to threaten me with

that knife, meaning he thought there was plenty 

of blame for both sides, code that he wanted to punish me too.

He gave me in-school detention and musta felt he

was being really gracious ‘cos he gave me a warning: next time,

my punisher probably wouldn’t be quite this lenient.

The collection ends with Life’s Students, a poem that beautifully and completely honours life in all its glory and people’s cohabitating within our little sphere of the universe. I believe the true power in Reinfred’s writing is his ability to bring beauty back to poetry as a craft, while not shying away from the uglier parts of the world that we need to look straight in the eye.

I’m awake in a flow of cosmic dust

and of learning and of beings, and they 

are here and I am here and we are stirring.

If you read poetry and if you don’t read poetry, Washed Over is the poetry you need to read. The hope, the serenity and the strength it invites us to draw from unity with our own kin are rare feelings I’ve encountered in contemporary poetry. 

What Reinfred Dziedzorm Addo truly does best is marry truth and beauty. And as a fellow modern poet, I can vouch that’s an impressive feat for our craft.

You can purchase Washed Over…or Things Dedicated here. For the first year of publication, some of the proceeds will be donated to Dopen Mic, the Civic Media Center, and the Library Of Africa & The African Diaspora (LOATAD).

Coffee Time Tuesdays: 5 New Releases for Summer

Welcome to Coffee Time Tuesdays, where we cover what we’ve been reading, planning to read, and what new releases we’ve had our eyes on in the past week.

Summer is swiftly coming to an end, although the heatwave is still intense here in the North of England (I never thought I’d say that). And as it always seems to be the case around mid-August, I’m a little stuck, to be honest.

Late summer is a funny time. The air gets that chill that makes me crave autumn, but the sun is still high, the coffee still iced, and the holiday mood is still up and running, so I never know what to read.

Hoping I’m not alone in experiencing a confused reading appetite around the end of a season, I decided to make today a summer special column, giving you not just one new release, but five. In doing so, I hope to stretch the summer feeling for as long as possible and make these last two weeks of the season memorable enough for all of us, at least in the realm of books.

1. ‘Mercury Picture Presents’ by Anthony Marra

Release date: 4 August

Genre: Historical fiction

Ok, I admit I first chose Mercury Picture Presents for the cover. It’s the most perfect, late-summer cover. But then the plot really drew me in and I think it’s a very widely-appealing plot too.

The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini’s Italy to 1940s Los Angeles-a timeless story of love, deceit, and sacrifice from the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. — John Murray Press

This sounds like the mid-century sister of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, where we have a strong, resilient female protagonist in search of a better life that can defy the political injustice of the world. If you’ve read any of my recent articles about books, you know I’m slowly developing a preference for books with a cinema subplot, and this sounds perfect.

Hollywood, political unrest, and a female associate producer who tries to push European talent overseas during a time of war, where the continent is decimated by violence. What more can you ask for?

2. ‘Carrie Soto Is Back’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Release date: 30 august

Genre: Fiction

I had to. I simply had to. I could not have compiled a list of late-summer book releases without the queen that is Taylor Jenkins Reid. Carrie Soto Is Back follows a famous fictional tennis player who, after retiring, has her record broken before her very eyes.

So Carrie Soto, in true Taylor Jenkins Reid main character fashion, decides to come out of retirement for one last game, in a fierce and determined attempt to reclaim her record.

Thank you, Taylor Jenkins Reid, for the escapism we all need. —Pandora Sykes

I know this comes out on the second to last day of summer, but come on. Are we even going to hide how much we try to squeeze one more book into our monthly reads on those last couple of days? Might as well do it with a tried and tested addictive author.

3. ‘Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club’ by Roselle Lim

Release date: 18 August

Genre: Magical realism

I don’t know about you, but the end of the summer usually comes with nostalgia for me. You know, the classic blues that it will get darker and darker, and the year is almost over, and why didn’t I do more over summer? 

Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club sounds like it understands that feeling. This sweet magical realism story follows failed matchmaker Sophie Go as she tries to salvage her reputation and convinces seven men in their 70s that she will find love for them.

I like the idea of looking for love later in life and I think this could be the sweet, wholesome story I will need as I transition into the autumn mood.

