Seven literary highlights from 2017

Frohes Neues Jahr!
So 2017 started out strong for me, and then kind of petered out in the last third of the year. I started my Masters degree, and was so immersed in academic reading that I ran out of energy for any other kind of “word stuff”. Which also led to a lack of motivation for blogging.

But new year, new start and all that. I’m planning to start afresh – indeed, this blog needs a bit of a refresher, methinks. After all, it is 5 years old now!

But 2017 wasn’t a total loss. There were some fantastic literary moments as well.

1. Getting the chance to interview the one and only Joanne Harris, she of Chocolat fame. I was so incredibly nervous, especially since I’m such a fan, and she can also be quite cutting on Twitter at times, but I needn’t have worried. Joanne was delightful to talk to – patient, witty and understanding.

2. Attending the book launch of a short story anthology, edited by one of my best friends. Such a proud moment at an event that was brimming with good vibes.

3. Visiting Shakespeare & Company, the bookstore of my dreams! I could have spent all day there – alas, we had other sights to see. (Oh, the sites of Paris, what a drag! MY LIFE IS SO HARD.)

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New favourite place! #bookstore #paris #shakespeareandcompany

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4. Encountering the gorgeous interior of the Stockholm city library – three stories of spiral literary goodness!

5. Accidentally gatecrashing a reading at the Stockholm Literary Festival. (It was hosted at the modern art museum, which I was visiting on a weekend excursion.) I ended up listening to a reading by Petina Gappah.

6. Interviewed Seanan McGuire (via email, but still!) for a blog tour. One of my all-time favourite authors. I still have a virtual contact-high.

7. And of course, all the great books from 2017. I may not have read as much as I wanted to, and didn’t get around to putting together a best-of list due to me being very AWOL, but standouts for me included THUG, The Child Finder, Hunger, Waking Gods and Goodbye Days.

My favourite literary podcasts

literary podcasts

I’ve really taken to podcasts recently – they’re perfect for the hour before I go to bed when I’m too tired to focus on reading a book but not tired enough to actually go to sleep. And of course, with reading as one of my hobbies, I’ve been drawn to this particular category of listening material. So here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites.

Sword and Laser 

Focused on sci-fi, fantasy and other speculative fiction, this podcast covers author interviews, book news and other literary features. Two of the recent episodes I’ve enjoyed include #299 NK Jemisin Says FanFic Makes Good Practice and #291 Falling Backwards Into Screenwriting Success, which is in interview with MR Carey, author of The Girl with All the Gifts.

London Review Podcasts

I know literary review sites have something of a pretentious reputation, but there are a number of discussions that caught my interest, particularly in terms of the intersection with political issues, one of my study majors. Let Them Drown is an interview with writer Naomi Klein, focusing on climate change; while Dacre’s Paper is a fabulously scathing take-down of that cesspool of filth, the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, Long-form Essays in the Digital Age is pretty much an incredibly insightful panel discussion on the title topic.

Clarkesworld Magazine

This science fiction and fantasy magazine has its own podcast, consisting of short stories written by authors who write in these genres. I recently listened to the delightful Afrofuturist 419written by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a take on the typical Nigerian scam letter – with a twist.

It turns out the scam letter was not all a scam. There actually is a Nigerian man stuck out there on a space station, he’s been stuck there for fourteen years and after recent events, he’s probably not ok.

Lightspeed Magazine

Lightspeed is another science fiction and fantasy magazine, who also podcast short stories by authors. As a Seanan McGuire fan, I listened to Each to Each, a tale about military mermaids, women adapted and working for the USA, as well as Homecoming, detailing a football game where all is not as it seems. There are also stories by other well-known names, including Tristina Wright and Maria Dahvana Headley.

The Guardian Books podcast

I find that I recognise a lot more of the authors featured on UK podcasts, as opposed to US ones. Two that I recently enjoyed on The Guardian Books podcast were both politically-orientated: firstly, an interview with Arundhati Roy on her latest book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness which also touched on her political activism, and the second with the same Naomi Klein mentioned earlier, on her new book No is Not Enough, written as a pushback to the Trump administration.

