What I’ve Learned About my Reading Habits by Using The StoryGraph

And setting reading goals for the new year.


Well into 2021, I decided to switch to The StoryGraph to keep track of my reading. Although Goodreads has served me well over the many years I’ve been using it, for me, it’s become a bit clunky and outdated. But above all, it’s owned by Amazon, whom I despise (only naturally, as a bookseller.)

The StoryGraph is one of the top alternatives to Goodreads, and for a good reason. One of the selling points is that it gives you in-depth stats on your reading — something Goodreads doesn’t offer. I’m still yet to build up a community there, but I’m in love with the features it has.

I was hesitant to make the switch because of the catalogue of books I’ve built up over the years on Goodreads, but one of the best things about The Storgraph is that you can easily convert all your data over. So alas, I haven’t lost any of my reading history.

As 2021 draws to a close, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my reading habits over the years and set some goals. Of course, we all love resolutions around this time of the year, right?

Let’s get stuck into it.


My year in reading for 2021

As life has been on the way to returning to normality, naturally, I’ve had less time to read. I returned to work in May and have noticeably been shorter on time and motivation to read.

Despite working in a bookshop and being surrounded by inspiration to read constantly, I’m nearly always exhausted. So when I get home late in the evenings, sometimes all I want to do is stick something on to watch.

This year I’ve gotten comfortable with reading less. As a result, I failed the challenge I set myself in 2020 to read 50 books as I read 35. But that doesn’t mean I’m coming away feeling disappointed — in fact — quite the opposite. On the contrary, I feel thoroughly content with what I’ve read this year.

But what have I been reading?

Moods and genres

Thanks to The Storygraph, I know exactly what kind of books I’ve been reading. My top moods are as follows:

  • Emotional
  • Reflective
  • Dark

I have to say, it doesn’t paint me in the best light, but then again, I do like an emotionally challenging and thought-provoking book. This year I inhaled A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, We are Not Like them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza, another emotionally difficult book and Misery by Stephen King, which is incredibly dark.

It’s not surprising then that those are my top moods. In terms of genre, they are almost all fiction (85%) instead of non-fiction, making up just 15% of the books I read in 2021. And within fiction my top genres are:

  • Contemporary (9 books)
  • Literary (8 books)
  • Fantasy (7 books)
  • Young adult (6 books)
  • Historical (5 books)

I could have told you the top two without using The Storygraph, but the others are a surprise. Nonetheless, I spent the early part of 2021 re-reading Harry Potter and sampled some teenage ‘indie’ fiction, which explains why they have appeared in my top genres.

Pace and length

Being a literary fiction lover, I appreciate a novel that is a slow burner. I love unnecessary detail, discovering the depth of a character and when a writer can gradually peel back the layers. I prefer character-driven stories over plot, but I love when both appear hand in hand (hence why The Goldfinch remains one of my all-time favourite books.)

As a result, I tend to pick up chunkier books, which, unsurprisingly, is reflected in my reading stats.

Only 9% of the books I read this year were considered fast-paced, as opposed to 32% that were slow-paced.

Interestingly, this is reflected with the page number I tend to gravitate to. Over half the books I read were between 300–499 pages and 18% were a whopping 500+ pages (A Little LifeTo Paradise and The Mirror and the Light can be blamed for that…)

Many readers prefer shorter, faced paced books, but I prefer to form long term attachments to characters and worlds. I like to lose myself in them for longer, which is why I inevitably favour slower, bigger books. I would like to read shorter books next year, though, to try and appreciate the various forms a good book can have.

The totals

Many of the books I read this year had a profound impact on me. I know many of them I will go back to and continue to remember, which is why I’m not bothered with the smaller number I got through, as opposed to previous years.

Nonetheless, here are my totals for 2021.

  • 35 books read
  • 11,950 pages turned
  • Average rating of 3.83 stars

It is fascinating to look at these stats, and they do make you pause and think. Next year, I want to read more genres and get out of (what appears to be my literary/contemporary fiction comfort zone.)

On that note, I have some goals in mind for the new year.


My reading goals for 2022

I stopped making generic New Years resolutions years ago. Like most people, I’d stick to them for a few weeks and then forget about them. But there’s nothing wrong with goal setting. It’s more flexible, realistic and achievable.

There’s a lot that I want to do with my reading next year. Above all, I want to continue prioritising quality over quantity and not getting bogged down in the number of books I get through, but instead, the genuine impact they leave on me. Books can inspire us, but they can also change us. I want to read books that make me think.