4. ‘Dogs of Summer’ by Andrea Abreu, translated by Julia Sanches

Release date: 2 August

Genre: Fiction

This bold exploration of girlhood and queerness follows Shit and Isora, two best friends who discover themselves over one summer that changes everything.

A rich and prophetic world of women and low, grey clouds that merge with the sea. Pure poetry. —  Pilar Quintana

I would normally detail more on the plot, but I think Dogs of Summer is the kind of book that needs to be experienced through its characters. What happens doesn’t seem that important, and the book doesn’t have a plot-driven online footprint. But if you think girlhood, love, desire, queerness and friendship are themes you would enjoy, pick this book up.

5. ‘Witches’ by Brenda Lozano, translated by Heather Cleary

Release date: 16 August

Genre: Fiction/Magical realism

What sounds like a story of women supporting women in navigating the world and the multi-faceted nature of womanhood, Witches would be the perfect story to take you from summer to early autumn in a gripping, diverse, and bewitching fashion.

This is the story of who Feliciana is, and of who Paloma was.

I had wanted to get to know them, but I realised right away that the people I needed to know better were my sister Leandra and my mother. Myself. I came to understand that you can’t really know another woman until you know yourself… — Brenda Lozano, ‘Witches’

The murder of Paloma, a trans curandera (healer), prompts an investigation bringing journalist Zoe from Mexico City into the small and old-fashioned town where she lived. There, Zoe partners up with Feliciana, Paloma’s cousin, and together they try to come to terms with their identities, their power to make a change, and the unfair world they inhabit.

And that’s it for this week’s Coffee Time Tuesday! Can you relate to the late-summer reading slump and has any of these books caught your eye? Let me know in the comments!

The Book of the Summer

A Brief Introduction

It’s been a while since I’ve taken pen in hand and sat down to write. Fear not, dear reader; I have spent the time in your service.

Gabrielle Zevin has the hot book, the must-read book, the book of the summer. The reviews are breathless, the blurbs are eye-popping, and a movie is on the way.


Because I am a nice guy and never want to waste my reader’s time, I decided I would read all of her books in the hopes you would read my review over the 5,000 other reviews currently on the web. (I’m always looking for ways to add value.)

Her Books that I’ve Completed

#1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a best-seller. It’s about a widowed bookseller, so of course, it takes place in a bookstore. Over the course of the book, JOY gradually returns to the bookseller’s life.

I love this book, and apparently, lots of you do as well, as it’s being made into a movie.

#2. The plot of Young Jane Young is based roughly on the Monica Lewinsky affair. (Google it.) Much like Lewinsky, our protagonist has taken power back in her life.

This is a good book and an essential book to boot. The narrator is a voice I, a White middle-class male, have rarely heard.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. (And isn’t it nice to enjoy and learn at the same time?)

#3. The Hole We’re In is timely enough that I checked the release date. They published it in 2010, but boy, oh boy, is this book still relevant today.

It’s about a religiously conservative family. (Two parents and three kids.) The story opens with the father leaving his job to return to graduate school, placing the family in financial distress. The financial pressure splinters the family in other ways.

The father is racist and a hypocrite who drives his daughter away.

We follow the family down through the years.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the turn to the right we’ve made here in America. The book never explicitly states, but I assume abortion is illegal, as one character travels to Canada to have one.

I found the book timely and engaging and would highly recommend it. This book is probably my favorite of the four.

On a side note, I worry about our empathy, and I wish we had a way to explicitly teach it in schools. (Especially in the U.S.) (Maybe books?)

For instance, I get that some of you are pro-life, but how do you tell a 10-year-old she has to have her rapist’s baby? If I’ve learned anything in my college-level years, it’s being wary of moral absolutes and those that attempt to impose them.

#4. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a YA novel, and it’s interesting, it held my attention, and it too has a movie. The thing I liked most, though, is the protagonist has three guys she could legitimately be in a relationship with. Zevin builds tension, and we don’t find out whom the girl picks until the very end. (It’s almost a mystery book about romance.)