Annotated

A relatively new podcast from Book Riot, each episode focuses on a particular theme: from an examination of George Orwell’s 1984 and its relevance today, to the plucky staying-power of independent bookstores and the 17-year old female inventor of science fiction. I found myself really enjoying the wide range of topics, and episodes are just the right length.

Uncanny Magazine

Another science fiction and fantasy-focused magazine with regular podcasts featuring news, poetry, interviews and short stories from some fantastic authors. I recently listened to podcast 17A, which contained “How the Maine Coon Cat Learned to Love the Sea”  by Seanan McGuire, and 16A, where I enjoyed “Sun, Moon, Dust”  by Ursula Vernon and the poem “Dancing Princesses” by Roshani Chockshi.

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I’m sure I’ll discover many more to add to this collection. Are there any book podcasts in particular that you’d recommend? Let me know!

May book releases

May seems to be a particularly auspicious month for book releases, so I thought I’d do a round up of some of the ones I’m most looking forward to!

into the waterInto the Water – Paula Hawkins

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

While The Girl on The Train wasn’t the best mystery novel in the entire world, I did enjoy it – particularly the characterisation and the weird twisted sisterhood. I’m also on a mystery/thriller/crime kick at the moment, so this one should be a great mood read.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

white hotWhite Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) – Ilona Andrews

Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she’s used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family’s detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor “Mad” Rogan.

Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …

Hilariously, I have an eARC of the third book, but not this one – so I will be anxiously awaiting its release. It’s not secret that I, like many others, really enjoy the urban fantasy output from the power duo Ilona Andrews, and they certainly whet my appetite with a two year wait for the next instalments.

(KILL THE COVER. KILL IT WITH FIRE.)

the love interestThe Love Interest – Cale Dietrich

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both. 

One my most anticipated books of the year – and one which delightfully subverts the standard love triangle trope. I can only hope it lives up to expectations!

the names they gave usThe Names They Gave Us – Emery Lord

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

Because it’s Emery Lord. ‘Nuff said.

the boy on the bridgeThe Boy on the Bridge – M.R. Carey

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

A sequel to the creepy, horrifying, and devastating The Girl With All The Gifts. The synopsis doesn’t give much away, but I trust the author to take me on another incredible journey.

releaseRelease – Patrick Ness

Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…

Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Another author who I instinctively trust – I will be shattered, but come out on the other side better for it.

in a perfect worldIn a Perfect World – Trish Doller

Caroline Kelly is excited to be spending her summer vacation working at the local amusement park with her best friend, exploring weird Ohio with her boyfriend, and attending soccer camp with the hope she’ll be her team’s captain in the fall.

But when Caroline’s mother is hired to open an eye clinic in Cairo, Egypt, Caroline’s plans are upended. Caroline is now expected to spend her summer and her senior year in a foreign country, away from her friends, her home, and everything she’s ever known.

With this move, Caroline predicts she’ll spend her time navigating crowded streets, eating unfamiliar food, and having terrible bouts of homesickness. But when she finds instead is a culture that surprises her, a city that astounds her, and a charming, unpredictable boy who challenges everything she thought she knew about life, love, and privilege.

I have generally enjoyed the author’s contemporaries – they always have a kind of edginess that I appreciate. From the synopsis, I’m hoping that author has done her research re: authentic depictions of other people’s culture.

one of us is lyingOne of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them. 

As mentioned, I’m currently on a mystery kick, and this synopsis has me so intrigued. Preliminary reviews seem to be pretty good as well, so I’m holding out for an entertaining whodunnit.

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So what about you, my lovelies? Any of these on your TBR? Any I haven’t mentioned that you’re counting down the days for?

I ordered my first book box…and I liked it!

Ahem. So many of you UK/US/AUS book people have a great choice of subscription book boxes to choose from – I frequently see unboxings on Tumblr and Instagram and it always makes me rather envious. Being in South Africa, the exchange rates for these are brutal, even if they do ship internationally, and then things tend to sit in customs for around three months. So all in all, not a particularly worthwhile experience.