That starts with making some minor changes.

Remember more

It’s easy to flip from one book to the next without stopping to think and reflect on what we’ve just read. Although it’s exciting to pick up a new book and try something new, it’s essential to try and remember what you thought of a book and how it made you feel.

After buying myself a reading journal, in the new year, I’m going to try to fill in a page for every book I read. It doesn’t take much time (maybe five minutes) and will help me, in the long run, to look back on the books I’ve read and what I liked and disliked.

Although using apps like Goodreads and The Storygraph are handy for documenting what we have read, journals help us to remember how we thought and felt about a book.

Diversify my genres

In all fairness, I did a bit of this in 2021 but mostly stuck to literary and contemporary fiction (my ride or die genres.) Next year, I want to branch out and try new things, even if it means I end up not liking a book.

Here are the genres I want to get stuck into:

  • Horror (more Stephen King, please give me your recommendations if you have any. I recently read Misery and enjoyed it a lot!)
  • History
  • Poetry (I haven’t read anything new for a long time)
  • Politics
  • Short stories

Although it’s important to read what we love and enjoy, there’s no harm in wanting to stretch and challenge ourselves when reading.

We might even be surprised by what we find! If you have any recommendations for books in these genres, please drop them in a comment below!

Think critically

As a writer, part of the reason I read is to study the craft. I want to know what makes a good book, and part of this is reflecting on the reading experience and the techniques used.

In my new reading journal, there’s a section for jotting down thoughts on your favourite parts and reflections. Here, I’m going to try and document specific features a writer uses that I like. Hopefully, this will then help me with my own writing. The only real way to get better at writing is to read the work of others.


It has been a good reading year for me. I discovered some new authors I love and returned to some I had forgotten about. But most importantly, my mindset has changed to mirror something more positive. I’m now less concerned with the number of books I get through but pausing to reflect on the ones I have spared my time with.

After all, we only get a limited amount of time to read, and we should all be spending it wisely.

If you would like to follow me on The Storygraph, you can do so by using this link.


Use my referral link to become a Medium member today and support me (and other writers!).

Please note, this was originally published on A Thousand lives.

Medium is Changing

We got excited about the bonuses, but now they have an end date. Should writers be changing their approach to the platform?


For those of you who are kicking around on Medium or even still thinking of starting there, I’ll give you a heads up. It’s pretty hard to keep up with the constant changes on the platform.

I’ve been writing on there consistently for ten months, and I’ve already experienced change after change.

But do you know what? That’s one of the reasons why I love the platform.

It’s constantly surprising us and trying to make itself a better place for writers. Sometimes they get it right and granted, a lot of the time, they get it wrong.

But hey, at least they are trying.

In a recent email, Medium said they would extend their writer bonuses into June and July, and then that would be it. No more surprise, $50, $100 or $500 payments. The generosity ends.

But, mysteriously, they also mentioned there would be some changes to the Medium Partner Program.

A few years back, Medium used to pay writers based on the number of claps they earned on each story.

Nowadays, it’s for reading time, which makes more sense. The longer a paid subscriber spends reading your work, the more engagement you generate as a writer, and hence, the more you get paid.

It’s a logical framework, but it’s not going to stay that way.

I’ve scratched my head thinking about what they might be doing but haven’t come up with much. The most plausible thing to me maybe an increase in the subscriber fee, considering they paid out so much money to writers in bonuses.

This would mean more money for smaller writers (possibly) and hone in on that ‘relational’ Medium they seem to be creating. I could continue to speculate, but the truth is, it would probably be a waste of time.

Medium is going to change. Like any social media platform, it will have ups and downs. It will go through the motions, and we have to ride with it. The most important thing for writers is that we keep showing up and doing our best.

I’ve seen a lot of articles floating around titled something like ‘here’s what you can do to increase your chances of winning the Medium bonus’, but the thing is – it’s so short-lived. This promotes a type of short-termism and get rich quick scheme.

If you love to write and want to be read, your approach has to be long term. If it’s not, you’ll soon find out if you’re writing for the wrong reasons.

So, there are some changes on Medium’s horizon, which will undoubtedly unravel with drama and intrigue over the next few months.

But the message I want to stress is this: keep writing no matter what. Platforms change, but the importance of showing up as much as you can and getting the words out there.


Current reads (that you may like)

Summer water, Sarah Moss (Fiction)

I saw this on our proof table at work and thought I’d take a chance with it.

Set in Scotland, it follows the rainy summer holidays of multiple families and intertwines their different lives. It’s heavy on description, political messaging and family life.