In the spirit of complete honesty, I am currently listening to All These Things I’ve Done. It’s a teen book, and it’s good, but I find myself getting distracted and don’t know that I’ll finish. (Besides, I have another hot author I’m itching to review.) (I’ve officially given up. I’m listening to The Final Girl Support Group. — Voted the best horror novel of 2021 by Goodreads, but also referred to as a wickedly humorous thriller. What a combination!)

The Headliner

Tomorrow And Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Be careful when you read reviews, as you certainly don’t want to spoil this book, and I guarantee it will be spoiled if you know anything that happens from the middle of the book onward.

It’s a love story, sort of, but it’s certainly not a romance, and it’s nothing that I’ve ever read before. The book jacket tells us it’s about two friends, but I would argue strenuously that it’s really about three friends. (Two males and one female.)(Yes, this matters a lot.)

The story takes place in the world of video game design. I imagine that may be a negative for some of you, but don’t let it bother you, as the setting only enhances the story. (A main character completes an incredible act of love revolving around a video game.)

So, the numbers

It’s # 7 on the NY Times hardcover fiction books, and it’s been on the list ever since it came out four weeks ago.

It’s an editor’s pick at Amazon.

It’s only #43 in the USA today, but it’s new.

How about these blurbs?

“Utterly brilliant. In this sweeping, gorgeously written novel, Gabrielle Zevin charts the beauty, tenacity, and fragility of human love and creativity. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

John Green! John Green said this! (I know exclamation points are for lazy writers, but holy buckets Batman, John Green is a great writer, all-around good guy, and hero to librarians everywhere.) (Go out and read his books right this very instant.)

“It’s the sort of book that comes around once in a decade — a magnificent feat of storytelling.”… “Gabrielle Zevin is one of our greatest living novelists, and Tomorrow just may be her magnum opus. Remarkable.

Rebecca Serle

What do I think?

I don’t recall the last time I purchased a hardcover book. I have no more room for books in the house, yet I bought this one, and it’s well worth it. (I belong to three online libraries, so I could have waited..)

It’s a Barnes and Noble book club book. I’d love to discuss the book with other people.

It is absolutely worthy of a re-read. For instance, the very last sentence of the book says, “He would know her handwriting anywhere.”

I swear that’s a reference to something that happens early in the book, but I can’t find it for the life of me. Ugghh. (I want to say this is important, but it’s probably not. I’ve spent over an hour now trying to confirm my hypothesis.)

It’s true to life; it arouses your emotions and holds your attention.

It’s deep. I found that I looked at my past relationships in a new light.

It’s well worth your time and money.

Coffee Time Tuesdays: Birthday Haul and a Hot New Release

I turned 24 last Wednesday and when I tell you I died and went to heaven that day, I promise I’m not exaggerating.

Welcome to Coffee Time Tuesdays, our weekly bookish column where we share what we’ve been reading, how we’ve been feeling about books, and a hot new release (almost) every week. 

I couldn’t help making this one a birthday special, since this year my birthday was a huge bookish success.

The day started with a cup of coffee at the Corn Exchange, a beautiful historical building, where they serve the best coffee in town. Then, my partner, rather inspiringly, suggested we get some plants to mark my birthday, which is how I got my little work-from-home companion, August, a baby fern who is literally the love of my life right now.

We then went on a quest to find some fancy yarn. As you may know, I’m a knitter, and this year on my birthday, my partner decided not to buy me anything in advance, but instead to make the day a full gift shopping experience.

Well, all the nice yarn stores were closed, so our initial plan of getting one of each: plant, yarn, book, tea/coffee, quickly turned into replacing the yarn with books.

I spent over an hour in Waterstones trying to decide what book I wanted. At first, my partner suggested a signed hardback (‘so it’s special’). But none of the ones available interested me much.

So we shily made our way to the buy one get one half the price table. This table happened to be filled with Women’s Prize shortlists which I’d been eyeing for months. I picked up one after the other, trying to no avail to make my mind up.

My partner suggested I pick up a book I’ve been wanting for a while, but also look for a wild card, a book I’d never heard of that caught my eye on the spot. I picked up Matrix by Lauren Groff, fangirled to him about it, and put it back down. Then I picked up The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, fangirled some more, then put it down. I then spotted The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, and I lost my mind completely over it. I couldn’t let it go. 

Bear with me, we’re coming to the moment when I died and went to heaven. 