BUT. Recently I found out about the first South African book box service, courtesy of a friend on Facebook. And I was suitably intrigued. Two things convinced me to order – 1. I was fairly certain about which book it was, and it was one I had been wanting to get anyway, and 2. I had just fractured my foot and was feeling very sorry for myself – i.e. treats were required.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQ3B08hATJW/?taken-by=fullybookedreviews

The unpacking was ever-so intriguing…

I greedily opened everything in the office…and then re-examined everything when I got home.

In case you didn’t guess, it was a circus theme, relating to the much-hyped Caraval. My lovely box was promptly delivered, and arrived to much fanfare on my part!

I think everyone adores bookish goodies – it’s like a literary treasure box. And while I can’t afford to sign up for one every month, I’ll definitely be treating myself every now and then, especially when there’s a theme that appeals to me.

So, my lovelies, do you have a regular subscription to something like this? What’s the nicest treasure you’ve received? I was quite taken with the stripy socks in the jar! And the popcorn, which totally got me through the last hour of my working day.

Most anticipated books for 2017

No explanation needed, yes? So let’s dive right into it.

YA:

most anticipated 2017

When I Am Through With You – Stephanie Kuehn The author is the queen of mind-fuckery and mystery.

The Love Interest – Cale Dietrich A love triangle where the two dudes end up hitting it off? Count me in.

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The Song Rising – Samantha Shannon Because this richly detailed series is well worth the wait. Pity about the cover redesigns though!

Our Dark Duet – Victoria Schwab The world introduced to us in This Savage Song has me eager to see how she resolves things.

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The Inexplicable Logic of my Life – Benjamin Alire Saenz I’ve read two of the author’s books thus far, and they’ve blown me away.

Honestly Ben – Bill Konigsberg Openly Straight was a delightful read, and I’m so hoping for a happy ending for Ben and Rafe.

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Caraval – Stephanie Garber I’ve heard incredible things about this one

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor Better late than never. Laini’s imagination is a thing of wonder.

Urban fantasy:

  • The Brightest Fell (October Date #11) – Seanan McGuire
  • Etched in Bone (The Others #5) – Anne Bishop
  • Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson #10) – Patricia Briggs
  • White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) & Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) – Ilona Andrews
  • The Ippos King (Wraith Kings #3) – Grace Draven

Contemporary:

The Comfort Zone – Sally Thorne

Fantasy:

The Stone Sky (Broken Earth #3) – N.K. Jemisin

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So there you have it, folks. It’s not the wildest list out there, but I’m not too in tune with 2017 debuts, so I’ll be relying on fellow bloggers for recs!

YA vs The Rest of the World

weird things in YA novelsYeah, what a well-phrased title!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Cape Town, situated at the bottom of that mysterious and misrepresented continent – Africa.

As an avid YA reader, however, there are many things that I find utterly strange in these books – due to the fact that they are mostly based in the USA, and life is a tad different in your neck of the woods.

So let’s get into it, shall we? Here’s a list of the shiz that just doesn’t resonate:

  1. You can drive yourself to school. Your school has a student parking lot where you seem to spend a lot of time hanging out. Your parents let you get into a car with someone who has just got their license.

Over here, you can only get your driver’s license aged 18. So there ain’t no driving yourself anywhere. You rely on the parentals to taxi you around. By the end of my last year of school, there were only like 5 people who were driving themselves to school. Also, no way in hell my mother was letting me travel ANYWHERE with someone who just got their license. And how does everyone have a car?! That shit’s expensive.

  1. You just hop and off public transport, free as a daisy.

This is something of a class thing here, but if you’re middle class, you probably don’t use public transport alone as a teenager because your parents think you’ll be murdered.

  1. You sneak out the house

HA HA.

Try getting past security alarms, motion sensors, multiple door locks, barking dogs, extremely alert parents, the night time neighbourhood watch patrols…and then how would you get around if you and your friends can’t drive? Bad plan, homie.