The former I love, but the latter, not so sure. It’s a cool book with a lot of promise, but I can’t help feeling a bit jumbled along the way. Think Ali Smith in style and approach, but not quite hitting the mark.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, JK Rowling (Fiction)

At the beginning of lockdown three, I started re-reading the Harry Potter series for fun and because I needed a comfort blanket. Reading it as an adult hits different, but it’s so nostalgic. I like to read it before bed to stop my mind from wandering.

I keep hearing people say the Half-Blood Prince is just ‘filler’, and I want to smack some sense into them. It’s so much more than that and sets the scene for the penultimate book.

Books on my radar

Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel (historical fiction)

I mentioned Mantel in one of my recent book posts, and it reminded me how I never read the rest of the Wolf Hall series.

I read the first book in March 2020, and I can remember it clearly because the first lockdown had just been announced. Mantel had just released The Mirror and the Light during the Christmas before, and the shop floor had a whole stand of the heavy hardbacks that went untouched as we had to close.

I decided to give it a go finally and loved it, so I am looking forward to carrying on the series.

The Dig, John Preston (fiction)

I recently watched the film version of this staring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes (dream team) and loved it.

Based on true events, it follows the story of how Sutton Hoo, the place of two early medieval cemeteries, was discovered in an area very close to home, in Suffolk. I can’t wait to read the written version of this interesting and emotional story.


Article recs

I’m going to list these because I realise this is getting a little long. Trust me on this one. All of these are 10/10. No justification needed.


What you might have missed from me

Now this is a hefty length; it feels like an appropriate time to wrap up. I hope you’ve enjoyed this newsletter. Let me know if you like the new book format!

As always, if you do like my content and want to support me, you can donate to my ko-fi page.

Note : the links in this are affiliate links. This means if you choose to purchase, it will help me earn a little bit of money at no extra cost to you; thank you!

Header image by Julia M Cameron from Pexels / Edited by the author using Canva


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Slipping Back into Normality

And as a result, I’m feeling exhausted. Anyone else?


On Monday, just after 7:30 am, I boarded a train for the first time since March 2020. The chilly air wrapped around my face but gave me some welcome relief from the claggyness of wearing a mask. It was a bit of a surreal moment, but an important one for stepping back into normality — whatever that’s supposed to now mean.

Apart from a brief three-week stint in the run-up to Christmas, Monday was my first day back at work in fourteen months. If you had told me at the beginning of March this was what my life would be like for over a year; I would have laughed. It’s funny how small things — like getting a train — have become so abnormal in the last year. Amidst the excitement of something that seemed so ‘new,’ it was nice to be able to sit on a creaky train and rumble into the town where I work.

Despite customers not fully returning until next week, I found the day to be exhausting, to say the least, but it was nice to see colleagues I haven’t seen for the best part of a year. As I ease my way back into what my life used to be like in March 2020, I want to continue the writing habit I formulated during those empty months. It’s given me a great form of release, creativity and an integral coping mechanism to this uncertain year. It might be harder to fit around work and everything else, but I will try.

I hope this week’s newsletter finds you all well and gradually slotting back into ‘normal’ life. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to go at your own pace. Only do things you are comfortable with.


Article recommendations 

  • For those of us who tend to have an addictive, obsessive personality, it can be easy to slip into unhealthy patterns of exercise, eating, and restriction. When I used to run regularly, I would beat myself up every time I hadn’t improved my distance or pace. I’ve since been able to have a better relationship with running (on the rarity that I do go!), and Sophie F. writes about this so well — My Experience with Disordered Eating and a Fitness Obsession.
  • A refreshing and uplifting take on why age is predominately a societal construction. For those of us who fear edging slowly but surely towards our 30s, this is a brilliant read by Dan Cadmus — Why I Don’t Fear Turning 30
  • Sometimes I think even I am too old to want to be a writer/journalist and I should have started years ago (I’m 23 for reference), but I know this is silly, as some people start way later in life. This is an inspiring and uplifting article (Are You Waiting To Be Too Old To Start Writing?) about always being prepared to pursue your dreams, even when you think it’s too late. By Vishnu*s Virtues.
  • Everyone has had a different experience of the pandemic. This group article by all the Backbench editor’s (including me!) really shines a light on this difficult year — The Pandemic: Our Personal Perspectives.