So I was set on The Great Circle and thought I’d take his advice and look for a wild card. Shooting Martha, by David Thewlis was by far the worthy winner here.

Lo and behold, dear reader, after an exhaustive hour of browsing for books, I finally had my choices. So as I was making my way to the checkout, my partner turned around, went back to the table, picked up Matrix and The Island of Missing Trees and added them to the stack. ‘You know what, it’s your birthday, if you want them, we’ll get them all’.

My birthday book haul. Photo by the author.

And this is how I spent the rest of the day with a stack of books clutched tightly to my chest, labelling it the best birthday I’ve had in years. 

I’m so excited to get to all of these books. And the fact that they’re gifts means I won’t ever donate them, which is what I do with most of my physical books. I started Shooting Martha the other day and it’s wonderful. I’ve realised I’m enjoying books with cinematography subplots a lot. Plain Bad Heroines, another successful gift from the legendary partner, started this little niche.

You might think I’m very easily pleased — and that might be true, but this is not the point. I don’t normally go to the bookstore to buy stacks of books. I usually buy one, or two books at the most. So this was a very special experience for me and it’s definitely got me excited about reading again.

Hot New Release

It would be fitting for me to stop losing it over my wonderful birthday book haul now and keep my promise to you: your hot new recommendation of the week.

If, like me, you tend to get a little slower in your reading towards the end of the summer, I’ve got just the book for you. The Family Remains, Lisa Jewell’s sequel to her super popular The Family Upstairs, comes out today. 

I’ve read Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell and it’s one of the most haunting thrillers I’ve ever come across, so a duology or potential series from her sounds incredible. I think thrillers are ideal right now, when summer is getting windier and maybe a little chillier, to get out on the balcony in the evenings and feel the changing waters of the weather in tune with your fast-paced book.

And this is it for today’s Coffee Time Tuesday. Have you read any of the books I bought on my birthday? And would you be interested in awards shortlists being featured more often at Coffee Time Reviews? I never know how much influence literary prizes have on readers. Do you trust a book to be good if it won awards? Let me know in the comments!

Coffee Time Tuesdays: The Anti-TBR — Popular Books I Will Never Read

Is our weekly column becoming a home for fun bookish tags? Not entirely. But every now and again, I like to spice things up and set myself the challenge of not writing based on my set Coffee Time Tuesdays format, but trying something new.

Let me give you a little glimpse into how I write this column on Monday afternoons: 

  • I reflect on my reading during the past week and decide on an angle
  • I start looking for a hot new release I’m happy to recommend (this is surprisingly hard — I always aim for something as universally appealing and currently relevant as possible)
  • I write my title, which is usually my catalyst for what I will say in the column itself
  • I design the featured image, which is a fun creative experience that always inspires me 
  • then I open previous Coffee Time Tuesdays and have a look at the structure, adapt it to the one I’m writing, then fill in the blanks

A weekly column is all about consistency: people need to know what they get. But sometimes I have absolutely nothing new to share in terms of what I’ve been reading, so I like to get creative.

The next best thing after sharing new releases and discussing reading habits? Starting a whole conversation around different questions regarding reading tastes, plans, pet peeves and preferences.

The anti-TBR tag, originally created by Nicole & Her Books on YouTube, raises the controversy of popular books we aren’t hyped about. No matter how much I like to go with the crowds when it comes to good books, there will always be some I’m simply not interested in reading. And this is what I’m about to share with you today.

Disclaimer: Please note the following answers are based solely on my personal opinions and tastes. If you enjoy these books and authors, please remember this is not a critique of your preferences, just my own opinion.

1. A popular book EVERYONE loves that you have no interest in reading? 

I’m going to start with a bang: Book Lovers by Emily Henry. I’ve read You and Me on Vacation and Beach Read and none of them impressed me very much. 

I don’t dislike Emily Henry’s writing, but neither do I think it’s particularly unique or remarkable and I have other romance authors I prefer to pick up instead. The title Book Lovers sounds charming but that’s not enough to convince me to pick it up. Never say never, though.

2. A classic book (or author) you don’t have an interest in reading? 

I could list a good few dozens here, because I’m just generally not into classics at all. I’ve tried over and over again to like classic literature and I just don’t. I find it frustrating how obsolete some of the themes and attitudes are and I always get this distinct feeling that what I’m reading is…dusty, somehow.