  1. After school jobs

Sure, many of us get part-time jobs as a teenager, but these are for the weekends and holidays. I don’t know of anyone who had one after school – only ending at 3pm, and having to get home and do homework doesn’t leave much time for money-earning activities. (Unless its babysitting, or something like that.)

  1. Sneaking alcohol

In almost all countries of the world, the drinking age is 18. So we don’t really need fake IDs or have to bribe other people to buy our alcohol – we can all get our own drinks! (or at least, our already-18 friends in our group can do it for us and it’s not such a big deal as its made out to be in books).

  1. You seem to plan your outfits for school

Uniforms over here, yo. Makes life a lot easier, although today I still have a strong aversion to the colour brown.

  1. Parties when the house gets trashed

As far as I know, the raucous parties are cordoned off to one part of the house. And destruction tends to be limited to the breaking of a couple of glasses.

But maybe I just wasn’t invited to the cool house-trashing parties.

Scratch that, I definitely wasn’t invited to the cool house-trashing parties.

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And as for the rest of you? What thing do you find completely out of place in YA novels that just don’t translate to your country?

 

Most Anticipated Reads for 2016

Without further ado, ladies (and gentlemen? Are there any gentlemen who frequent my blog?), here be my list of anticipated reads for the year ahead.

2016

  • Vision in Silver – Anne Bishop
    Fire Touched (Mercy Thomson #9) – Patricia Briggs

And on the subject of Urban Fantasy: Everything by Ilona Andrews.

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  • The Raven King – Maggie Stiefvater
    Paper & Fire – Rachel Caine

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  • The Star-Touched Queen – Roshani Chokshi
  • The Crown’s Game – Evelyn Skye

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  • The Passion of Dolssa – Julie Berry
  • Down with the Shine – Kate Karyus Quinn

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  • Kings Rising (Captive Prince #3) – C.S. Pacat
  • Eidolan – Grace Draven

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  • The Smaller Evil – Stephanie Kuehn
  • Bad Boy – Leah Raeder (Now going by the name Elliot Wake, FYI.)

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  • Flamecaster – Cinda Williams Chima
  • The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

Those without covers:

  • Aarie (Magonia #2) – Maria Dahvana Headley
  • Bright Smoke, Cold Fire – Rosamund Hodge
  • Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor
  • Once Broken Faith (October Daye #10) – Seanan McGuire
  • The Song Rising (The Bone Season #3) – Samantha Shannon
  • Shaming the Devil – Melina Marchetta
  • The Inexplicable Logic of My Heart – Benjamin Alire Saenz

It’s quite an odd list, I suppose, but I was trying to focus on those that weren’t necessarily the majorly hyped ones, e.g. Sarah J Maas’ next offerings, as well as sequels to books that I have yet to read. What do you think, oh blog readers of mine? What titles are you most looking forward to?

Best Books of 2015

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Yes I know, technically this post should have been up two days ago, but better late than never, and all that. In short, here’s a list of my favourite reads from 2015. There weren’t a lot of standouts for me last year – there were a lot of books that I really enjoyed, but very few that completely blew me away. I think I gave out around maybe four or five 5 star ratings in total.

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Shout outs to: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon, I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios, The Uninvited by Cat Winters, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray, A Red Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin, Carry On – Rainbow Rowell, Paperweight by Meg Haston

YA Fiction in 2016

In terms of literary themes, 2015 was predominantly the year of fairy tale retellings (#ACOTAR, The Wrath and the Dawn, A Thousand Nights, Ash & Bramble, A Whole New World, Spinning Starlight – to name but a few) and mental illness, particularly suicide (All the Bright Places, The Last Time We Said Goodbye, My Heart and Other Black Holes, I Was Here…)

From the stirling family

As far as I can tell for 2016, a couple of themes seem to resonate:

Time travel

I noticed that time travel seems to be a pretty prominent element in some of next year’s releases, including:

  • Passenger -Alex Bracken
  • The Girl From Everywhere – Heidi Heilig
  • Into The Dim – Janet B Taylor
  • The Marked Girl – Lindsey Klingele
  • Future Shock – Elizabeth Briggs
  • Once There Was a Time – Leila Sales

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Fantasy

While dystopias are on their way out (thankfully, since there were only a couple of gems in this way-oversaturated genre), YA fantasy appears to be at an all time high. (Possibly spurred on by the success of series such as Throne of Glass?) Seriously. So many new fantasy series/standalones set for release next year – they’re outnumbering contemporaries on this list. Apart from releases from established authors, there seem to be a quite a few fantasy debuts as well.