Book recommendations 

Image created by the author using Canva

Merging the Drift, Tom Bray

Although this took me a long time to read, this is no reflection on what I thought of the book. I’m reading everything at a snail pace at the moment because that’s all I can do. Also, I read about 3–4 books at once so it’s bound to take me that bit longer with every read. I thought this was a highly original and uplifting book. It’s an intriguing story with lots of twists and turns that all comes together with a satisfying ending. I may be a little biased, as I interviewed Tom for a feature in A Thousand Lives, but I highly enjoyed his first novel. I will be writing a full review soon.

Stoner, John Williams

It’s been a while since I read this (2016, in fact) but I can remember absolutely loving it. It’s a strange, untypical novel that follows the life of William Stoner, born at the end of the nineteenth century. He studies English literature, becomes a professor and falls in love with a student, which is a million words away from his upbringing in a farming family. As a result, he’s estranged from his parents and lives a life of perpetual loneliness. It’s a novel about circumstance, regret, love and the shortness of life.


What I wrote this week



This hefty chunk of reading material should be enough for one week! In all seriousness, I need to up my reading game. Not because I feel pressured to read loads of books this year (quite the opposite) but just because I miss having that quiet time curled up with a book. I hope you all have a great weekend, Violet x

If you enjoyed this newsletter, please consider giving me a tip at paypal.me/Violet977I don’t feel comfortable charging anyone for this newsletter, but I am a graduate who is just starting and trying to make a living. Whether you can donate 5p or £5, I’d be forever grateful. Thank you.



Everything I read in January 2021

The one lesson I took away from this month, was that quality matters more when it comes to reading.


Do you set a reading goal each year for how many books you want to read? When I set a Goodreads reading challenge this year, I realised it felt a bit strange. Setting out the number of books we want to read in a given time slot naturally prioritises quantity rather than quality. 

It made me think. Is it better to read more (and more widely) or to read less, but more deeply? There are benefits to doing both. Although I’ve set myself an arbitrary target for how many books I’d like to read this year — to me — it’s irrelevant if I surpass it or end up reading less. What matters more is what I get out of each book.

In this post — I will be outlining what I read throughout January. Although my Goodreads account tells me I am “behind schedule” to complete my yearly reading goal, I’m not really bothered. 

By reading at a slower pace, I can fully digest each book, pause to reflect on them, and think about what I want to read next. It’s a more leisurely process. So, this is what I read in January 2021. And you’ll notice, there is definitely more quality, rather than quantity.

(Please note that links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you are a UK or US resident, I will receive a small commission if you buy books via these links. All links are included in the book title. Bookshop.org is a website that supports independent bookshops.)


#1 Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams

Fiction, 4/5 stars 

Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels

I read this during bouts of insomnia that I was having at the beginning of the month. It was easy to read in those bleak and quiet hours when everyone else is fast asleep. 

This novel tells the story of Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old British Jamaican who has just decided to go on a “break” from her long term boyfriend, Tom. Whilst she has to live her life without him suddenly, she’s also struggling with motivation at work and with some of her friendships. 

Queenie finds herself attracting (sometimes warranted, sometimes unwarranted) attention from the opposite sex, which she continually strategies and discusses with her group of best friends over WhatsApp. All the while, she hears nothing from Tom and struggles to know where they stand. 

It’s an amusing book — and made me laugh out loud at times. But Queenie, as a narrator, can be frustrating. There’s always a tragedy, always something going wrong. She comes across as a very needy friend — someone I would struggle to deal with, quite frankly. 

But the book also deals with darker issues such as fetishization, black womanhood, and mental health. It’s breezy, chatty and brilliant, but also shines a delicate light on what it’s like to grow up and enter early adulthood as a black woman. This is well worth a read as it strikes a balance between maintaining a sense of contagious humour and talking about real and raw issues.

“Is this what growing into an adult woman is — having to predict and accordingly arrange for the avoidance of sexual harassment?”


#2 The Discomfort of Evening, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Fiction, 3/5 stars 

Forever intrigued by those novels that go on to win the Booker prize, I picked this up and had no real idea of what to expect. As the title tells us, even before our eyes grace the first page, it is a bizarre read. 

At times, the strangeness erodes what could have been a more harrowing, poignant novel. The reader can easily end up reading about incest and animal abuse and be taken aback, even put off from the novel, and may even abandon it altogether. I don’t blame people who have. There’s no forewarning for what is outlined in this novel in such a visceral style. I know that’s the point, but all the same, I can’t help but feel it didn’t work. 