I have read some classics I enjoyed, but for the most part, I prefer to not waste my time with them. Ulysses by James Joyce is probably the one classic book I know for sure I’ll never read. Why would I do that to myself?

3. An author whose books you have no interest in reading? 

I’m really not fussed about Colleen Hoover. I’ve heard mixed opinions about her but solely based on the plots of some of her books, I just don’t see myself ever picking any of them up. Call me a hipster.

4. A problematic author whose books you have no interest in reading? 

This was supposed to be my answer to question 1, but I’ve just found out that this author might be a little questionable, so I will include her here. Delia Owens, author of the beloved and widely acclaimed Where the Crawdads Sing

I’m essentially not bothered about the book itself, but because Owens, her husband and stepson are to this day wanted in Zambia for questioning about a murder case from 1996, the book seems a little too close to the author’s story for me to be comfortable reading it. 

5. An author you have read a couple of books from & have decided their books are not for you? 

Julian Barnes used to be very popular a couple of years ago and after reading The Only Story, I can’t say I ever got the urge to read anything else from him. He’s perceived as a modern classic among readers around the world and while I can appreciate his skill, I can’t say his writing resonated with me as much as I’d hoped.

6. A genre you have no interest in OR a genre you tried to get into & couldn’t?

The answer to both of these questions is fantasy. I can’t, for the life of me, enjoy fantasy as a genre. I’ve tried and it just doesn’t do it for me. I prefer books set in the world and reality I know and can relate to. 

Although I admire the creativity and skill that go into making up completely fictional worlds, creatures, abilities and, in some cases, languages, I still find it a lot more compelling to read about a world I’m familiar with.

7. A book you have bought but will never read? (this can be a book you have unhauled/returned to the library unread) 

Ian McEwan’s Nutshell is still collecting dust on my bookshelf in my parents’ house, untouched for years. I love the concept of this book: it’s written from the perspective of an unborn child. 

But I’ve read a few chapters and something about it just irks me. I think McEwan tried too hard to make the baby’s voice very obviously the voice of a foetus and I don’t think that was necessary at all.

8. A series you have no interest in reading OR a series you started & have dnf’d? 

I will get so much hate for this. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my shamefully dnf’d series I don’t think I’ll ever pick up again. I adored The Hobbit and the first LOTR book was wonderful. 

But I got as far as the second before I got bored. I’m not a fan of lengthy descriptions and, as mentioned before, fantasy is not my cup of tea (coffee?), so as much as I’d have liked to finish and love this trilogy, I don’t think I ever will. Hats off to Tolkien for the incredible world-building, though.

9. A new release you have no interest in reading?

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara has been on my mind since I decided to do this tag in today’s column. I want to read A Little Life this year just because, as an old Romanian saying would go, I don’t want to die dumb — so I want to know what the violent sobs are all about. Plus, I like a good cry (when it’s not driven by personal emotional distress, of course). 

But unless A Little Life absolutely knocks my socks off, I don’t think I’ll pick up Yanagihara’s latest book. The length itself is reason enough for me. I’m not usually a long book kind of reader because I have ADHD and therefore a minuscule attention span and patience. But even more so, the plot doesn’t seem to be something I’d ever be interested in reading anyway.

And that’s it for this week’s Coffee Time Tuesday. If you’ve never done the Anti-TBR tag, why not give it a go? Let me know some of your answers in the comments and if you’re a writer or blogger, I challenge you to write a full article about this tag. If you do, tag me or leave the link in the comments, as I would love to read it! See you next week.

Coffee Time Tuesdays: A New Home Inspires Fresh Love for Paperbacks

Coffee Time Tuesdays are back with fresh titles, a recovered reading appetite and a huge life change that turned my whole world upside down in the best way possible.

But first of all, hello lovely readers. It’s been a few weeks since my last Coffee Time Tuesday when I sat down with my cup of Joe to tell you about my favourite books of the year so far. Whoever tells you that things can’t change much in a short period of time is a big, shameless liar.