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Diversity

Slowly, but surely, we’re starting to see greater representation of different races, sexualities, cultures, dis(abilities), genders, religions, etc. I used the word ‘greater’ to refer to volume, rather than quality, however, because of course there are and will continue to be books that attempt to be diverse but end up completely half-assing representation – you know – the MC is supposed to be Russian but apart from being labeled as such, there is absolutely nothing to distinguish them from the average white straight American teen, for example – or utilise diversity in the form of a token character with absolutely no fleshing out into a real person.

But we all continue to live in hope, and here are a couple of titles that look pretty interesting – while they may not be as hyped as other novels, it’s important to promote books that do diversity well, as well as books written by diverse authors themselves. (Note: there were quite a few that I wanted to include here, but didn’t have covers yet!)

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Thoughts, dear readers? What are you hoping to see in YA next year? What’s going to be the Next Big Thing?

To All The Tropes I’ve Loved Before

Trope: (noun) a common or overused theme or device

tropes

Obviously, there are plenty of problematic ones, but I’m skipping the general misogyny/sexist/racist/homophobic/ since I think we’re all pretty clear about our collective loathing for those!

At the top of my most-despised list, is the emotionally broken girl/bad boy scenario, usually with the inclusion of magical healing dick which cures the leading lady. To some degree, this scenario usually involves some form of possessive behavior, possible emotional abuse, and a helluva lot of emotional angst and drama. The worst depictions of this trope can be found in a lot of NA lit.

Commonly associated with the above, but which also occurs on its own, is the stalking trope. Epitomised in Twilight, with Edward watching his dearly beloved get some zzz’s, this problematic concept of following the person you like to show your adoration, as well as pitching up at their house and checking up on them online, to name but a few examples, has popped up in a number of YA romances.

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Not quite a trope, but more of a setting – I don’t enjoy books involving Hollywood, with famous MCs. Singers, actors, models… I don’t know why, but the famous person thing, with its associated issues, is a complete turn-off for me.

Also, although I think almost all of us are collectively sick of love triangles, I thought this trope analysis was pretty interesting:

Also, this one seems to come up quite a lot in some of the urban fantasy books I’ve read:

Hero/heroine tries to protect love interest by breaking up with them for their own safety: “I’m in a dangerous line of work, honey, I couldn’t handle it if you got hurt because of me.” Baddie kidnaps love interest anyway, because they KNOW hero/heroine will come in and save them regardless.

Tropes I love:

There’s just something about the ‘hate-turns-to-love’ trope that I adore. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be hate, so much as dislike, frustration, etc. Think Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, or Beatrice and Benedict in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing – those two couples are the ultimate example!

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Good friendship tropes, man. Snark! Banter! Bromance! Sisterhood! But I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine!

Then, of course, along romance and snark comes:

I am not ashamed to admit, witty one liners, amongst love interests or no, and under threat of imminent death…well, they alternately make me laugh/tear-up/swoon/feel for my characters even more.

Also:

Not the same as star-crossed loves, because the two actually get together – it’s more about their struggles with their feuding factions, and keeping their love (and themselves!) alive amidst conflicting loyalties. Yup, that’s my bulletproof romance trope right there!

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This post has largely been focused on relationship tropes – I think I might do another one on fantasy tropes, when I’m feeling more energetic. Anyway, TV Tropes, which, despite the name, cover tropes across different forms of literature,  media, etc, is an absolute gem to explore.

What are your worst and best relationship tropes? Agree with mine? Violently disagree? *ducks to avoid thrown objects*