The Discomfort of Eveningis the first novel from the award-winning poet, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Set in the rural Netherlands and featuring a family slowly descending into dysfunction, it paints a harrowing picture of how grief can change people. One day, ten-year-old Jas, the narrator, tells the reader how her brother dies in a tragic incident. She documents how the family dynamic slowly but surely decays. It’s an interesting perspective, which makes the feel of the novel all the more powerful. 

It’s certainly original — even addictive to read — but I thought the levels of discomfort to which it goes to, was unnecessary in parts, and would certainly not engage a general audience. But maybe I’m wrong and missing the point entirely. Who knows? That’s part of the beauty of literature. 

“Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.”


#3 Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

Fiction, 5/5 stars 

No novel is ever universally loved. But as a bookseller, I noticed this was one that flew off the shelves, and everyone raved about it. After being recommended it by a handful of people, I decided to try it. This is a type of novel that is hauntingly beautiful. There is so much sorrow, misfortune and sadness, accompanied by a beautiful landscape and message. I couldn’t stop reading it, and neither did I want to. 

After finishing it, I noticed the reception was more divisive than I had initially understood. Some people said they were bored by the book and even gave up halfway through. But for me, I couldn’t put it down. 

Where the Crawlands Sing is set within a small town on the North Carolina coast. It tells the story of, “Marsh girl” abandoned by her mother and the rest of her family, as they fled from her abusive and violent father. Soon, he leaves too, and Kya is left to fend for herself as a child. She learns how to fish, cook and befriends Nate, who teaches her how to read — as she only managed to attend one day at school. 

Kya has spent most of her life in solitude and at one with nature, making it difficult for her to form close relationships with others. However, something soon blooms between her and Nate as she struggles to navigate those first feelings of love. As soon as things start to work out for her, and she opens herself up, something dreadful happens that has the ability to pull her life all apart — again. 

This novel had all the assets that I believe makes a compelling read. The characters were believable and interesting; the plot was thick with what-ifs, questions and interesting thoughts about childhood, community and social expectations. The story was well told and kept the reader on their seat. I enjoyed it from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone. 

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”


Overview 

In January I read just over 1,000 pages, which is far less than I would usually reach. However, I’m coming away from the month feeling satisfied with what I read and what I’m taking away from each book. 

Each novel I read opened me up to new ideas, experiences and thoughts from different perspectives I would not necessarily encounter in real life. I learnt a lot from each and was reminded of the power of words and how they can make us feel. 


Currently Reading 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

I’ve been reading this for a while. Because it covers the course of an entire day in such depth, I find it quite heavy to read and digest. I’ve been reading it in small chunks, hence why it is taking me so long to finish. 

I do love it though — but realise it is not everyone’s taste. There is something so unique and magical about reading Woolf’s words, and I can’t quite put my figure on what exactly that is. Perhaps I’ll know when I finish it. 

The Searcher, Tana French

I love this. I love the feeling of it; it’s so eerie and creepy. It’s definitely a slow burner, which I don’t mind, but I’m intrigued to find out where the story will go. I’m reading this on my Kindle which I use for nighttime reading in bed. I’m about halfway through and enjoying it so far. 


Well, that was my month in reading. Based on my history, I read less this month than I usually do, but I’m not bothered. I’m not trying to race ahead and read as much as possible this year, but take in every read.

I want to value every word on the page and give each story my full attention — rather than always being focused on the next book. 

Thank you for reading


Stuck for what to read? Check out some of my recommendations: 

5 Non-Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

What The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley Teaches us About Friendship

50 Fiction Recommendations for 2021


Please note, this was originally published on Medium in A Thousand Lives.

Book Review: Knight in Paper Armor

“This is a country of immigrants. Hate it all you want, but immigration is America. I’m America, more than you’ll ever be.”


TW — This book and the following review contains topics relating to hate crimes, antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, violence, torture, suicide, sensory deprivation, traumatic injury/disability, the Holocaust, and emotional abuse.

Beth Shalom is the 93rd state of the 179 United States of America, which is the setting of this stunning work of dystopian fiction. In a place called Heaven’s Hole, a boy named Billy Jakobek has grown up in laboratories, at the hands of Caleb, the force behind the megacorporation, Thorne Century. Caleb’s motivation behind subjecting this boy to countless experimentation is that he’ll be able to harness his powers to create a new type of warfare — one that is “clean. Contained. Beautiful.”

In many ways, it is a world far away from our own — but not far enough away that we cannot see the influence of the contemporary world within every detail. Natalia Gonzalez, one of the main protagonists, is a rebellious young artist, and the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, who falls in love with Billy as their paths cross. Living in Heaven’s Hole, Natalia regularly experiences the deprivation ensured by Thorne Century’s regime, as her family and community work within the factories that keep the regime running. Her world is one of poverty, deprivation, and an endless cycle of suffering. With an eye for creativity and a rebellious spirit, she hopes to one day break out of this cycle.