In the last column, I was telling you about my stressful house move which was fast approaching at the time. I was right to be stressed because it turned out to be perhaps the most intense physical and emotional effort I’ve ever faced in my life. But boy, was it worth it.

I’m writing now from my new living room, where I set up a little office corner for myself. My huge living room window is open and birdsong is coming through in little waves, among the periodic swish of the trees under the strong North of England wind.

I have a musk-scented candle flickering behind me, and my knitting basket is timidly waiting for me to pick it back up when I finish work. On the wall-high shelves in the hallway, my (albeit very few) books are arranged among Amiibo figurines, jewellery, video games, and a photo of my partner and me.

I’m incredibly fulfilled right now. I knew, when we picked this flat, that it was a big step forward from our former house (a very old, big and poorly maintained red-brick building). But it wasn’t until last Thursday, when we moved in, that I realised what a good choice it was.

The flat isn’t perfect. But it’s exactly what I needed. It’s bright, cosy, clean and easy to maintain. I would spend hours just polishing surfaces and folding up blankets in neat little squares to dot around the house. I cherish every moment in this new space. So much so, that despite it being sunny and warm outside, I just don’t feel like going anywhere. All I want to do is write, read, knit and play on my Switch while sipping some tea in my new house.

Our West-facing bedroom is bright, especially in the evening, with the sun setting at 9:30 pm, which means my partner and I can hang out together in bright sunshine for hours after we finish work. I used to hate laying in bed during the daytime unless I specifically wanted to sleep. But not anymore. The bed is comfy, the room is spacious and the view through the window is lovely. So when my partner is winding down with a video game, I’ve been rediscovering my love for physical books.

After all, it would be downright rude not to read a beautiful hardback (or paperback, who am I to judge?), when the sun is shining brightly through your window until late in the evening.

What I’m Reading This Month

As I mentioned a million times before, I don’t own a lot of physical books because I will probably move house at least once more while I live in the UK. However, I still have some unread books on my shelves which I’m now excited again to read.

The other night, I picked up Ariadne, by Jennifer Saint, which I own in a stunning, Waterstones-exclusive hardback, signed by the author. I love getting a few chapters in every evening, taking me to the sunny shores of Crete, where Ariadne has just decided to be the master of her own destiny. Feminist Greek myth retellings are so important right now, and I’m very keen to see where Ariadne’s story goes.

Then, it’s finally time to read Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest book. I’ve waited so long to pick it up because I knew I wanted to read it in physical form, rather than on my Kindle, and I finally bought the paperback last weekend, so I’m ready to dig in.

And finally, by the end of July, I’d like to reread the first two books in TJ Klune’s The Extraordinaries series, as the third and final book comes out in a couple of weeks. This series made me realise I have ADHD, which has been one of the biggest steps forward in my self-acceptance journey. Otherwise, the books are sweet, funny and incredibly wholesome, and I remember having a blast reading them last summer, so a reread is required before the series ends for good.

Hot New Release

This week’s hot new release recommendation isn’t exactly hot off the press (it came out on June 7th), but I wanted to include it because it’s not the kind of book I’d miss off this section. I’m also not as on the ball with new releases since I’ve not had a chance to keep an eye on publishers in the past few weeks.

Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler is a lesbian romance between a cheerleader and the new captain of the football team. That’s right, the good old trope of cheerleaders and sports jocks dating and making the whole town jealous gets spun on its head when the ‘jock’ is a woman. And the best part about the whole narrative is that Jack (short for Jaclyn), the new team captain, isn’t leading a women’s team. She’s leading the boys and taking the girl. Yes please, all the way to the top.

And that’s it for this week’s Coffee Time Tuesday! Thanks for indulging my descriptive rant about my new home. I’d love to know what you’ve been reading with your hot (or cold) drink of choice lately and any new titles you’re excited about. Let me know!

My Rare Bookish Finds From the Past Month and Why I Enjoyed Them So Much 

The school year is ending, and the library is busy. Books are checked in, shelved, and then it’s time for inventory. Every kid has a computer nowadays, which means they all need chargers. That equipment needs to be verified and cleaned, and alas, fines placed for the lost equipment.

When that’s done, I go back and look at every book in the library and make sure it’s in the right place. That’s not as bad as it sounds, as the kids will be gone, and I can listen to an audiobook.

Compounding my misery, is the fact I’ve been sick. The Dr. placed me on 1750 Mg of Augmentin, each and every day. I did better than I thought I would. An apple a day, and a cup of Greek yogurt work wonders for the digestive system.

The librarian I work with is retiring back to the classroom, and I’ve applied for her job. I don’t have my library media certification, but I have a teaching license and my district will consider me if I return to school. 

That means applications galore, and lots of hoops needing to be jumped. I know my school’s principal likes me, so I’m crossing my fingers and knocking on wood. 

All in all, I’ve little time to write.

But like all good readers everywhere, I read whenever I have a free moment. That’s a constant in my life. 

I’ve come across a couple of books that have motivated me to take a deep breath and share some thoughts.

What Are The Books?

Book # 1: People We Meet on Vacation — By Emily Henry

It’s an age-old question. Is it possible to be friends with the opposite sex? Is it possible to remain just friends if both people have even the tiniest bit of romantic interest in each other? Can you be friends, like spending time with someone else, and not have a little spark of romance? 

It’s an intriguing premise. Two old college pals, one male, and one female, go on vacation each summer. One’s a teacher and the other is a travel writer. One year, they even take significant others along. 

Then something happens, and they take a break from each other. 

Since this is a beach read, and a rom-com, they of course go on one last vacation, both hoping to save their relationship. 

But nothing is that simple. 

This is almost the perfect beach read, well worth your time and money. It has lots of social media buzz, and 4 out of 5 stars, after 500 K reviews on Goodreads. 

Book #2: A Crown for Cold Silver — (Book 1 of The Crimson Empire) by Alex Marshal

I love fantasy. There is a part of me that will always long for the moral certainty of The Lord of the Rings — a book where the good guys are good, and the bad guys are just plain evil. 

But little in life is that simple. 

This isn’t a super popular series, it doesn’t have the highest ratings, but it does a couple of things really well. 

Yes, the heroes do heroic things, but they also do some really shitty things and can be, at best, self-centered, and at worst, more than a tad incompetent. 

It’s Grimdark fantasy, but better, because the heroes are still worthy of our support. 

The genuinely unique thing about the book is its LBGTQ representation. Gender doesn’t matter, and people really just love people. It’s more than kind of cool. 

We have a love triangle between two men and one woman. The automatic assumption is that the two men love the woman, and etc, etc… 

I was delighted by how the author played with that trope, and in fact, kept playing with our expectations thought-out the entire series.

At one point the author has a riff about trans people. He talks about how trans people are simply people born with the wrong soul or two souls. How cool is that?!? 

It’s neat because it gets a little confusing. One of the main characters is referred, to as the mother of another character, but also as a husband. Gender doesn’t seem to matter so much. 

I flew through all three books and highly recommend the series. It’s unfortunate the author doesn’t seem to have written any more books, as the series lends itself to sequels. 

Oh, before I forget; it has a kick-ass, well actually several kick-ass female heroines (4!), and a semi-incompetent male barbarian who really isn’t that great at fighting or doing much other than singing and telling stories. 

I only took 6 books home from the school library for the summer. All historical fiction. I’ve never read The Book Thief — by Markus Zusak, and it’s time to remedy that injustice. 

Wish me luck on the job. 

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Coffee Time Tuesdays: Mid-Year Freakout Tag

This week’s Coffee Time Tuesday will be a little different. The reasons for that are threefold: 

  • one, I don’t have new current reads or finished books
  • two, I love the mid-year freakout tag and wanted to share mine with you, and also to reflect on my reading so far this year
  • three, to keep content fresh and invite you to reflect on your own reading in the first half of 2022

I’m in the process of moving house and it’s intense. All I’ve been wanting to do this month is nap or fantasise about the first week of July, when, in my new flat, freshly unpacked, I can chill on the sofa with my knitting and some new books. I’ve been so tired, unmotivated and overwhelmed lately that books just haven’t been on my mind.

But fear not. With a new start comes new motivation, so I’m sure next month’s Coffee Time Tuesdays will be packed full of exciting reads.

For now, let’s go through the mid-year freakout tag, a fun challenge that always takes over Booktube around this time of year.