When these two character’s cross paths — their worlds collide. Together, they aim to bring down the megacorporation Thorne Century and strive to create a better world. But it is not that easy, defeating Caleb will be the biggest fight of all. This novel is entirely dystopian in feel, scope, and intent — but it contains elements of fantasy, science fiction and young adult themes — in being narrated by two teenagers who fall in love despite the crumbling world around them. However, it is also rooted in our world. It shines a light on the everyday xenophobia, antisemitism, class inequality and capitalist exploitation which is rife within the US — and the rest of the world.

Please note, a copy of this book was kindly gifted to me by the author, in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author

Nicholas Conley is a full-time writer — who has written for several publications such as Vox, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Reporter, Dictionary.com and others. He is also the author of four books, Knight in Paper Armour being his most recent one.

Nicholas is Jewish and a descendent of Ashkenazic refuges from Russia and Sephardic refugees who fled from the Spanish inquisition. On a personal level, he is a great believer in human rights, social justice, systemic reforms and living in a fairer world — for all.

“… we all share the same world. We’re all in this together. No matter what, we should do the best we can to take care of each other.” — Nicholas Conley 

You can find out more about Nicholas Conley via his website.


My review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Image courtesy of Nicholas Conley

My first thought upon finishing this book was “wow” — it sounds cliché, but it is entirely accurate. Upon writing up my notes when I finished the book — there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to give this a 5/5, there’s simply nothing that I can fault. I am incredibly grateful to Nicholas for asking if I would like to review his book because it is not the kind of book I would have picked up myself.

So what did I like about this book?

Firstly — I found the ideas woven throughout this book utterly compelling — and could empathize with the struggles of Natalia Gonzalez because of her belief in a fairer society. Despite being a dystopian novel through and through, it draws upon many sentiments that we are currently dealing with globally in social, cultural, and political life. Thorne Century, the megacorporation which controls all the aspects of life for those who live in Heaven’s Hole, is, in a way, a metaphor for capitalism itself.

It crushes people’s ambition, perpetuates inequality just by existing, and fails to bring about a fairer way of life. Caleb, the perpetrator and manipulator of Billy Jakobek, is a power-hungry individual — who rules Heaven’s Hole for his own benefit. This is a vision of society that is divided along the lines of ethnicity, race, economic status and gender — thus, in many ways, it mirrors our world. However, this is a creative, dystopian state which provides enough fantasy to escape from our world.

Therefore — I resonated with this book because it felt current and there is so much to unpack. In many ways, it contains the classic element of good versus evil. Still, it is told with so many complexities that reading it, is enough to make you stop in your tracks and re-evaluate the world around you. 2020 has been dominated by American politics and the continuous systemic racism that lingers — and in this novel — it lays bear this influence within a unique, fast-paced and believable story.

As well as the ideas, I loved the characters and execution of this novel. I empathised with Natalia, who becomes somewhat of a revolutionary figure in the book with her opposition to Thorne Century, and I saw a lot of myself in her. She ardently believes that through a collective effort and vision, we can change the systems of oppression that ensnare us. As a character, she is also good-humoured and utterly likeable.

Billy Jakobek is a complex character who spends most of his time within a tank monitored by Caleb for the harnessing of his psychic abilities. He is subject to countless experiments and deprived of living in the real world — until he meets Natalia. Many themes in this novel also evoke the feeling of a classic coming of age story — but set amongst a dystopian state — it is truly original and enthralling.

The book is fast-paced, full of action and chops and changes between different character perspectives. It keeps you reading with every twist and turn, as you follow Billy and Natalia’s hopes of creating a better world. Crucially it also had a very satisfying ending which is essential for me when giving out five-star ratings. Often, if I give a book a 4-star rating, it will mean that I was left dissatisfied, but this is far from the case here. The ending to this whirlwind of a book was satisfying, heart-warming and convincing.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels that distract you from the present, but also make poignant points about the way we live now. And importantly, the systems that dominate our world and perpetuate multiple forms of inequality. This book is endlessly captivating and provides us with an essential insight into our contemporary world.


For fans of dystopian novels and readers of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the perfect book. I went into it not knowing what to expect but came away utterly mesmerised.

Knights in Paper Armor was published in September 2020 and is available to buy in paperback or as an e-book on Amazon.


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