Mid-Year Freakout Tag

So far, 2022 has been very successful for me in terms of books. I’ve read 26 of my intended 55 books this year, so I’m on track. Of those, only one was a 2-star read, with the majority of the books I’ve completed being 4-star reads. I’m excited about this tag, I think I’ll have lots to share.

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2022?

The winner for me right now is Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams. This acclaimed contemporary fiction is a wonderful exploration of womanhood, in all its complex forms, written from the perspective of a Black woman, which adds more profound nuances to the themes of the book.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2022?

I’m a standalone kind of reader, so the only sequel I’ve read this year is Here’s to Us by Becky Albertalli and adam Silvera. This is the sequel to What If It’s Us?, a sweet YA queer romance which ended in uncertainty and was begging for a sequel. I liked Here’s to Us, it was cute and brought me the closure I needed.

I am ecstatic to read two particular sequels later in the year though, but I’ll cover those later on.

3. New releases you haven’t read yet, but want to?

I would love to read Akwaeke Emezi’s latest book, You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty. I recommended this as the new release in a previous Coffee Time Tuesday column. The story has very similar themes to the second novel I’m working on: the death of a partner and navigating love and identity while still dealing with grief.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

This has to be 100% the third book in T.J. Klune’s The Extraordinaries trilogy, Heat Wave. I am so ridiculously pumped for what is essentially a superhero book and that in itself is impressive enough.

The Extraordinaries is a queer, fantasy story with a neurodivergent main character who discovers he has superpowers like the few exceptions he knows of in the world. These ‘extraordinaries’ do their best to make the world a better place, but there are rivalries and political implications that stand in their way. 

This series made me realise I have ADHD. Aside from the fact that it’s sweet, incredibly funny, wholesome, romantic and features some of the most iconic quotes ever, the fact that Nicky, the main character, has ADHD, made me discover I have it too. I’ve been on a path towards getting it formally diagnosed ever since.

Heat Wave comes out on 19 July and I can’t contain myself.

Another one I can’t wait to read is Alexis Hall’s Husband Material, the sequel to Boyfriend Material. This comes out on 2 August.

5. Biggest disappointment

To be honest, most of the books I’ve read this year have been amazing, and although this isn’t my lowest-rated one, Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson has to take the stage here.

I had such ridiculously high expectations for this dark academia mystery and it fell so, so flat for me. If you want to know more about why I was so disappointed with this book, my review explains it all.

6. Biggest surprise

The book that absolutely shocked me with joy and wholesomeness and one I didn’t expect would slip into my top favourite books of all time is The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun.

Oh my God, this book. I read it three times in the space of a month. The mental health representation and the way it’s explored in this book is exquisite. I was expecting a sweet, cheerful, fairytale queer romance and got a lot more than that.

I did proclaim my love for The Charm Offensive loud and clear in this review if you want to know more. But really, romance, validation, faith in humanity restored, all those elements should be indication enough to read it.

7. Favourite new author (debut or new to you)

Caleb Azumah Nelson, for sure. His debut, Open Water is the second-best book I’ve read this year and I will read anything this man comes up with from now on.

8. Newest fictional crush

Harper Harper from Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M Danforth. Beautiful, successful, humble, mysterious, a caring elder sister and a great actress, what else could you ask for?

9. Book that made you cry

I was a hot mess at the end of The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. If you’ve read this, I’m talking about the sacrifice at the end. So terribly tragic. I have a full review of this Greek myth retelling, and I recommend you check it out.

10. Book that made you happy

How to Be a Normal Person by T. J. Klune was so sweet, so wholesome, and made me believe that there’s a person for everyone out there, no matter how broken, how weird or how alone you feel.

11. The most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

Plain Bad Heroines for sure. Have you seen that cover?

12. Favourite book-to-movie adaptation you’ve seen this year?

Heartstopper. Technically a book-to-show adaptation but this has to be my top pick. Oh my God. The cast. The sweetness. The representation. The family-friendly atmosphere. The soundtrack. The happy queer experiences. Four hours of pure joy.

And that’s it for today’s column! The sun is shining in the North of England (miracle), and I’m about to head out and possibly get some bubble tea and pizza. What are you reading with your (hot) drink of choice this week? And let me know some of your answers to the freakout tag questions!